This summer, Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne offered an honest assessment of decisions made in the midst of business growth. Having over-anticipated their upcoming revenue, the Buffer team grew too quickly, resulting in a tough round of layoffs for the team.
As a business owner, I can’t help feeling for Joel and his entire team. Figuring out exactly how fast to grow is no easy task—and if we make a mistake, real people’s livelihoods are at stake.
In one year, Geben grew from 8 employees to 20. Six months later, we’re at 26, with even more growth on the horizon. Like every business owner, I have had to ask myself over and over again how fast to grow the business and at what pace to hire. How do I balance meeting the needs of current and upcoming clients without stretching the business too thin?
Take Calculated Risks
Currently, we typically hire one to two people ahead of what we need to manage current workload and contracts. This way, we can train our new people in the Geben Way before they’re interfacing with clients. That’s worked really well for us so far, both from a client happiness perspective and because it gives us the bandwidth to accept last minute opportunities. But at the same time, it’s a calculated risk. What if our growth stalls (knock on wood!)? What if that new client in the pipeline doesn’t come through? I can’t pretend that I haven’t been plagued by these same anxieties.
Ultimately, our hiring philosophy amounts to a calculated risk—one that’s paid off for our team. Being available for last minute projects makes our clients happy, and having some onboarding time before jumping in with a client sets our new teammates up for success.
Expect Growing Pains
Of course, tripling Geben’s size within a year didn’t happen without some growing pains. For example, we realized that we weren’t being as clear as we should’ve been about expectations and our definition of “high-quality work.” The solution? We’ve expanded our training and drastically improved onboarding to make sure that we’re giving new hires the tools to succeed. Despite some challenges, the lessons we’ve learned were invaluable and now the resulting solutions are ingrained in our company dynamic.
Develop Processes for Growth
I’m not a process person; however,as we’ve grown, we’ve developed processes and systems to ensure clear expectations and consistent experiences.
As you prepare to grow, what structure do you need to add to things that previously just happened informally? Think about ramifications and opportunities to scale culture, streamline efficiencies, quality assurance—all things that if ignored can derail growth.
Reflect and Re-Adjust
Debriefings are really important. Whether it’s group problem solving—we’re especially fond of the “5 Whys” approach—or individual assessments and reflection, carve out some time to analyze what worked, what didn’t and opportunities for improvement.
We recently had a very hectic two weeks. As I looked back, I realized we signed eight new clients in that short timeframe. It’s hard to analyze growth when you’re busy keeping the hamster wheel spinning.
While I may not be able to always reflect on the big picture in the moment, it’s become important for my team to have time to reflect after the fact on how each new step in the journey has gone. What parts of the process created stress? Where did we experience miscommunications? Where did we hit bumps in the road? What went well that we should replicate?
We’re constantly learning, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop assessing and reassessing whether we’re approaching our growth in the right way. After all, I’m not seeking growth just for the sake of additional revenue. We don’t just want to be successful. We want to be impactful—but that kind of intentional growth doesn’t just happen by accident.