When you are running a business, expansion is naturally something that you want. It means people are doing business with you and there is a good demand for what you are doing – in short, it means things are going right! However, when a business grows more quickly than you projected and planned for, it can be pretty stressful, and you need to be able to meet the demands of your growing customer base without any issues that are visible from their side, in order to keep your customers and reputation. If you can’t jump the hurdles you face during this quick ramp-up time, you may find this does harm to your potential as a company.
Don’t let that scare you, however. While it may seem like there is simply too much going on for you to manage during a rapid growth phase, if you can implement strategies to cope with the growth quickly, you will soon find your business is able to deal with the new demands placed upon it.
In e-commerce, here are some of the things you may want to consider as solutions if your company is growing faster than expected:
In order to be able to keep on selling, you are going to need to keep stock levels up, and this means, of course, having somewhere to store things. You may want to consider renting offsite storage space, but a better solution, if you have enough space, is to look at erecting temporary buildings designed for warehousing purposes – Smart Space is one company that offers great options for exactly this kind of situation. This will allow you to keep all of your increased stock volume in one location, making the logistics far easier to manage. You can also choose between hiring temporary structures for warehousing and buying these structures permanently, so you can use this solution whether you have plans to move to a larger facility in the future and just need something to tide you over, or whether you want a long-term solution you can put in place quickly.
Temporary warehouse buildings can usually be erected within a short time from ordering, and there are also options if the things you need to store need specific conditions in terms of temperature.
As well as warehouse space, you may also want to look at improving your warehouse processes, perhaps by investing in better inventory management software. This can help avoid mistakes when you are dealing with a lot more products and orders than you have been used to.
As an e-commerce business, your most important thing is your website – if customers can’t use it, or it isn’t kept up to date, then they will start abandoning you in droves. You, therefore, need to make sure that your hosting solution can cope with the increased volume of traffic caused by the growth you are experiencing and also be sure that you are able to keep product availability and listings up to date through your e-commerce solution in line with demand.
The best way to make sure you won’t have any bandwidth issues even during a sharp increase in users is to go for a cloud hosting solution. This way your website will be able to draw from the resources of all of the servers contributing to the cloud and you, therefore, won’t have to worry about your users encountering availability issues.
If you are beginning to see problems with your e-commerce solution as your popularity grows, then now would also be the time to start evaluating your alternatives. You will need a back-end system that is easy to use and also easy to train other people how to use it, in order to keep the content on your site up to date. If you have been doing everything yourself in that respect so far, then this will become even more important. You may start bringing in more staff to deal with these kinds of tasks, so you want to be able to have them working effectively as quickly as possible. This means you want a professional implementation of a well-designed e-commerce platform.
Tasks And Staffing
One of the reasons rapid growth can be overwhelming for small e-commerce business owners is that often, they started out wearing a lot of hats and fulfilling most – if not all – of the roles involved in running the venture by themselves. Many small business owners don’t start getting help with things early enough in the growth phase and end up feeling snowed under by the demands of their new size.
If you want to avoid this, you’ll need to think about which tasks you can most easily and cost-effectively outsource, and which roles you’d actually like to hire employees to do. There is no clear-cut answer to this, as so much depends on your individual business and market, however, there are some things that can usually be outsourced very simply, including accounting, marketing, customer service, and IT.
Outsourcing may not be the right solution for you for all of the areas you could outsource, but if you have some things you need taken off of your hands immediately, or things that you need doing but which don’t justify hiring a full-time, permanent employee for, outsourcing is often the best thing to do.
If you have decided to take on more staff of your own, then it is best to use a recruitment agency to help you find them once you have clearly defined job descriptions for the people you want. This will save you time on looking for applicants and filtering out the best ones, so all you’ll need to do is conduct interviews and make your decision. Of course, if you are growing your staffing you may also need to look at your company’s processes to make sure that they are streamlined enough to support a larger team without causing unnecessary bottlenecks in terms of admin. It may be worth talking to an HR consultant or even including an HR manager in your hiring plans if you are looking to grow in staff size significantly.
As you start seeing an increased demand for your products, you may start to encounter cash flow issues where you need to buy new stock before you have received all the payment for the existing stock or pay for services you need now before you get some of the income you are expecting. This can often be a problem for B2B e-commerce companies, who supply their customers and then have to wait for invoices to be paid, but it can even affect businesses who sell directly to the public, as while payments are taken before products are shipped, keeping stock levels in line with demand often means restocking before all existing stock is sold.
There are various financial products designed specifically for businesses who need to ensure they can pay for what they need to stay operational, even when they are waiting for payments, and these are worth investigating so you can find what works best for you and have a strategy in place for dealing with negative cash flow situations.
Cashflow issues are different from issues where you need capital to invest (for instance, where you would like to buy in a new range of products to start selling). As such, the ways of dealing with them best involve different financial products. However, you should also look at things like business credit cards or loans that can allow you to make investments in new lines or in things you need to make your business run better so that you can leverage your growth while it is happening and keep up momentum.
If your business is growing very quickly and beyond your projections, you can probably assume marketing isn’t an area where you’ve been going wrong! However, it is worth looking again at your marketing strategy to check that it is still appropriate. If your business now has many more existing customers than you expected, is your strategy using that to its full potential? Should you be reinvesting more of what you are earning into marketing to try and create a more prolonged growth phase, or do you want to dial back marketing and let the business adapt to current scale before pushing for more expansion?
You should also take time to analyse the marketing that was involved in triggering your growth. As well as making the most of rapid expansion, it is very prudent to explore how and why it happened, and whether or not there are things you did that could be replicated to create further growth spurts in future.
This is no doubt a very exciting and rewarding time for you and your business as well as a tiring and stressful one, but by using some of the considerations suggested here you should be able to move through your growth phase relatively smoothly while still getting the best from its potential.