Scale-up is the challenge that medium sized businesses face when looking to leverage their success, to drive rapid growth. A much-used term, a scale-up is defined by the ScaleUp Institute as ‘a business that has increased its turnover and/or employee numbers annually by more than 20 per cent over a three-year period.’
Scale-ups are important drivers of the economy. Although scale-ups account for less than one per cent of the number of businesses in the UK, their combined revenues amount to almost £1trn and they generate 3.5m jobs. (SOURCE ONS).
So, what are the key challenges a business looking to scale will need to tackle? Verne Harnish, in his classic, Mastering the Rockerfeller Habits 2.0, looks at four areas; people, strategy, execution and cash. This is a helpful framework, providing an overview within which each aspect of scale-up can be addressed.
Jim Collin’s metaphor in his best-seller, Good to Great talks about the importance of getting the right people in the right seats on the bus - and the wrong people off the bus. This is a simple but powerful analogy and Collins’ focus on the importance of people and how they perform at all levels of the business is one that many successful scale-ups prioritise.
At the top level, a business seeking to scale will have to consider whether the people who have led the growth so far have the experience and skills to make the step-change to scale. Many businesses approaching scale-up benefit from recruiting senior team members who have been on the scale-up journey before, bringing a clear vision and appreciation of the many leadership challenges.
Scale usually means more people and much greater delegation – often with dispersed teams across different territories, so having a robust recruitment and retention system is essential. A clearly defined and documented culture is central to this, to avoid the common pitfall of culture-seep that can result from rapid growth.
When a business is at a point of scale-up, it will have proven its ability to perform profitably, but with scale comes the need for renewed clarity of purpose – not least to avoid dilution and distraction away from what has delivered success to date.
The nature of scale up may necessitate expansion into new markets, but clarity of business purpose will enable swift, purposeful decision-making, ensuring that scale does not result in the loss of the agility that has delivered the business success so far.
From a marketing perspective, a clear business strategy is essential to create a SMART marketing strategy and effective action plan.
Encompassing all aspects of product or service delivery, getting business execution consistently right through scale-up is likely to require a plethora of systems, clearly documented and rigorously applied.
Marketing will be a critical aspect of this to ensure that volumes of qualified leads are sufficient to deliver sales goals. Intelligent automation will certainly have a part to play, but attention to detail will be needed to ensure that interactions across every channel remain personalised and timely, to maintain engagement and Return on Investment (ROI). The likes of HubSpot, the world’s leading inbound marketing and sales platform make this achievable.
Growth makes a business cash-hungry and scale-ups will require careful financial planning and management.
For many, scale-up brings the involvement of venture capitalists (or VC’s) for the first time and getting the communication right is essential to a positive and sustainable relationship. Cash of course is king and understanding the pressure-points on the flow of cash through the business at the different stages of growth will avoid unexpected cash crises.
The CBI’s Life in The Fast Lane provides a useful roadmap for those approaching scale-up, with practical tips and case studies.
To find out more about implementing a successful strategy for scaling up, download our eBook full of tips, advice and guidance.