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Everywhere on the internet there are lists: the top ten films of the year, the ten best ways to get rich, the five sure signs you are losing the will to live. I may have made one of those up.

And since there appears to be a current trend in advice on how to scale up your business (or grow it, as normal people would say), and in a spirit of 'if you can't beat them, join them', especially as it is my specialist subject, here is my four pennorth on the subject.

Of course if you're running a lifestyle business and are quite happy to stay at a headcount of one, you can safely stop reading now (always assuming you got this far in the first place).

If you are just starting out on your journey, or have been toiling for a year or several, have a few (or many) employees, but income and profit have either plateaued or begun to decline, I hope you will find food for thought.

Growth is not an optional extra: if you are not growing, you will be contracting. Very very few manage to stand still for long. And once you have a pay-roll, you also have a responsibility to other lives and lifestyles as well as your own.

Growing steadily and sustainably is the holy grail of most small businesses. No growth = stagnation. Too rapid growth strains finances, cash-flow and systems, however robustly they were designed.

There is no magic wand, but if you do not address not just some but all of the list attached, your business will under-perform its potential.

I'll try and keep it short. If you want to discuss any (or all) of the points raised, you know where to come.

1.Start with a plan
Know where you want to get to and what the business might look like in five, ten, fifteen years' time. Write it down and share it with your staff. If they don't know where you are trying to get to, how can they help you get there?

2. Vision
What do you believe in? What sets your business apart from your competitors? Everything you say and do should be informed by those qualities. You will find customers, and employees, more effectively, who believe what you believe.

3. Systems & processes
Shoe-box accounting is for amateurs and failures. Start your business with detailed systems and processes that will enable consistent and continual growth without constant tinkering with the way you do things. Imagine you are going to franchise the business, whether you are or not, and produce an idiot-proof operations manual that covers every possible transaction.

4. Employ the best
Do not be afraid to seek out people who are better than you. Pay salaries that attract the most talented. They will repay you many-fold along the way. Do not listen to fears of breakaways: few have the appetite for risk that you obviously do, and if you treat people well, they will not wish to anyway.

5. Financial security
Make sure you know exactly where your business stands on an ongoing basis. Monthly management accounts are an essential tool, not a luxury. Have access to finance for as many eventualities as possible: opportunities as well as threats.

6. Marketing & Sales
I know some businesses for whom 'the phone just rings'. Reliance on this is ill-advised. Marketing should be treated as an investment you plan to get a return on, not a cost. It should be your biggest lever of growth. Employ someone, if you can't do it yourself, to devise and execute a marketing plan and be responsible for its results.

7. Build a team
A team requires different skill-sets to be fully effective. No one is good at everything, but with the right combination of personnel, you can cover all the angles. Teams also require a captain. If you are not a natural leader, there are ways of improving your leadership skills, through specialist coaching. Pooh pooh this at your peril.

8. Develop a reputation
Clients and staff will beat a path to your door if they see evidence of your vision (see number 2) becoming established. A good reputation will do much of your marketing and PR work for you: your campaigns will be pushing at an open door.

9. Have fun
If your people do not enjoy working for you (and together: see 7 above), you will get less out of them. And the team that drinks together stays together. (Or is that just an ex-rugby player speaking? - No, Ed.) If they put in an extra shift, achieve something important, find a way to say thank you.

10. Destination
Few people die with their boots on, or want to. Have a clear idea of what a successful exit looks like, when you have achieved all you want to achieve. And remember: no one has, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office" engraved on their headstone.
Going for growth?
Having taken a business from start-up to multi-million pound sell-out over a dozen years, I had to confront all of this, picking up much of it as I went along. I wish I'd known it all when we started. If you ask nicely, I'll transfer the knowledge in your direction, for a consideration.

David Croydon: 01844 237450/07836 334150

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For more information, or to arrange a no-strings-attached initial meeting, contact:  

David Croydon

Hilltop Consultancy
Business Advice Oxford, Oxfordshire