How to manage fast growth without bursting at the seams  

Growing quickly and efficiently takes careful planning, explains IglooBooks co-founder and CEO John Styring.

Some of the most frequently touted advice in business is the mantra that ‘dreaming big’ is the key to success.

And it’s true – you do need to be ambitious, gutsy and brave to make your business a success. The thing is, if all goes to plan, before you know it your business is all grown up. Before you know it, with a bit of luck, you are big.

Fast growth is the jackpot. What more could you ask for? But it does come with its own challenges. Managing speedy growth and acclimatising to the change in pace is vital for business owners with long-term success in their sights.

It’s all about speculation

Speculation. The word still rings with the optimism, and subsequent crashing disappointment of the Roaring Twenties. It’s a word that business owners can often be fearful of using, let alone implementing, especially in somewhat straightened economic times. But speculation is the key to managing growth.

When we started IglooBooks in 2003 we knew the type of business we wanted to set up and we had a model in mind. We forecast growth accordingly, and were realistic about the implications of the financial crisis upon our business. But even in the earliest days, you need to have belief in your business.

For us, that meant taking on a location with additional buildings we could grow into – a benefit of our rural location. When we needed to expand quickly, physically we were able to do so. This might not be suitable for everyone, but there may be other things you can do, such as buying bulk materials, or kitting out an office for more than the three staff you employ at launch. It’s that belief in the future that can spur you onto success.

Of course, in lots of ways this runs against good business sense. I’m not advocating any start-up makes overzealous and financially unsound decisions – but speculating and taking a small gamble on yourself drives performance and results.

Planning for adventure

Taking a leap into the unknown is scary. Fast growth can come upon you unawares – and it can happen very quickly. But remember, start-up businesses are of a size which is advantageous – small means agile, and agile means responsive to change.

This doesn’t mean that a reactive strategy is all that is required. Proactively setting objectives is essential – there is no reason why fast growth can’t be managed growth. You should find that research and information gathering provide such a strong foundation upon which to build your business venture, that it’s less a leap into the dark then at first you might have thought.

What’s more, fast growth can only happen if you have a very clear objective or target in mind. I find it easiest to set a financial objective, and work back from this point. Spec up your growth in your head, and put in plans to make it a reality and to safeguard quality.

With IglooBooks every section of the company has to grow in tandem in order for us to take on new business. This has meant we have had to take on a lot of new staff at regular intervals. At each juncture we have matured as a company – ultimately becoming less mobile in the process, so each step needs to be preceded, as far as is possible, with as much thought to mitigate that change.

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Keep HR on its toes

For me, the key to fast growth – from out-performing your targets, to meeting the demands of bigger orders, is all dependent upon your staff. Maintaining and growing morale is key, as the bigger your company gets, the more important staff become. The key to managing growth is really managing your workforce. I found that as growth intensified I was spending upwards of 30 per cent of my time on personnel. It’s an issue that does need to remain high on the agenda, especially as your company grows – as an employer you have a responsibility that every member of your staff is happy in every facet of their career.

For my company, hiring an excellent HR director, Karran Marshall, was intrinsic to our future successes. As the company grows, it’s important that your senior management team understands your vision for the company and assist in the formation of its most fundamental philosophies and principals.

For example, it’s my policy that all my senior management team know the name of everyone in the company. It’s vital that as you grow and teams change that staff feel they have the support of their managers behind them. It’s this sense of cohesion that means companies can best capitalise on opportunities and maximise periods of fast growth.

Moreover, fast growth often dictates you will have a lot of new joiners and, as well as on-boarding people, you need to ensure that the workforce maintains a high level of skill. It’s a good idea to set up induction and refresher courses to ensure that all staff are on the same page – it means you can respond quickly to opportunities with complete conviction in your team.

Home sweet home

Fast growth might dictate that you have to move offices or move teams around. How these moves are managed will dictate their success. At IglooBooks we commissioned the People Plan – it establishes a pathway for each member of staff, which provides them the maximum support in professional development. We brought in a non-executive director to help ease in this cultural change – it’s so helpful to have an outside pair of eyes cast over your business, someone with real commercial sense who can assist those transitions.

At IglooBooks we don’t like having a lot of whole-company meetings, as more often than not a lot of time is wasted. Instead we prefer whole company pub lunches on a Friday and various charity activities to get the company talking. This is another area of business life where your heads of department should really come into their own. They should look after their teams and encourage interworking and socialising as much as possible. When teams know each other, work gets done more efficiently, and staff have a better overall notion of how the company works.

Fast growth seems like a lot of good luck. Really, it’s a little bit of luck and a lot of planning and hard work. Managing growth is not an easy task, but if you put the hours in, believe in your staff, charge your senior managers with employing your vision, and, yes, ‘dream big’, nothing is impossible.

See also: How John Styring made a million in children’s books

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.