“If you build it, they will come” and other growth cautionary tales.

Understanding growth has taken decades of professional experience across a variety of companies and industries. We've learned the hard way that the strategies we talk about below don't work. But we wanted to take the opportunity to explain why they don’t and give you the opportunity to consider these before you make your own growth decisions.

Lots of small companies and startups take a Field of Dreams approach to their growth. They are usually limited in time and funds, and desperate to get market validation quickly enough to secure additional funding and grow. We call this the “If you build it, they will come” growth strategy.

How it works is simple. A young - usually inexperienced - business owner spends time and money on several strategic growth building blocks (a content piece, a website overhaul, a webinar, a small budget social campaign) and expects this small effort to somehow become a viral sensation with hundreds of qualified leads putting the office phone lines under siege.

When the small effort doesn’t pay off in the expected (viral and completely unrealistic) way in a few weeks, the business owner gets disappointed and pulls all remaining budget and effort away from the marketing initiative and determines the growth building block “doesn’t work” or “doesn’t work for us.”

Growth is not the result of one fundamental building block being deployed once. Growth is the result of a group of strategic initiatives, working together, in an iterative way over time.

Let’s break down that statement.

A group of strategic initiatives. This includes content, design, social media, paid demand gen, PR, and sales. The key here is that they need to be grouped together. As in: more than one of them.

Working together. Each and every single one of the building blocks is as fundamental as the next. You cannot choose to focus only on one and expect growth. Yes, you should be working to develop awesome content, but if your sales department is not fully ready to engage the leads; the content play will be worthless. Similarly, your sales department can be fully equipped to handle a tidal wave of prospects, but if you have not fed the top of your funnel with a powerful awareness campaign that then leads prospects down the acquisition path, you will be staffing a sales department that won’t have new business to close.

In an iterative way. One of the tenets of growth is constant experimentation and pulling levers in order to trigger results, examining results and quickly implementing those changes into the inbound process. This involves a twofold effort on the part of your team: you need to be able to implement experiments in a periodical cadence, but you also need to be ready to pivot as necessary at the drop of a hat or quickly generate iterations.

Over time. This is a key part of this statement. While rocket-like growth happens sometimes, the norm is not overnight success; especially with businesses that don’t have a built-in audience. Growth simulates more of a marathon than a sprint. You need to be prepared to stick with it - all of it - for the long haul in order to continue reaping the benefits. Growth is not an area of your business where you can grow complacent. Your team should be figuring out what the shelf life is for ad creative, when a campaign has run its course or when you need to pull a different lever in order to stimulate growth.

Another popular myth is “All growth is good growth.”

And while the basic formula seems to indicate all growth should be good, this is not always proven true. The “All growth is good growth” myth is a cautionary tale for those business owners who want to reach that growth hockey stick, no matter the cost to the business.

Scaling a business can stress a business. Quick growth can stress quality control in a product. When you’re ramping up in order to keep up with demand you could be ignoring important testing in new features, leaving features out in order to rush out new product or just not paying attention to the details that make a great customer experience.

Quick growth can bankrupt your business. In the effort to keep up with quality, you might be growing your operation before you have money on hand for the growth that is supposed to be happening. The promise of income is not the same as actual money flowing into your bank account. Many businesses have been lost to overeager owners trying to keep with growth that isn’t the dollars in the bank kind of growth.

Growth can change who your competitors are. This is one not a lot of people think about. Your company/product can grow so much, you are not only the big fish in your original pond; but you start competing with even larger fish in even larger ponds where you weren’t even a player originally. It is very different to compete with a range of regional startups, than it is to compete with established market giants who own actual double digits (or more) of the market share. That kind of competition completely changes the rules of your growth game, and merits an entire re-scoping of your growth strategy in order to remain competitive.

Growth changes the essence of your company. It’s hard to change who you are without changing who you are. And growth is change. When growth starts affecting the company culture, you could be risking members of your original dream team. Lots of organizations struggle with what it means for a company to grow up from startup to corporation. And there are also lots of organizations who pride themselves in being 30-year-old companies that operate like startups. Arrested development is not a cute gimmick in the corporate world; even Zuckerberg has to wear real pants and a shirt without a hoodie once in a while.

So that’s it, in a nutshell. Two “food for thought” nuggets of information for any team leader or business owner seeking explosive growth should consider when strategizing what growth means for their product or company.  If you want to chat more about your growth strategy, hit the contact form and let us know what’s on your mind.

Astrid Storey