I co-wrote my latest book ‘Female Entrepreneurs – The Secrets of Their Success’ to encourage every woman who has set up an entrepreneurial business to decide if they have the desire and capabilities to scale up – as well as offer wisdom and insights on how to do it.

The 52 female entrepreneurs that were interviewed in the book have these words of advice.

Adapt your leadership style as the company grows. 

To successfully scale up, entrepreneurs need to transcend from being the main driver of the business, and often in turn the main bottleneck. Instead they need to put in place the team and structure needed to scale up, as well as keep the team motivated and aligned around a clear vision, strategy, goals and plan. As one the 52 interviewees Victoria Mellor, founder of Melcrum, wisely said: “Get out of the way of your business and let your management team take up the reins”.

Adapt the team structure to enable the business to scale. 

As the business grows, your team structure may need to change. For example, you and your partner may have increasingly different visions and need to go your different ways. Or you may need to build a strong management team around you to set up the processes and structure needed to scale up. Or you may need to let someone who doesn’t fit go. It can be easy to hang on to people for too long, because you’re dealing with people’s livelihoods which is emotional. Instead, don’t be afraid to make difficult people decisions, quickly, professionally and as kindly as you can. If it’s not working, then it’s unlikely to improve.

Lift yourself off the shop floor to look forward to the future. 

If you’ve jumped into a great commercial vein, it is imperative to keep refreshing your business idea once launched to keep it ahead of the competition. To achieve this, entrepreneurs need to strike the right balance between being ‘hands on’ on the shop floor and ‘rising above the dance floor of the daily grind to think in the present and to the future.’ Our interviewees talked of ‘inking in time away from the office’, where they can step back to see the bigger picture and be inspired. They go to external conferences or on long walks and have regular blue sky offsites facilitated by someone outside of the business so that all of the top team can participate. They look at what the brands they admire are doing and how to emulate them within their business, as well as mystery shop competitors. These techniques can all help to spark new ideas on where to take the business going forward.

Stepping up to the challenge

Some of our interviewees made the decision to scale their business when self-imposed or external events and circumstances forced them to step up to the challenge. Some talked about how taking on more responsibility (such as hiring new employees or taking on outside investment) or setting themselves tough targets had forced them to step up their game. Others talked about how unpredictable external events (such as 9/11, the anthrax scare, the London 7/7 bombings and recessions) had led them to shape their business to be more successful. Whilst the initial impact of big external events may be negative, they can often be turned to advantage. A skill which distinguishes entrepreneurs even if it may also scar them. 

Know your destination 

Some of our entrepreneurs planned their desired destination from the outset. Deciding whether to sell or float their business helped them to frame some of the operational decisions they made along the way. For co-author John Smythe, a sale was always the target for the change management consultancy he co-founded with Colette Dorward and Jerome Reback.

Consequently, key decisions like new hires, office locations, target clients, whether to create an advisory board and more were considered with a sale in mind. Our advice is to think through what your destination might be, and if you plan to sell then scale the company with this in mind.

In Summary

There comes a time where the start-up phase is over, and you need to decide if you have the desire and capabilities to scale up. Our interviewees advised that as your business grows: 

  • Adapt your leadership style, by putting in place a team and structure that stops you being the sole business driver and bottleneck.
  • Adapt the team structure to enable your business to scale, by putting in place the right management team and letting people go if they don’t fit.
  • Lift yourself off the shop floor to look forward to the future, ensuring that your business proposition stays ahead of the competition.
  • Turn negative internal and external events to your advantage, by assessing how to adapt your business to step up to any new challenge.
  • Where possible, know your destination early on, so that you can frame operational decisions along the way with the end in mind.

Ruth Saunders

Ruth Saunders uses her 30 years of experience as a strategy consultant at McKinsey, marketer at P&G, advertising planner at Saatchi & Saatchi and market researcher at Mars Inc, to help clients be ‘On Point’. She is a marketing and branding consultant, trainer, speaker and coach – and author of “Marketing in the Boardroom: Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Board.”

She can be reached at ruth@beingonpoint.co.uk or on +44 7768 600906.