How SMEs can scale successfully

By Ian Bromwich, below, Chief Technical Officer, Thrive Learning

When scaling a business, regardless of how big or small, the jump can be daunting. It requires seamless execution of a clear strategy along with support from across the entire business to make the transformation a success. Every person, especially within the leadership team, needs to be fully committed to creating a joined-up approach. When executed well, it can make the difference between thriving and surviving.

So, what are the fundamentals business owners and leaders should know when planning to grow? And how can change be implemented whilst keeping the company values and heart of the business strong?

Start strong & refine areas of improvement:

First and foremost, any business owner or senior leadership team (SLT) should know be aware of their performance baseline – what is working well within the business, and which areas could be improved. On joining the team at Thrive Learning, creating this baseline was one of the first things we did across the company. With a fresh perspective, I was able to observe every department, from technology to product development, through to the C suite, and create a 90-day plan with recommendations to improve. This allows us to address any possible pain-points before undertaking the scaling journey.

Work out ambitions and timeframes:

At Thrive, our ambition is clear – accelerated innovation to significantly grow Thrive in 2024. Every business leader should have an equally clear ambition in their mind of where they want to be, and in what timeframe. This will naturally lead to additional questions such as how will this ambition be realised, what this means for predicted product volumes, and what needs to be put in place in order for this to be achieved. For example, we know at Thrive we want to significantly increase product delivery and technical capacity, all to be ready on January 1, 2024.

Scaling often comes hand-in-hand with the creation of new roles. For some businesses, this will mean recruitment and internal promotions and moves, for others finding a partner to support. Here at Thrive, we are using a combination of both. Regardless of approach, however, the people behind the decisions should ensure all team members are focused on the end-goal.

We are fortunate to have some incredible talent within the business, and it’s of the utmost importance we support and continue to champion our ‘home grown’ people. However, our growth plans are ambitious and we need to be able to move quickly. We want to continue to be at the forefront of innovation within the industry and disrupt the status quo through our unique approach. Scaling solely with an organic approach would take at least a year to achieve. With our target of January 2024, this could be a problem. However, by taking a combined approach of internal promotions, hiring new people and working with an external partner to fill the remaining positions, we can achieve that in around six weeks. For us, it was very much a strategic commercial decision vs a technology one.

People = company culture:

Employees shape company culture, and if as leaders we’re unable to get them on board with the culture we value, it will never be realised. People want to be respected, they want to feel as though their voice and opinion is valid and heard, and they want to feel as though they are part of shaping the future of the business. This is why, and I think for SMEs it’s especially important, at Thrive we ensure we have an open and honest communication channel with our colleagues, and also our scaling partner.

Everyone in our company should know and be on board with our goals. We do this by openly taking everyone through our ambitions, decisions, and the thinking behind them. We have also invested in Lattice, a performance management and objectives and key results tool which allows us better oversight of the overall team performance, and gives us the ability to align individual performance to team and company performance. The benefits of this open approach far outweigh any potential pain points. In addition, it keeps everyone engaged with the business and what we want to achieve – the power of uniting behind a common goal.

Secondly, when we do bring new people in, be they new recruits or part of our partnership, it will mean they will be welcomed openly, as I was when joining Thrive only a few months ago. This will hopefully lead to a smoother transition and onboarding process.

Sean and the rest of the team at Thrive have worked so hard to create a unique and positive culture, and we want to ensure all people working with or representing Thrive feel included. This means, regardless of location, we’ll ensure they are included in relevant team and management meetings, up to speed on company news and updates, and included in team building activities as and when possible. Everyone will work in the ‘Thrive’ way and feel fully immersed. It’s all around leading from the top and taking down barriers to ensure we all work and collaborate as one team.

Choose the best option for your business, not the cheapest:

I have been fortunate enough to be in the industry for a while and have worked with and at both large-scale international businesses and SMEs. However, unilaterally the biggest mistake I see people make is choosing the cheapest option – this often leads to quality issues. In the long run making a business decision based purely on cost often leads to spending more in the future to fix the mistakes.  Who you choose should be based on a number of factors, including company size, cultural fit, delivery credibility, product and technical expertise, as well as cost.

Ultimately, controlled but rapid growth where the essence of what makes the business unique is possible. It requires clear goals, ambitions and timeframes, full-team commitment across the entire company, and open and transparent ways of working. And always make smart decisions which will genuinely help the business as it grows, vs based on cost.