For the CEO of any new or rapidly expanding business, the path to expansion is a long and treacherous one. You are compelled to investigate and evaluate every business move that could turn your exciting start-up into a market leader – be it by expanding into a new market, diversification into a new area, or launching an innovative new product or service.
Eventually you will hit that golden ‘yes’ moment. An idea springs into your mind which has you leaping out of bed at five in the morning, an idea you really believe in, an idea that you KNOW will work.
The idea sails through countless analysis, planning and rounds of re-evaluation completely unscathed, and all you can see is an open path towards the success you have been dreaming of. For any entrepreneur or CEO, this is the most exciting time in the development of your business, the time where you can watch your ideas take flight – however it is also the most dangerous time.
I founded my company Fantastic Services with my business partner Anton back in 2009, and over the past six years we have experienced a number of these ‘yes’ moments.
We actually launched Fantastic after meeting at a party – it wasn’t really my scene and we got talking. He ran a small cleaning company that was looking for a way to gain more business, I was a marketer who happened to be moving house at the time and was struggling to find a truly decent cleaning service.
It was then that we had our first ‘yes’ moment – we could join forces and create a cleaning company that would address all the difficulties homeowners experience when trying to book a professional service. We would make it flexible, affordable, but still offer that top class service.
Keeping your team just that – a team
It was an exciting time of course. We started to expand, bringing new staff on through our free franchise model and soon we began to plan for a UK wide expansion. However, in our rush to exploit this gap in the market and bring our services to people across the UK and beyond, we hadn’t realised that our plans to expand – fast – had been met with anxiety by our staff.
We were quite surprised to see that our staff were not exactly singing from the hilltops like we were. In-fact the news of our impending expansion was met with a general sense of anxiety by our staff. We interviewed 350 people and took on almost 300 in one month when we were really growing fast.
Wherever you work, major changes to the business can often be perceived as threatening above anything else. Up to this point, employees who may have felt that they were a valuable piece of the business jigsaw are suddenly burdened with the worry that the company is moving away from them and that their position is precarious.
When going through a phase of rapid expansion, the morale of your employees is absolutely paramount if you’re going to do it successfully. This can often get lost in the shuffle – as your attempt to put together the vital structures of your bigger and more widely-focused business, you spend less and less time engaging with your staff at grass roots level.
Suddenly your desk is swamped with paperwork, and you don’t have the chance to cast your watchful eye over each of the operations and processes as you would have done previously, therefore you are not aware that your staff are feeling the pressure as your quest for expansion continues.
During this period, you need to have your staff onside to ensure the company continues to run efficiently in its core areas whilst you are expanding. In the excitement of trying to appeal to your new market, your business is most at risk of losing its current customers, and their retention can often rely on having staff that are willing to step up for you and put in the extra work.
Having one-on-one meetings with employees, involving them in planning meetings and requesting their advice on decisions regarding the restructuring of the company, can be some of the most important actions you take when attempting to take your business to the next level.
When it comes to expansion, timing is everything
The timing of your move is also a fundamental part of the growth process. The only thing guaranteed by an attempt at expansion is that it will bring a loss of finance in the short-term. It is an unpredictable period, and it is very easy to underestimate just how many new people you will need to hire, the amount of extra business space you will need to invest in, and even factors such the impact of increased taxes.
A bigger profit margin will mean more room for error during your expansion. There can be a big difference between a 10% profit margin and an 11% profit margin at this stage, and sometimes it can be the difference between the company having the cash flow to stay afloat at a certain time. The move needs to coincide with a time where outgoing costs are at a low.
That said, the position of the market is just as important. This year the demand for fast and instant booking of domestic services on an app and online in the US took off, with companies across the pond enjoying a surge in booking numbers, generally at much higher quality costs than when we grew the fastest, we didn’t have to please investors with numbers, we only had to please our clients and our employees.
With the general business rule being that ‘what takes off in America will soon take off in the UK’, we could not miss this chance to expand on our services and offer this to our customers.
We launched a new business arm called Fantastic Magic, a text message-based service that ‘magically’ solves any problem you throw at it. It was a natural evolution of our experience in customer service, satisfying a demand for making life easier, which we already know exists. Fantastic Magic has so far been hugely popular – we have already answered requests to be a witness at a wedding and babysit a snail.
Occasionally the brashest move can be the one which has most planning and substance behind it. We knew that launching a text based concierge service would utilise the skills we already had to hand and fit into our company ethos of making life easier for customers. So when demand for this kind of service took off in the US, we knew that we had the resources to be able to launch it in the UK straight away and take advantage of this.
The whole process of growth requires the most careful planning and deliberation. The vast majority of your research can be around the idea itself, rather than on the methods needed to make it work. However if your research says that a sudden move is the best one, it isn’t an opportunity to be missed. Just make sure you have chocolate and red wine handy when it comes to informing your staff.