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7 top tips for transitioning from startup to scale-up

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Salma Shah is the director of SoftSkills4Tech, which specialises in helping businesses improve their performance through people, storytelling demos and customer conversations. In this article, she shares her top advice for transitioning your business from a startup to a scale-up.

Despite the chaos, the initial startup phase is an exciting one. Everyone is committed to going the extra mile and doing what it takes to make it happen.

As the company starts to grow the same energy and drive leads to frustration and isn’t sustainable. There are lost opportunities and dissatisfaction as people find themselves tripping over each other and the startup culture starts working against you.

Even if you are still successful as everyone is pulling in the same direction to scale-up you will need to recruit more people, create new teams, business functions and new leaders.

As per Marshall Goldsmith’s words, “what got you here, won’t get you there”.

Being passionate and dispassionate

Business can be tricky, especially if you’re in a leadership role as one of the essential qualities you must possess is the ability to do what is best for the business, without getting tied up emotionally.

This doesn’t mean you should act like a robot, but there will be times when you have to make hard decisions and it’s crucial you make them with your business head on.

The key is to be pragmatic. When the decision has been made, take practical steps to implement the change and this will demonstrate your skill in dealing with a business matter in a business manner.

Communication

Good communication, in all its forms, is fundamental to the success of any business.

You may have a great product – a leading edge YouTube video, fabulous branding colours, an eye-catching logo – but if the wording on your advertising or website doesn’t hit the spot, neither will you.

Your collective voice needs to be in tune so that when your client hears it, they feel confident in moving forward because your company message is clear.

In house communication is just as important as everyone needs to know their role and how they fit, because it takes all of them to make the business run smoothly.

It’s a bit like a computer – it only works properly when hardware communicates with software.

Letting go

As the business grows, more customers come on board and so do new employees, but sometimes it can be hard to hand over some of the larger responsibilities because you are so used to doing them yourself.

It’s fear that can prevent you from letting go. The fear of no-one being able to do the job as well as you – the fear of handing it over and they mess it up – the fear of then having to find the time to fix it.

Perhaps, somewhere in your subconscious, there’s a fearful little voice saying ‘ what if they do it better than me?’

You really shouldn’t worry because actually, the thought of letting go is far scarier than doing it.

Do it once and you wont ever worry about it again. Go on, dare to delegate!

Culture

So business is growing at a rate of knots and you’re now wondering how to maintain the company culture that has made the environment so great to work in.

The trick is to keep it personal. Make sure you’re in regular contact with employees and get a monthly something organised and diarised so that it never falls by the wayside.

It’s all about connection, so find ways to ensure everyone feels like they are part of the team and that includes you.

In other words, keep checking in with a ping.

Change

Now your business has grown, it’s inevitable that things will change and you will undergo certain restructuring.

The transition can be fraught with difficulties as people don’t like change, but people are a key element here so you need to keep them happy.

The business will need loyalty and support throughout this transition, so make sure you keep everyone up to date on any changes and consult with them to get their opinions from a ‘hands on’ level.

You may be surprised at what you learn and it could even prevent you from making any damaging changes.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Hiring people who are smarter than you

Guy Kawasaki said “Greatness starts with the humility to hire people who are much smarter than you”.

It’s the kind of philosophy you need when it comes to hiring employees.

Forget ego, ignore insecurity and face up to the fact that smarter people make your life easier.

They get the job done, saving you time which is, as we know, the most precious commodity in today’s world.

The time saved, which you would not have previously had, can be used to work on ideas and projects to further grow the business, making you pretty smart indeed.

Embracing conflict

Conflict in the workplace is sometimes unavoidable and is responsible for causing stressful situations that can hang around for weeks, disrupting the workforce and business flow.

However, conflict is healthy and a part of growing up.

While it’s all rather unpleasant, it’s essential to diffuse these situations quickly and out in the open.

The workplace is home to a diverse range of characters, each with their own way of looking at things and sometimes, they will collide.

It’s far better to prevent a conflict from escalating by taking action immediately, because there is no human backspace!

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