The Business Doctor Case Notes – New Column Alert

Checking vital signs on your sales pipeline? Staff morale in need of urgent medication? P&L in need of A&E? Fear not, as Entrepreneur and Investor has our Business Doctor (and highly successful enterprise guru) Matt Haycox on hand to answer all your queries.


The Symptoms:

Hi Matt! I set up my online retail business five years ago. The first year was really tough, but since then we’ve had steady growth year on year and are creating a bit of a name for ourselves.

However we really seem to have reached a point now where it’s a real plateau (revenues are virtually the same for this year and last) and I wonder if we may have hit our ceiling. 

What advice do you have on working out a growth and development strategy from this point? Thank you! Amanda, Hertfordshire


The Prognosis:

Thanks for your question, Amanda. Online retail is in a very difficult phase right now, so you’re not alone here.

I hear this question a lot from my investments in online retail, and the reason you’re finding this is pretty simple to overcome (although not easy, I would clarify!). Ultimately, the tactics and strategies that you have used to start your business absolutely aren’t the same as what you need to scale it, so you need to change your outlook and your outcomes will follow.

Starting a business requires huge amounts of personal sacrifice, and learning on the job, meaning you have to get good enough at a lot of different things – it’s quite an insular and self-reliant process, that can often be addictive and hard to let go of.

You’ve done this, and reached a certain level, which is already a great achievement. Every person who didn’t make the step and start up never managed this!

However, scaling it requires growth, and in order to grow you must transfer almost all your internal thinking and make it external. Basically, you can’t do it all now – you need others to help you grow, and that’s going to mean relinquishing some control!

You need to invest a significant amount of your time into building your growth team, and putting the right people in the right places.  They don’t need to be all full time employed – you can outsource to contractors or freelancers – but they do need to know their job inside out. This isn’t the time for people who are figuring out their craft – they need to do what they’ve done successfully before, and make your business a massive scaled-up success.

You can then place the majority of your focus on growing the business, knowing other people are in place to run your existing customers. In your world of online retail, that could be things like making sure that wheels are moving, orders being taken, dispatched, customer service is happening etc. You should only need to check in on this to make sure it’s working smoothly, living you to spend most of your time on growth, scale, and partnerships..

The Prescription:

  • Make a list of all the processes in your business, and colour code them as jobs you do and jobs your team does.
  • Review them, and cut all unnecessary processes.
  • Figure out where you can bring in extra resource to take over the processes you are currently assigned.
  • Based on how well you have extricated yourself from the day to day business, create a number of hours you can deliver for growth.
  • Use this allocated time, and your unique goals for the business, to write a short Growth Plan, listing all your activity. If it’s more than one page of A4 it’s too long, so cut, cut, cut until you have your simple and actionable pathway to success!