So you’ve started an online business, nailed the value proposition, financial plan, and marketing, and hit the level of growth you were aiming for. That’s fantastic news! But the work doesn’t stop there, and it isn’t quite as simple as carrying on in that vein until you’re making millions, because greater success also poses technical and logistical challenges.
After all, a website that remains as smooth as butter with a hundred visitors might slow to a crawl with two hundred simultaneous users and stop functioning entirely with three hundred all issuing requests at the same time. And then there’s the added demand of handling a workload that can easily surge out of control.
Here’s how I recommend you go about scaling up your online business to meet demand and support further growth.
Use Automation Tools
As an online business owner, automation should be your best friend. Using computer software to carry out everyday processes without needing your input, you can achieve vastly improved levels of efficiency and free up a great deal of time as a result. Automated systems also have the effect of eliminating the trivial errors that humans so frequently produce.
WordPress websites can quickly and easily be made more efficient through the use of plugins such as Yoast SEO or CoSchedule, or there’s downloadable software, cloud solutions, or further add-ons or widgets (depending on the specific system in use). You can deal with a wide variety of common business processes using automation, such as the following:
- Taking payment from a variety of sources
- Acknowledging and tracking received requests
- Optimising pages for SEO and readability
- Establishing and maintaining detailed performance logs
- Allocating and tracking employee tasks
- Promoting content through social media
Aside from the technical elements of online retail, you should also prioritize automating as much as possible of your marketing plan through a tool such as ActiveCampaign or Ontraport. If you define all the parameters for how you want your customers to be sorted when your numbers are still manageable by hand, you’ll position yourself to truly benefit from a huge influx of traffic.
Automation can truly be transformative. For instance, Affinity Management Group added PerfectForms to their sales process and found that their resource costs went down while they yielded response rates 4 to 5 times higher than their industry standard.
You can also delegate various tasks through outsourcing to save even more time. If you put a trustworthy party in charge of your website maintenance, for instance, then you can forget about the technical parts and stick to your business model.
Future-Proof Your Technology
Everything from the computers you work on to the software you run can present a bottleneck for scaling. Small businesses in particular can get into ruts of using complex processes and workarounds to continue using outdated technology, but it’s unlikely to be fit for purpose with a tripled workload. Investing in tech now means saving time and money later.
For instance, picking up an existing business (as opposed to building one from scratch) is an increasingly-popular option today because you get to avoid a lot of the technical hassle involved with creating your own. In the ecommerce world, for instance, there are plenty of businesses for sale on optimised systems that make it so much easier to scale smoothly to meet expanding demand. The back-end software and hardware are updated and upgraded for you. This user-friendly advancement is a huge part of why WordPress is such a popular platform.
If your business website isn’t running on a hosting setup that has sufficient room for expansion, you’ll need to look into moving it to one that does. Whether this will involve migrating to an out-of-the-box solution of the kind you can get through Shopify, Yo!Kart or Tictail (among many others) or finding a custom dedicated solution with the pricing model and level of flexibility you need, well, that will depend on your particular requirements.
The best hosting solutions can rapidly divert resources to handle not only high levels of traffic but also seasonal or event-based spikes. When Concrete Solutions moved ecommerce site Casa & Video to Amazon Web Services, their Infrastructure Manager Daniel Ferreira gave the following explanation:
“The elasticity and robustness of AWS attracted our attention, especially the elasticity that could quickly leverage the business and respond to seasonality that, in our case, happens on holidays.”
Take a look at as many comparisons as you can, such as this one, and aim to spend a little more on hosting than you think you need to, just to be safe. Perhaps your current hosting can handle it, and that’s good news if so, but know that arrangements can change. If you keep in mind that you may need to change your setup on little notice, you’ll be ready for it if it happens.
Plan to Meet Increased Demand
As noted earlier, scaling presents various logistical challenges, and one of them is meeting a significant increase in demand. However smooth a business setup might be, there will always be a practical cap on how quickly it can resolve its workload, and growing past your current limits will inevitably lead to a grinding halt in operation and a punishing blow to your perceived level of professionalism.
To prevent reaching a point of failure, make absolutely sure that your process is rock-solid and capable not only of meeting the level of demand you’re aiming for but actually comfortably exceeding it. That way, if you become the victim of your own success, you’ll have the time you need to scale back down a little without suffering a catastrophic shutdown.
On the topic of shutdowns, do you have the funds to cover a brief operation failure? Things may have proceeded very smoothly for you so far, but it only takes one natural disaster or case of equipment failure to trip you up, and the larger your business gets, the more resources it will drain while it remains out of order. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
And examine your sales funnel. Is it fit for purpose at scale? How much of it requires day-to-day intervention on your part, and how much has been systemised well enough to carry on functioning without in-depth supervision? You should look to systemise as much as possible, per Ryain Weiss, Founder and CEO of DigitalMarketer.com:
“When something works, don’t just high-five your team and move on to the next thing on your to-do list. Instead, figure out exactly what you did, step-by-step, to achieve that result. Write it down, and then try to repeat that result following your newly-created, step-by-step process. If you achieve the same result, then hand the process to someone else, and see if they also get the same result.”
As you do so, reach out to owners of comparable businesses (avoiding competitors, of course) to see if they can offer you any specific advice. You may well discover that they know exactly what position you’re in and can steer you clear of a roadblock you might otherwise crash into.
Get the Right Staff
With a limited workload, a one-person operation can be effective — but an individual simply doesn’t have the time or energy to do everything required to grow and scale a business, even considering the relative convenience of selling online.
That’s why you need to patiently assemble the best team you can to support you in your efforts. You may find it tempting to focus on being frugal, but firing employees who aren’t performing or don’t fit their positions is a messy process, as is hiring replacements. You want to get it right the first time, even if that means paying more than you originally intended. It’s an investment in your future — choose wisely.
On that note, try to keep an open mind about your staffing setup, because you aren’t obliged to stick to the classic office arrangement. If you’re not totally sold on local candidates, look elsewhere. Consider remote staff, even overseas if that’s where the best options are (virtual assistants are also an option, though they may not be the long-term solution you need). You may lose something in convenience and team coherence, but you’ll get much more varied experience, and save on the overheads of finding office space to accommodate everyone.
To figure out where you need staff, consider two things:
- The parts of your business that are taking up the most of your time
- The areas that could benefit you hugely with a bit more attention
For the former, Matt Lloyd, CEO and Founder of MOBE (a platform with over 750,000 subscribers) recommends picking up an administrative assistant and a salesperson to help you out, and uses the following reasoning:
“Think of it this way, if a golfer had to carry his own clubs in a major tournament, he’d be left with little energy when it comes to taking his shots!”
You should also think about your finances, as even though there are great tools you can use, they’re sufficiently advanced that they need expertise to use properly. It may well be worth hiring a financial expert to take care of that aspect of the business.
As for the latter, there are many avenues with potential you’ll never realise without giving them some meaningful attention. Social media is a big example. You can toil away at social media promotion on a semi-frequent basis and get nowhere at all, or you can hire someone who knows how to do it and discover how cost-effective social marketing can be.
Ultimately, with the right staff at your side, you’ll be in a position to get on with growing the business through sales and networking, knowing that all the tasks you don’t have time to do are in safe hands. You’ll also have their creativity and expertise to draw from as you look to the future. There’s simply no good reason not to hire the best people you can afford to.
Looking to take your online business to the next level through scaling? Make sure you know the risks and commit the time and resources necessary to preparing for the massive shift in operating requirements. It’s entirely possible to handle the shift gracefully if you think everything through beforehand, so make that your goal.
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