By M.L. Dehm HBJ Freelance Writer
EVERETT — The first few years after opening a business are said to be the hardest. But after you survive those critical early years, how do you know when it’s time to take your business to the next level and how do you go about it?
Travis Snider, a business coach and president of BETS Consulting, hears these questions all the time. He’s also the lead instructor and curriculum designer for Everett Community College’s Corporate and Continuing Education Center’s Small Business Accelerator course.
Before you begin to think about growing your business, Snider said, you have to know your numbers. “One of the biggest issues that we have is that people don’t have adequate financial statements or performance indicators. So often they are doing a lot of things but they can’t really tell how it’s working out because they can’t measure it.”
While Quick Books is a good software choice for many small-business owners, they can’t always rely on the data coming out of it unless they know they have been diligent and accurate with their data entry. It’s common to find a number of expenses missing, Snider said. That means business owners may initially think they’re making money but at the end of the year they’ll show a loss.
But once someone has been in business for a few years and has an accurate starting point from which to measure growth, it’s time to make a plan.
“Our number one best practice is having a vision,” Snider said. “Where do you want (your business) to go in the next three to five years?”
For many, that vision may be a doubling of company size within five years. Whatever the goal, it is important to have the vision clear in your mind, Snider said, to give you a sense of direction. During the Great Recession, Snider and his colleagues observed that those business owners who had a vision usually fared better than those who didn’t plan.
Even when those visionaries didn’t know how they were going to manage it, they kept moving forward because the vision sustained them and they had motivation and a goal, Snider said.
“We’ve seen that people who don’t have that vision, who don’t have that sense of what they are trying to work for, usually don’t have the drive and the passion,” Snider said. “They don’t know where they are going and any trail is OK.”
After establishing a vision, the next important element in taking your business to the next level is to surround yourself with a successful support team and trustworthy employees. Many business owners work an unsustainable 60 to 70 hours per week. It’s not long before they’re burned out and the business suffers.
To prevent that burnout, the business owner should aim to work fewer hours as the business grows.
“You can’t do that unless you have the right people on board,” Snider said. “Often it takes a lot of time and there are a lot of disappointments along the way. But they won’t grow and be successful three to five years from now without a lot of support from other folks.”
Some of that support can come from peers, he said. It can be beneficial to join groups made up of other business owners even if those businesses have little relation to your own. This can be as informal as regular networking to as serious as taking a course such as EvCC’s Small Business Accelerator and its follow-up, the Accelerator CEO Roundtable.
EvCC’s accelerator courses are designed with the established small-business owner in mind. The business owner’s class project is to grow their own business. They receive coaching and learn proven strategies for business growth and success.
The CEO Roundtable brings in speakers on specific topics but also allows veteran business owners to share their ideas with each other.
“Their businesses may be different but the problems that they are facing are often very similar,” Snider said.
The topic of the last CEO Roundtable was Internet retailing and social media marketing. Roundtable members were encouraged to bring a trusted employee to hear the presentation if they weren’t tech savvy themselves.
Another option for exploring opportunities for a company’s advancement is to hire a business coach or a business consulting firm such as Snider’s BETS Consulting. These would be more of a one-on-one coaching situation.
Whatever path the owner chooses to take to expand their business, Snider has a lot of sympathy and respect for them. He knows that small-business owners have a lot of integrity and that they want to take care of their customers.
The trouble is that they often forget to take care of themselves.