HOW TO SCALE: Why Bigger is Different & What to Do About It

If you want to scale, or if you’re trying to deal with growth that has already happened, there is something you need to know. 

Most people think scale is about more.  You create more business with more sales to more customers.  You handle more business with more hard work, longer hours and more people hired. 

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Owners think they can scale by doing more of what worked in the past.

They hire more people and pay them more money.  They work more hours on more days.  But it doesn’t work. 

They end up with more problems.  So they have more meetings that last longer.  They hire more people.  They get more frustrated as more things get missed.  They fight more fires and fight harder but they just can’t keep up.  (Click HERE for more on how to know your problems are more than just growing pains.)


The truth is that BIGGER is different.  Not a little different.  A LOT different.

It’s as different as going from playing baseball to playing football.  A lot of the same skills and abilities are useful but the game itself is fundamentally different.

Here’s how growth changes things: 

  • More front-line work means you are dealing with more customers, more decisions, more potential problems, more costs and more revenue.
  • More people to do the front-line work means you have more to organize, more to train, more to manage, and more potential problems.
  • More managers add entirely new layers of complexity to how things get done.  Information needs to be relayed to them and through them, up to leadership and back down to front-line people.  There are more people to involve in decision making, which takes more time.
  • More space is often needed to house everyone. You might add offices or workspace or even new locations.  Everyone is more spread out which changes how often you see people and how easy it is to communicate.

In small companies, it’s possible (although not advisable) to manage mostly informally.  Everyone works close to the work itself and to one another.  It’s easier to have conversations and make decisions and keep an eye on everything.  People talk all the time.  Everyone knows everyone, how things work and what to do. 

When you manage informally, you’re mostly managing by TOUCH.  You check in with people to get updates, deal with issues or make decisions.  This (kind of) works when you are smaller. 

As you grow you add more people, more problems, more locations and more layers.  You and your key people have more to do over a larger number of people and areas.  You aren’t always able to be there to make sure things are done the way you wanted or help team members solve problems the way you used to.  You don’t have the luxury of checking in as often as when you are small. 

Each new stage of growth makes it a little more complicated and a little tougher to stay on top of everything.   

You’re not there to get the information, see the problems or solve them. 

When you’re small YOU (and a few key people) ARE the structure. 

If you don’t replace those informal structures, if you don't build real systems and process, if you don’t train your people to do what you (and a few key people) have been doing, growth will mean you no longer have a way to make sure things get done right or done at all.  You’re basically hoping people can and will figure it out without you.

You can’t solve this problem by just working harder.  There is now too much to do and too many problems.  You’ll never catch up. 

You need to replace your old, informal systems and processes.  You need to change the ways you organize your people and work, how you assign resources, and the tools you use (or need to build) to track results and hold people accountable.  

You need to shift your focus from solving problems to building structures, from effort to strategy, from working IN your business to working ON your business.

You can’t just work harder.  You have to work smarter and with a very different focus.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:  You may also want to check out THIS article on what to do about this problem.

For a LOT more on how to scale successfully click HERE to read the tiny book for owners, "There is NO SUCH THING as Got Too Big or Grew Too Fast."


About the Author:  Alecia Huck is a hard person to find and a good person to know.  She specializes in working with fast-growth companies who need to learn the block & tackle skills of leadership; how to hold people accountable, run great meetings, keep track of people and work--the kind of tactical support that it is really hard to win without.  Find out more HERE