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7 startup growth lessons I should’ve learned from other people’s mistakes

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7 startup growth lessons I should’ve learned from other people’s mistakes
Alex Thomas
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Alex Thomas

Founder & CEO, Breakline

Alex is an entrepreneur, SEO expert, and writer. His work has been featured in many reputable publications including Entrepreneur, Business. Alex is an entrepreneur, SEO expert, and writer. His work has been featured in many reputable publications including Entrepreneur, Business.com, and HackerNoon.

As the CEO of a relatively new marketing agency, I’m happy to admit there were a few things I got wrong in the early days of my startup journey… although maybe I should’ve avoided them seeing how common they are.

Growing a newly-launched company can be challenging but also highly rewarding. You are continually learning, and no day is ever the same.

If you are in the growth stage of your startup, take heart from the mistakes I (and many others) have made along the way — and try to be more prepared than I was.

Below is a round-up of seven things I learned while developing my agency:

1. Recruit experienced staff

One error we made early on was hiring people with little experience in the marketing industry.

Save money on employees and hopefully they will grow into the role. That was my thought process at the time.

While this worked initially, it created problems as we took on higher caliber clients. I found we spent too long training employees who ultimately failed to deliver the required quality.

Investing in more experienced personnel sooner rather than later is something I would recommend for all startups. In my opinion, having employees who can hit the ground running is vital.

Be prepared to pay a little more to secure the right candidate. The rewards will be evident as you develop your team and take your business to the next level.

2. Grow in a sustainable way

Once we began attracting a sizeable number of clients, there was a temptation to continue growing more and more rapidly. Revenue was up and confidence was high.

But in hindsight, I feel we overstretched too soon. We took on too many clients and tried to grow too quickly without having a solid foundation in place.

We simply didn’t have the team to serve our clients the way we wanted to. There was too much work, too little experience, and a lack of organization.

In my book, it is best to grow more slowly. Start with a core group of customers and then invest in experienced staff as you build your revenue over time.

3. Leveridge internal communications

I quickly found that a lack of clear communication was the root cause of many problems — at least in the beginning.

Communicating well externally and positioning your brand is important. But what is often neglected is internal communications between stakeholders.

Fine-tuning internal communications is key to everything a startup does. Improve internally and your external communications will naturally follow suit.

As a company, we experimented with various methods to enhance the way our internal communications functioned.

The best results came as we hired more experienced employees and reduced our staff turnover.

To me, it’s obvious that experience and stability are key to building a positive organizational culture.

A settled team is a productive and effective team. So work on your internal comms.

4. Outsource work sparingly

Outsourcing was something I was reluctant to engage with at first. Keeping all work in-house just felt right for what we wanted to achieve.

The major concern was maintaining quality and control. But there came a point where outsourcing just made sense for certain types of projects.

Farming out smaller pieces of work freed up time for employees and enabled us to undertake more work while keeping costs sustainable.

I always recommend doing detailed research first before you farm out anything. Building a trusted pool of freelancers takes time but can be well worth it.

And remember: you still want to deliver the same standard your clients expect.

5. Invest in quality business support

Like many startup owners, I quickly learned that good accountants and solicitors are worth their weight in gold. Don’t fall into the trap of cheaping out.

The reason? In my experience, most entry-level services do the bare minimum and provide impersonal customer support.

If you want to grow, you need people that will work closely with you. By investing in a good accountant and law firm, I had advice on tap whenever I needed it.

A quality accountant in particular will save you time, reduce errors, limit tax liability, and ensure sound financial planning for growth.

Having a trusted legal firm on standby is also beneficial. Look to build a close relationship with all your support services to maximize the advantages.

6. Showcase your work and USPs

Early on in our journey, I feel we failed to trumpet our successes and skills effectively enough, especially across our website and media platforms.

Potential clients don’t know what you can do for them if you fail to demonstrate the advantages of your product or service. It sounds simple, but it’s true.

When we began demonstrating exactly what we could achieve for our clients, we won new business from better quality companies and enhanced our prestige.

For startups working in service-based industries, be sure to highlight your USPs so prospects know precisely what benefits you bring to the table.

7. Target growth — but prepare for change

In my experience, the way to grow is to have challenging but achievable targets (e.g. for review every quarter). This can form the backbone of your growth strategy.

But it is worth remembering that business throws up all kinds of unforeseeable circumstances: you may lose a major client, or a key member of staff might leave.

Be prepared for setbacks, at least in the short term. And use setbacks for learning, not for despondency. Remain flexible and agile in your strategic planning.

Revisit your strategy regularly to ensure you remain on the right track.

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