When a small business expands rapidly, it may face a variety of different business growth problems. Companies that heed warning signs are better positioned to emerge battle-scarred but triumphant. On the other hand, businesses that ignore these warning signs may be irreparably harmed and unable to recover. As business adviser Howard Tullman notes on Inc., "many more promising companies are killed by distraction and the inability to handle hyper-growth than starve because they ran out of cash."
Here are some key warning signs of business growth problems that you should watch for:
A Flurry of Minor Mistakes
Small mistakes can be corrected easily when they occur once in a while, but a sudden flurry of errors can indicate that larger problems are on the horizon. If your shipments are occasionally delayed or a cash drawer doesn't quite add up perfectly at the end of a shift, that's normal. If these problems start to snowball and become more frequent, you may have a larger problem on your hands.
An Increase in Employee Stress
Your workforce may need to take on more daily responsibilities if your business is growing faster than your hiring rate. Do you see signs that employees seem unhappy or overworked? Are they often taking work home with them? Do they avoid eye contact or casual conversation with you? If you don't take action to improve employee morale, productivity will likely take a hit and burned-out workers may look elsewhere for relief, forcing you to spend time and money recruiting new hires.
An Increase in Customer Complaints
During times of rapid growth, your employees may feel the urge to cut corners and sacrifice quality in favor of quantity, which can lead to dissatisfied customers. If you see a dramatic increase in customer complaints, you should take action to remedy the situation. After all, dissatisfied customers are more inclined to turn to a competitor.
An Increase in Debt
As rapid growth involves greater expenses, you may experience cash-flow issues during times of expansion. You may even feel the need to borrow money and assume greater debt. To help avoid potential financial problems down the line, you should be wary of your spending at all times.
A Strained Vendor Relationship
A spike in customer demand typically means you must increase your output, which requires a greater influx of raw materials. If your vendors aren't forewarned, they may be unable to provide the necessary materials, leaving customers' orders unfulfilled. This leads to a vicious cycle that no business can afford to endure for very long.
The most successful entrepreneurs are those that don't lose sight of what's most important: their customers. They focus on building a core team of talented individuals, and stay aware of any warning signs that may indicate future trouble. After all, as business consultant Mark Otto says, "success creates its own momentum that is remarkably difficult to maintain." Therefore, it is wise to "be paranoid about your success," as this will help you avoid potential pitfalls.
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