Tips from successful entrepreneurs: What to focus on when your business starts to take off

First of all, if you’ve reached the stage that you’re stressing about what to focus on because you have too much business, congratulations! You have achieved what keeps many entrepreneurs going through the years of late nights, broke months and tireless networking. Take a second to take it all in – you’re winning the startup battle. This also means you’re at a point where it is time to start shifting from a position of doer to manager. During this growth phase, life and business can become quite a balancing act. Between delegating your workload, finding the right people, deciding on your vision, retaining your competitive advantage and acting on opportunities, no choice is an easy one.

We had the chance to interview three notable entrepreneurs in the Edmonton business community who have been through this difficult stage. Here are some of their wise words on what to focus on when your business starts to take off, so that you can both enjoy the success and act quickly on opportunity when it presents itself.

 

David Forster, Owner of Adster Creative

What did you focus on when your business started to take off that you think made all the difference in your success?

Letting go! If you’re like me, you want to control and oversee everything. This is not a scalable mentality. I’ve made the humbling discovery that there are multiple ways that something can be completed to reach a goal, but I typically believed that “my” was the only way/right way.

When it comes to getting things done, determine, “What is the high level outcome of this task?” Delegate as much of the bits and pieces as you can, and nurture your team’s confidence and ability to hit these outcomes in their own way.

How did you cope with the busyness of running your own company as a new entrepreneur?

Be an amazing organizer. I spent my 20’s touring North America with a band, sleeping inuntil noon and operating on as loose of a schedule as any mortal should be allowed to. Suffice to say, this did not lay spectacular groundwork for what was to come.

As such, I was forced to be brutally honest with myself. I determined where personal development was applicable and what I could let slide. Did I need to become an amazing bookkeeper? No! However, for a guy with a million ideas on the go, solid planning, deadlines and better organizational skills all around were paramount. Much could be delegated, but to achieve real success, I needed to learn how to become organized.

What do you wish you had done differently when your business started to take off?

Seize opportunities when they presented themselves. I think once a business starts to hit its stride, there is a tendency to ease off the gas, often leaving easy opportunities on the table. I had a half a million dollar startup with limitless potential fall apart during one year due to this loss of effort.

What advice would you offer new entrepreneurs who are experiencing a lot of growth in their new business?

Enjoy it! Having read a great deal of successful entrepreneurs’ stories and looking back to my own previous ventures, the periods of rapid growth were always the most exciting.

In the beginning, how did your business strategy change as you realized your business was becoming successful?

Our company’s ability to teach and train became a critical evolution in our strategy. While I may have been pretty good at digital marketing, to keep moving forward I needed to learn how to teach it along with a great many other things. I think many entrepreneurs tap out when they realize this inevitability. Simply put, it's a completely different skill set, one that requires immense patience and care.

Don't be afraid to evolve from a “doer” to a “teacher.”

 

Jason Bots, Principal at United Cycle

What did you focus on when your business started to take off that you think made all the difference in your success?

When we started to grow, we were totally focused on what our customers were asking for. We regularly asked our customers what they wanted and what we could do differently to serve them better. We asked every year and did our best to do what we could to focus our attention on these things.

Another key strategy was asking staff what they thought was going on. From an internal perspective, seeing our opportunities and making sure we addressed those promptly was important. Business really took off in 1993 when we moved to a new, larger location. With the internet these days, you can learn anything about the product, but you can’t know if it is right for your body or for you. This has been key to close the loop.

How did you cope with the busyness of running your own company as a new entrepreneur?

I grew up around a dinner table where business was discussed all the time. There definitely came the time that I felt the pressure and burden of running the company myself, and it became important to shut off the business at night. I created boundaries by leaving my cell phone in the truck at night. When I am unhealthy physically and don’t have time to be with my family, my work suffers, so I have to create those boundaries. It’s only work – only a business. Keep it in perspective. Health and relationships are more important.

What do you wish you had done differently when your business started to take off?

There were some things that caught us off guard. The biggest thing would have been to step back from the chaos for long enough to really understand where we had deficiencies in people. We needed to realize the gap that existed between the staff we had and the skills we needed. We tried to run our business with the same people who had run much smaller operations and smaller scale sales. They were people who did not have the experience to guide our growth. We did not add proper resources quickly enough and things became too chaotic. It might have been too late when I realized opportunities and limitations from a people perspective. However, this forced me to bring in people with more experience to draw on. I only know what I know. As time went on, I surrounded myself with people with more experience in the size of business we were growing to be.

What advice would you offer new entrepreneurs who are experiencing a lot of growth in their new business?

I recommend stepping back long enough to know your strengths and weaknesses and to be honest with yourself. Make sure you surround yourself with people who can fill in your gaps. Consider where you think you are going to be in a year or two and where you want to be going. Hire at that level and that capacity. This is a great recipe for success.

In the beginning, how did your business strategy change as you realized your business was becoming successful?

Well, we were successful for a long time before I came on board, so my answer is a bit different. Our strategy has changed over the years to focus on being more professional and strategic, and to do careful planning and execute plans very well. It took us awhile to get there. For a long time, we were continually reacting. That is when we realized we hadto plan ahead.

The other thing that changed as we grew was the amount of information we shared with our company employees. We used to be very private and didn’t share a lot of financial information. In order to get them more engaged and prepared to make better decisions, we had to make a conscious effort to include them in the information flow. This allowed them to have a better view of the bigger picture to make decisions off of, which helped us prosper.

 

Carl Rosenau, Owner of Rosenau Transport 

What did you focus on when your business started to take off that you think made all the difference in your success?

Customer service. Really, that is the key to it all. In the trucking industry we only have our services to sell. It’s not like we have a widget or carton of milk or something tangible. So it’s about making sure that the customer is always right – focusing on that orhaving a diplomatic way of letting them know that they aren’t always right.

How did you cope with the busyness of running your own company as a new entrepreneur?

I mean, it's tough wearing all the different hats at the same time. You take one off and put 10 others on. Your family life doesn’t come first. Sometimes you have to put your business first. It’s not easy, but having family members involved made it decent.

What do you wish you had done differently when your business started to take off?

I kind of left my accountants, bankers and legal people as they were instead of finding some to grow with me. When you start to go down that road of getting bigger you have to make sure you have the right people on your side who know what they’re doing. I should have talked more openly to my accountants and bankers about big projects in the pipeline to get their opinions. It’s good to get another point of view.

What advice would you offer new entrepreneurs who are experiencing a lot of growth in their new business?

Well number one, you have to have your banker on site now. Then, make sure you have the people you need because without the right people you are dead in the water. You can’t step out if you don’t have good staff behind you. Make sure you have the right people with you or you can’t keep expanding. That has always been my philosophy.

In the beginning, how did your business strategy change as you realized your business was becoming successful?

When you start expanding from one “class” to another or up another notch on the ladder, I think it’s important that you also give back to your community. Support some of the great causes out there. You have to spend money to make money. It became a part of business early on and it has grown with our business. We make our family life from the community here, so we all should give back. It is like putting a recipe together. You need to invest in the right ingredients to make it all meld. 

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