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The scales of scalability: How to grow your business without the wheels falling off

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I launched Childs Farm, in 2012 when my husband had been made redundant from his job right in the middle of the financial crisis.

I had to find creative ways to pay the bills thus turning our home into a B&B as well as using it as a wedding venue.

The idea of Childs Farm was conceived in 2010, and the B&B funded the initial samples, and kept us fed and warm.

Grit and determination got us through the first years until success followed, with our first national retail listing in 2014 when Boots and Waitrose stocked our products.

But as we grew, I realised that I desperately needed to scale the business – but where to start? I knew I needed extra cash, extended manufacturing and distribution, new blood and skills, and a robust back end to make sure we didn’t implode as we scaled up.

A 2019 study by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman shows that while Australia’s 2.3 million SMEs account for over 50 per cent of business contributions to GDP, they all face challenges as they grow.

More than 1 in 5 small businesses in Australia lack access to funds and skills to innovate, and do not access government financial assistance at the same rates as larger businesses. As a result, SMEs are shutting themselves out of key opportunities for growth.

Through experiences, I have picked up a few lessons along the way about how to handle scaling.

When to admit you can’t do it all on your lonesome

When I started Childs Farm, there were times when I pulled all-nighters to get things done, and as a business owner, putting in long hours is part of the deal. But when growing a business, how do you identify when to ask for help?

Looking back, I can pinpoint 2017, when I realised that in order to scale, I needed to bring on more people and take a step back from the daily operations.

If you have growth potential, but are not achieving it, then it’s time to think seriously about how to scale.Identify what’s holding you back – is it a lack of resources? Do you have the right people in place, with the right skill sets to thrive in a growing business?

Hustle goes a long way, but there is a point where asking for investment, or bringing in experienced employees, becomes necessary if you want to achieve your full potential.

Take a bird’s-eye view

When you’ve started your own business, the chances are that you’ve spent a fair bit of time doing every role imaginable within the business. So, as you grow, it can be tempting to keep a very close eye on those jobs, even as you hire other people to do them.

But no one person can manage every single part of business and nor should you. As you scale at pace, it can be hard to let go, and allow things to move ahead without your input.

While it’s important to stay engaged and accessible to your team, once you’ve put great people and processes in place, you have to trust in them.

Instead of wasting time micromanaging, there are better uses of your time as you scale the business, including setting out a strategy and a road map, working on your marketing and growth plans to get there, and bringing in a team to help deliver that.

Hiring the right people to scale in spirit as well as size

There’s a difference between the staff you need to get your business started, and staff who will help you scale when you’re already established.

As a business grows, so does the complexity of your business, and areas of the business that you thought you had mastered may need an expert’s hand.

To scale at pace, it’s crucial that you bring on board a team of experienced professionals, who share your passion and your entrepreneurial approach, to manage the parts of the business that are going to be central to your success. 

But always make sure they’re on brand and share your culture and values.  Staying true to your original founding vision and mission is essential.

Where companies go wrong is when they fail to or stop honouring their founding magical energy. You can be a global multi-million dollar company but still retain this. 

If you don’t, you’ll soon fall from brand “heaven” into brand “hell”, and your bottom line will be impacted. There are numerous examples of companies that have scaled in size but not in spirit and have lost huge amounts of market share as a consequence.

Our ambitions to grow our business led to key senior hires from the broader industry.

This year, for instance, I made the decision to hire a Marketing Director with experience in a leading pharmaceutical brand, and a new CEO from a successful SME snacks business.

Bringing people with experience in larger companies will allow us to unlock the next level of growth – and learn from larger companies than us in doing so.

Consider investment

Investment is essential to reach the next stage of growth. Seeking investment is not easy and sometimes, you have to speculate to accumulate, spend money to make money.

Investors can often bring in a new perspective to your business, and encourage you to think laterally and about the long-term. If you’re hoping to grow your business, you should think seriously about seeking investment, but be discerning about who you ask.

I learned this the hard way when Childs Farm went into Boots, the beauty and pharmacy chain, in 2014. We didn’t have any money and had to sell my house and so I went to an investment company.

Four days before they were meant to put £3 million into my business, they pulled out. That was soul-destroying but I was also very ill with a fibroid tumour.

I phoned my friend and manufacturer Tom Allsworth of Revolution Beauty, and he said, “I’m on a plane but when I land I’m going to bankroll you.”

And he did. That gave me enough breathing space to secure Investment from a group of investors who have been with me ever since.

Think big, act small

While growth is important, be sure not to lose your agility and entrepreneurial edge that’s got you to where you are so far.

SMEs are lucky that they are not constrained by what big business have: going to legal before they answer a question instead of just answering the question.

Fortune favours the brave. Small firms need to be agile and think outside the box, without being afraid to take risks even when looking to grow.

Of course, this is hard when you are looking over a precipice, but being fearless is often a key factor for successful business.

As well as being an entrepreneur, Joanna is a mother of two to Mimi and Bella. They were the inspiration behind the launch of Childs Farm and the products she created, as they both had sensitive skin and nothing on the market worked.

Joanna Jensen is the Founder and Chair of Childs Farm
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