They say in business, timing is everything. ‘They’ don’t say much about speed.
Which is funny, because if you think about it, nothing defines passionate entrepreneurs more than their need for speed. Or breaks their heart quicker if their brand takes its ‘own sweet time’ to shine.
If we are to debate and deliberate on the ideal speed of business, we might as well step back and start from a more fundamental place: Do you even control it?
On the face of it, the answer will probably be a “Who else?” (with an eyebrow or two raised in tow). Makes sense. After all, it’s your dream business. Your hand-picked resources. Your flawless strategy. Your sweet idea. If you’re still not in control of things – and that includes the velocity of the roadster you have brought to life – there’s something wrong.
Unless, of course, there isn’t. Unless it’s one big illusion. The fact that you’re in control, that is. Because, come to think of it, so are several other factors.
Who’s in charge?
Your competition (you know they’ll turn the screw at the first opportunity). You customers (their radar will wander at the next big trend). Your strategy (you think it’s perfect. You also know perfection is impossible to attain). Your team (just when you think you have got the chemistry down pat, you realize it’s all about the accounts).
Your idea (the best thing since sliced bread you say? What if carbs go out of style tomorrow?) Your investors (in the words of the immortal Joker – the Heath Ledger version – when a faithful dog goes hungry for too long, something weird happens to the way its wired). Your economy (it’s officially notorious for having a mind of its own). Your life-cycle phase (startups, mid-sized and biggies each have their own growth nuance).
Sometimes, you can’t but grow fast – like when your economy is booming, or when you’re flush with both funds and a mandate to scorch the tarmac. Conversely, limiting factors may make ‘slow’ the only feasible way to survive.
Still think you’re the one running the show?
Having driven that nail through the coffin, one would, of course, come round to admitting that both slow and fast are things to factor-in and aspire-for in your growth trajectory. Yes, even slow can be aspirational – more of that in a minute. After all, there can be no progress without a goal.
So there might be several reasons why a ‘go hard and go home’ grow-big-quick roadmap might make sense to you. Like gaining economies of scale to survive. Jumping over the ‘vicious cycle’ into profitability. Keeping investors quiet. Add your own reasons here.
There might be equally compelling reasons to stay on the slow track. The demands of legacy. The paucity of funds. The lack of competition (and hence, of urgency).
But do we control the speed of progress? While jury is still out on that one, it can be safely assumed that beyond a point, one doesn’t.
However, you should have a speed plan.
How hard (or soft) you press down on the pedal will be the result of several critical variables. And needs to be nurtured with instinct-first planning, sensitivity-first management and innovation-first financial savvy.
Go too fast, and you could run into operational issues (documentation is often the big pain area here). Team issues (culture building and training both take time – while worker burn out is a whole different, but parallel, challenge). Focus issues (when your motto is ‘growth above all’, it’s easy to overlook things like quality customer experience – usually a natural result of managing multiple spinning plates at once).
Control issues (as you skyrocket, you will need to delegate more and more). And cash flow issues (if you’re growing fast, you’ll have to spend on material, inventory, equipment and hires that much quicker).
Grow too slow, and you’ll probably run into technological obsolescence. Cultural inertia. An un-agile workforce. And yes, cash flow issues again (businesses that grow too slowly often find it difficult to secure financing from equity investors, banks and venture capitalists).
Then again, both fast and slow have plenty going for them, too.
A nimble rate of growth is an unbeatable validation that your idea, passion and strategy works. It fetches you the best talent in the land. It builds investor confidence. It generates economies of scale. It begets cost advantages (if you get to be powerful enough, you can control prices to out-price your competition out of the water, that is). And provides a robust launchpad for the next level of growth.
A slow rate of growth is nothing to be scoffed at. For one thing, there’s a lot less stress in the air – a prerequisite for doing anything well. Then, there’s usually less risk of something going spectacularly wrong. You also have enough time to build a great culture and a team that fits just right. Finally, a slow but steady clip can breed its own unique brand of satisfaction.
Theory of relativity
So, while a 20 percent+ (per annum) rate of growth is considered outstanding, and a 7-8 percent (per annum) is definitely higher than average, fast and slow is really a relative thing. If stakeholders are calling the shots, you don’t have much of a choice. But when you’re the one behind the wheel, take full advantage of the latitude (make no mistakes, it’s the ultimate business luxury) to design, build and grow your business on your own terms. At a pace that makes the most sense to you.
Strategize in detail. Take decisions wisely. Plan for capital. Take charge of your dream. And let the speed take care of itself.
Fast, slow or somewhere in between? What’s the growth-velocity that’s worked for you and your business so far?
DKODING THE SPEED OF GROWTH
A nimble clip of progress isn’t an indubitable KPI of growth.
Just like a relaxed one doesn’t reflect its absence.
Focus on the basics and stay alert to changes.
Somewhere in between lies the sweet velocity you should clock.