Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Donna Smith Bellinger @askdsb. Donna Smith Bellinger, also known as Your Business Revenue Accelerator, is an award-winning business coach, international speaker, author and adjunct in business and entrepreneurship. She is a sought-after radio guest and has been featured in Essence magazine, Huffington Post and on You & Me This Morning.
SmallBizLady: WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO LAUNCH YOUR BUSINESS?
Donna Smith Bellinger: Small businesses that employ less than 50 employees train more people than larger corporations. However, while many business owners are outstanding in their gifts, they may not possess the necessary skills to create a sustainable business.
My business was formed to address the specific sales and business development challenges that keep some businesses playing small. Years ago, I co-founded a successful IT business and was so very frustrated at the way we were treated when seeking growth opportunities. Also, I encountered numerous business owners that compromised their own success by not being willing learn in the ways of bigger business opportunities.
SmallBizLady: MOST SMALL BUSINESSES ARE LOOKING FOR “SOME” GROWTH, BUT YOU SAY RAPID GROWTH CAN BE A CHALLENGE. WHY IS THAT?
Donna Smith Bellinger: As a business owner or corporate leader, it is your responsibility to get business in the door and KEEP it there. I have seen several enterprises fail due to rapid growth, even with viable products and services. This can happen for a number of reasons but usually it’s because they got “lucky” before they were fully grown.
Are you prepared to handle twice the workload with a smile and grace? Would you be able to service customers’ phone calls; handle the meetings; and provide even BETTER quality products and services than you currently provide? Are your suppliers or consultants capable of handling the increased demands of your growth? Or, will you become overwhelmed trying to work with what you’ve got, too busy trying to put out fires rather than give your old and new clients the attention they deserve.
SmallBizLady: WOULD YOU GIVE AN EXAMPLE OF A CHALLENGE IN RAPID BUSINESS GROWTH?
Donna Smith Bellinger: Let’s say you make cookies at a storefront and cater for small events. Suddenly you get a big order for a restaurant. You bring on a few more people and crank it out. Then a big box store decides that they want to carry them. Could you handle that?
Do you have access to a commercial kitchen? Can you afford to purchase the supplies and pay your team until the invoice is paid within 60 to 90 days? And if they never order again, what do you do with all of this new equipment you purchased?
SmallBizLady: WHAT SHOULD BUSINESSES CONSIDER AS THEY GROW?
Donna Smith Bellinger: Plan for consistent revenue first, rather than the peaks and valleys of inconsistent profit. Focus on what you do best and build a loyal customer base, rather than saying “Yes I can” to everything that comes your way just to get paid.
SmallBizLady: SINCE REVENUE IS THE OBJECTIVE, WHAT STEPS SHOULD A BUSINESS TAKE TO PREPARE FOR CONSISTENT REVENUE?
Donna Smith Bellinger: There are four key considerations.
- Why did you start your business and how big do you want to become? Not everyone wants the responsibilities of running a million dollar company. You need to love what you do.
- Do you have the cash flow to support big deals? Can you support workers, suppliers and operational costs while you are waiting for payment (usually 30 – 90 days)?
- Do you have a team of experts to support you areas in which you lack expertise? Work with experts and engage consultants if you cannot hire employees. You need experts in accounting, legal, HR, sales, technology.
- Create a “big firm” infrastructure in preparation for growth. Have a staffing plan in place in case you suddenly get rush orders or last minute projects. Here are some options.
- Hire a personal assistant for one or two days per week to take on the “life” issues and errands that disrupt your “flow”.
- Outsource things that take up too much of your time. After all you did not start your business to create another “job”.
SmallBizLady: WHAT SHOULD A BUSINESS OWNER LOOK FOR IN A CONSULTANT TO HELP GROW THEIR BUSINESS?
Donna Smith Bellinger: A consultant is an extension of your business and you want to be strategic in identifying the support you need. Look for people with the skills and qualifications to meet those needs. They should have a proven record of success. Review their referrals, credentials and testimonials. Also consider their work style, work ethic and personality. Ultimately, you want to know how many clients this expert can attract or retain for your business.
SmallBizLady: WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS THAT YOUR BUSINESS IS GROWING TOO FAST?
Donna Smith Bellinger: Here are five signs that your business is growing too fast:
- Your expenses exceed your revenues.
- You can’t keep up with customer orders.
- There’s a rise in customer complaints.
- You start losing customers.
- You don’t have the system or staff in place to support your growth.
SmallBizLady: HOW CAN NEW BUSINESS OWNERS START GROWING THEIR BUSINESSES?
Donna Smith Bellinger: It’s important that business owners stay ahead of the curve. Regularly mix and mingle with established businesses in the space you want to occupy to ensure that you are targeting the right market. Ask questions; you don’t want to look uninformed when you get to the table.
Sometimes you find that in addition to providing your service and product, you have to take on other duties for which you’re not qualified. When this happens, partner with someone who enjoys that part. This is not the time to fake it; you may never recover. Be clear on what you do and don’t do to manage your, as well as your customers’ expectations.
SmallBizlady: IF YOU ARE ALREADY IN BUSINESS, WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PREPARE FOR RAPID GROWTH?
Donna Smith Bellinger: The number one rule: be coachable. Surround yourself with people that have experience in the areas where you have no skills, experience or interest. For example, while I am perfectly capable of doing my own day-to-day accounting, technology and other business functions, I hired a team to handle that so I can focus on building my business. When I get ready to grow, I’m going to hire an expert to help me put it together in a way that makes sense for ME and my vision. I would encourage you to do the same.
SmallBizLady: HOW CAN BUSINESS OWNERS MAINTAIN THEIR HEALTH IF FACED WITH RAPID GROWTH?
Donna Smith Bellinger: I spent many years in corporate sales and management, Heavy hours and lots of pressure. It seriously affected my physical and mental health. Work life balance is very important for business owners and it goes beyond “hitting the gym”.
As a business owner, you did not set out to create another job for yourself. While getting your business off the ground can be very labor and time intensive, you must not fall into the trap of working for your business.
SmallBizLady: WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS WHO WANT TO GROW AND HOW TO MANAGE THAT GROWTH?
Donna Smith Bellinger: Grow your support system, surround yourself with people who see great things in you and are willing to support you to help you get there. Support those who support you with their dollars, not just lip service. Take the necessary steps to build a strong foundation for your business and invest in the people who work with you. Most importantly, never stop learning, read, attend workshops and power network.
SmallBizLady: HOW CAN BUSINESS OWNERS ENSURE THEY SURVIVE OVER FIVE YEARS?
Donna Smith Bellinger:
- Go where the money is. After you run out of friends and family, the real work begins. If you follow Sharks like Damon Johns or experienced sales gurus, know that none of them experienced massive success until they began to interact with people outside of their zip code.
- Don’t attach yourself to being liked. This is business, not a popularity contest. Learn to listen and be coachable. As TD Jakes often says: If you are the smartest person in the room, you need a new room.
- Stop selling and start building relationships. No one goes to networking events to buy so stop trying to sell at them. That is a rookie mistake and labels you as such.
- Never make things up as you go along. Just as your goals must be written, so must your scripts for introductions, follow-up emails, presentation, etc. If you can’t do it, hire someone who can.
- The fortune is in the way you follow up with the people you meet. Poor follow-up is a rookie mistake that many veteran business owners and professionals make.
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