Guide to Business Growth


No sooner had we started typing "deciding to grow a b..." in Google, than the search engine assumed it was 'beards' not 'business's that we were contemplating cultivating. This made us laugh. Then concerned. Because, of course, Google's probably right to conjecture that far more thought goes into facial hair than it does into figuring out if expanding a business is the sensible next step. Although both the internet and print media are saturated with stories about, and advice for, growing startups, there is a presumption that it'll a) suit all business models and b) be primarily driven by increased sales. By contrast, growing a beard (we couldn't help but read on...) demands first addressing a vast number of complicated and rather personal questions, including evaluating your genetic predisposition to patchy growth and by how by many years it will age your appearance. And that's before you even commit to a five o'clock shadow!

Business Growth Series

Does the media provide this level of detail when it comes to business development? Here at Merchant Money we worry it falls far short of the mark. That's why we'll be publishing a series of blog posts over the coming months assessing personal and professional choice, providing advice on auditing before you make the leap, giving strategy and planning help, illustrating some of the pitfalls you may encounter, and showing entrepreneurs how you can stay true to your original business offering and ethos. In short, we want to build an online resource for businesses who are thinking about growing or already in that transition phase.

But first things first: is expanding your business the right thing to? The (surprising, to some) answer is, "Not always." Almost ten years ago we read a great piece in USA Today entitled 'To Grow Or Not To Grow'. This challenged - in no uncertain terms - the notion that bigger is necessarily better and drew heavily on the findings of a writer called Bo Burlingham. The author of Small Giants: Companies That Choose to be Great Instead of Big, Burlingham has clearly done his research and contends that: "In business, it's easy to confuse size with greatness. Companies of all sizes can be great." Goals like preserving product quality and service, maintaining personal relationships with customers and suppliers, treating and paying staff well and remaining part of the local community are just as worth pursuing as high turnover, he states.

Definitely food for thought. There are countless examples of fast-growing companies whose special character or original spirit has been swallowed up with expanding profit margins. Yet, equally, there are downsides to staying small too, not least lack of capital to develop production or premises. Plus, there are plenty of firms who have made the leap, with customer loyalty and company ethos intact. Homeware queen Cath Kidston is a great example. The 56-year-old started off in business just over three decades ago, sharing an interior design offering with a friend. She told the Telegraph recently: "I didn’t have the confidence to do it on my own, so we had this shop for about five years and it helped me to understand how business worked." Her patience paid off - but not straightaway. In 1993 she sold her share to her business partner and set up her own shop instead. She recounts: "I called it Cath Kidston Household Effects. I wanted to bring together all the decoration that I loved, and I hoped that if I loved the stuff enough, maybe at least one per cent of people out there might love it too. But then a man came in and asked to buy a strimmer and I thought, 'I’ve got this a bit wrong.'" It took a sell-out ironing board cover to set her on the path to commercial success. Her growth depended on the realisation that people wanted not just beautiful objects, but useful ones too.

You can read about her booming empire in a book called Coming Up Roses: The Story Of Growing A Business. The title's gardening analogy isn't an idle one. American self-help writer Dodinsky advises: "Do not plant your dreams in the field of indecision, where nothing ever grows but the weeds of 'what-if.'" In short, think long and hard about where you want your business to go in future. Whether it's growth you grasp, or you opt to stay close to your roots, deciding - and committing - is key.

Further resources

Check out the business and self-employment pages of the site and for more help and advice. The latter has a great series of articles that sometimes take a sideways look at the issue, including a recent piece offering six tips to retain a start-up culture in a growing business.