The year 2022 was an extraordinary year for our digital marketing agency, one that saw us expand our business operations by an impressive 43%.
Such a trajectory of growth is not without its share of challenges and learning curves. Reflecting on this journey, I've identified seven essential takeaways that I believe could enlighten other businesses in their quest for expansion.
This reflection aims to shed light on these insights, as we continue to navigate through our growth phase. I hope you find them helpful, too.
Business Growth and Its Challenges
The intoxicating allure of growth often blinds us to the difficulties it brings. My experience has taught me that business expansion invariably strains your systems and processes, revealing unnoticed bottlenecks. Many times, I was one of those bottlenecks.
Consider growth as the magnifying glass that highlights the cracks and imperfections in your business model. But herein lies the opportunity: such challenges provide a chance to learn, evolve, and fortify your business infrastructure if you’re willing to be honest and learn from mistakes.
Companies work with ours for lots of reasons – to attract new customers, to raise awareness, to develop thought leadership, to generate leads, to improve sales systems, to install marketing and sales automation, and yes, to grow.
In 2021, I decided to really ramp up our efforts to see what issues growth would cause. Think of it as a business stress test. If we used the same marketing tactics we recommend to others to grow, we’d also be able to advise them on what may happen if growth actually does occur.
As a company grows, it's crucial to anticipate these growing pains and treat them as catalysts for improvement rather than deterrents to success.
Be prepared to reassess your business processes, embrace new strategies, and remain flexible enough to make necessary adjustments.
Financial Savvy is Paramount
One critical lesson I learned was that an increase in revenue does not always equate to higher profit. Yes, growth often will cost you money. As revenues rise, so too can costs—some anticipated, others less so.
Monitoring margins and other financial metrics becomes a crucial exercise, and strategic financial decisions become indispensable to safeguard your profit margins.
Understanding your costs, both variable and fixed, is key to understanding business health. Look for opportunities to leverage economies of scale, negotiate better deals with suppliers, or streamline operations to increase efficiency. Be prepared to innovate systems, software, and even your organizational structure.
Consistency in Marketing is Key
Often, when businesses are swamped with projects and daily operations, marketing takes a back seat. However, a consistent marketing approach is fundamental to maintaining a robust pipeline and ensuring business continuity.
I learned early on to resist the temptation to deprioritize marketing efforts during busy times.
Instead, we fostered a culture of consistent marketing that was independent of our current workload.
I posted on LinkedIn at least three times a week for over 5 years (and still do). We released podcasts. We started a second website for a niche industry we serve. We published The Digital Slate, our newsletter, religiously (go subscribe here). We even tested paid advertising on Google and LinkedIn.
All of this while we were busy bringing in new work. My team must have thought I was crazy.
The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining, not when it's raining.
Let's Talk ROI-Focused Digital Marketing
Growth can be challenging, but one element remains crucial: consistent marketing that delivers tangible results. You don't just need marketing; you need marketing that works. We're talking about strategies that not only bring you closer to your audience but also convert them into paying customers. Let our team guide you in crafting marketing campaigns that drive sales, fortify your brand's position, and uplift your company's reputation.
The Power of Gratitude
One vital aspect of our growth was understanding the importance of employee satisfaction. Our team is our engine, and gratitude is the oil that keeps that engine running smoothly.
I learned to appreciate our employees' efforts and reward them for their hard work. This strategy went beyond just verbal acknowledgments; it meant creating an environment where our team felt valued and appreciated. I found that this approach resulted in increased productivity, loyalty, and overall job satisfaction, all of which contribute to the business's growth and stability.
It even led me to (this year) start writing a #WeeklyWins message in our team Slack channel. This is a fun, celebratory, encouraging, emoji-riddled communication that I write for our team every Friday morning. I’ve gotten great feedback. It shows the team that every week contains wins, big and small, and that I celebrate their hard work.
Process Improvement is a Continuous Endeavor
Processes and systems need regular fine-tuning to keep pace with a growing business. Your employees, who live these processes day in and day out, are the best resources for identifying areas for improvement. Give them a safe space to let you know about it.
Making time to pause, reflect, and update our processes has been a critical part of our growth journey. We incorporated feedback mechanisms to involve our employees in refining our processes, resulting in more efficient operations and a team that feels heard and valued.
Never Stop Learning
Continuous learning is an investment in the future of our business. Encourage a culture of curiosity and innovation, and make time for professional development.
Our team just took a half-day to obtain new certifications or re-certifications, resulting in several new certifications for our team. I plan to do this regularly.
By staying up-to-date with industry trends, technological advancements, and consumer behavior patterns, we've managed to stay ahead of the curve in an industry where constant change is the norm.
We have found that this investment in learning not only benefits our business but also empowers our team members, giving them a sense of ownership and engagement in the company's growth.
Avoiding Burnout: Get A Hobby (or Two)
I’ve always believed that hustle got me where I am today. The business started with a dream and nothing to lose. There were several years when I worked seven days a week. It paid off. I know that’s not for everyone, and it certainly took a toll on me.
Growth is a grind, and it's easy to get wrapped up in the excitement and challenges it presents, leaving little room for much else. This relentless pace can lead to burnout—a state that's detrimental not just to you, but also to the growth and health of your business. It’s contagious to your team, too.
To avoid this pitfall, I found it crucial to maintain hobbies and activities outside of work. These outlets allow you to unwind, recharge, and gain a fresh perspective, ensuring you return to work refreshed and ready to tackle new challenges.
For me, it was committing to coaching my son’s travel baseball team, playing guitar in the church band, and taking the occasional fishing trip. That kept me from working on weekends and at least two nights a week. It also completely took my mind off work.
The secret to preventing burnout doesn't lie solely in separating work and leisure. It also involves nurturing a work environment that promotes a healthy work-life balance.
Starting last year, we started working half-day Fridays. Our team was given the option of finishing their work on Friday afternoons in peace with no meetings or emails, or just taking off early for the weekend. It’s a permanent part of our culture now.
Our Journey, Your Lessons
Our growth journey has been a dynamic learning process filled with change, adaptability, and positive impact. As we celebrate our achievements, we understand that they came as a result of experiencing various challenges and investing in our people, processes, and learning.
If your company is on the path of growth, consider these seven takeaways as guideposts on your journey. They're not a magic formula, just my experiences. Hopefully sharing my experiences can navigate you through the exhilarating yet often challenging journey of business expansion.
At the end of the day, growth isn't just about numbers or profits—it's about people, processes, learning, and the continuous pursuit of improvement. With these elements, success isn't a destination—it's a journey.