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Leisurely or on-steroids: What’s the right speed of growth for your business?

They say in business, timing is everything. They don’t say much about speed. Which is funny, because if you think about it, nothing defines passionate entrepreneurs more than their need for speed. Or breaks their heart quicker if their brand takes its ‘own sweet time’ to shine.

They say in business, timing is everything. They don’t say much about speed.

Which is funny, because if you think about it, nothing defines passionate entrepreneurs more than their need for speed. Or breaks their heart quicker if their brand takes its ‘own sweet time’ to shine.

Am I going too fast? Am I falling behind? Should I overtake? Should I tailgate? Every business owner loses sleep over the speed of their business at some point in time. Probably all the time. Which makes it a great topic for a debate right about now.

Instead, though, how about we begin with something even more fundamental. Like for instance, do we even control the speed of growth?

This can sound ludicrous at first. After all, it’s your dream business. Your hand-picked resources. Your flawless strategy. Your sweet idea. If you’re still not in control of the movement, there must be something seriously wrong somewhere.

Except that, there may not be. Turns out, there are several factors controlling the speed of your business, not just you.

So who’s in charge?

Your strategy, for one thing. Isn’t it a function of a million business variables that are changing even as you read this?

Your customers, secondly. They’ll shift loyalties at the next shiny thing, or the next big trend, won’t they?

Your investors. They love to be in charge, and that includes the accelerator pedal.

Your team. You think you have a chemistry going, till you find out it’s all about the money.

Your competition. You know they’ll turn the screw at the first opportunity.

Your economy. Heck, it’s globally notorious for having a mind of its own.

Your life-cycle phase. Yes - startups, mid-sized and biggies each have their own growth nuance.

Still, think you’re the one running the show?

Probably not, but you still need a speed plan

Even if you don’t dictate it, it’s a great idea – important, even - to have a speed strategy. A fair picture, that is, of how hard you want to press down on the gas.

So there may be good reasons why a fast pace of growth may make sense to you. Like gaining economies of scale to survive. Jumping over the initial ‘vicious cycle’ into profitability. Keeping investors quiet. Feel free to add your own reasons here.

A nimble rate of growth is an unbeatable validation that your idea, passion and strategy work. It fetches you the best talent in the land. It builds investor confidence. It generates economies of scale. It begets cost advantages (if you get to be powerful enough, you can control prices to out-price your competition out of the water, that is). And provides a robust launchpad for the next level of growth.

There might be equally compelling reasons to stay on the slow track. The demands of legacy. The paucity of funds. The lack of competition (and hence, of urgency).

A slow rate of growth is nothing to be scoffed at. For one thing, there’s a lot less stress in the air – a prerequisite for doing anything well. Then, there’s usually less risk of something going spectacularly wrong. You also have enough time to build a great culture and a team that fits just right. Finally, a slow but steady clip can breed its own unique brand of satisfaction.

No matter what your speed strategy is, it’s important to document it out. Share it with stakeholders. Communicate it across departments. And nurture it with instinct-first planning, sensitivity-first management and innovation-first financial savvy.

Speed thrills. But can kill, too

There’s a flip side to both going fast and going slow, of course.

Go too fast, and you could run into several issues.

Like operational issues. Documentation is often the big pain area here.

Like team issues. Culture building and training both take time – while worker burnout is a whole different, but parallel, challenge.

Focus issues. When your motto is ‘growth above all’, it’s easy to overlook things like quality customer experience – usually a natural result of managing multiple spinning plates at once.

Control issues. As you skyrocket, you will need to delegate more and more.

Cash flow issues. If you’re growing fast, you’ll have to spend on material, inventory, equipment and hires that much quicker.

Grow too slow, and you’ll probably run into whole different shebang. Stuff like technological obsolescence. Holdbacks like cultural inertia. Speed breakers like slothful processes. And yes, cash flow issues again: Businesses that grow too slowly often find it difficult to secure financing from equity investors, banks and venture capitalists.

Theory of relativity

Sure, a 20 percent+ (per annum) rate of growth is considered outstanding, and a 7-8 percent (per annum) is definitely higher than average. But don’t let that fool you. Fast and slow is really all relative.

The speed that matters, is the speed that matters to you.

If stakeholders are calling the shots, you don’t have much of a choice. But when you’re the one behind the wheel, take full advantage of the latitude (make no mistakes, it’s the ultimate business luxury) to design, build and grow your business on your own terms. At a pace that makes the most sense to you.

Strategize in detail. Take decisions wisely. Plan for capital. Take charge of your dream.

And let the speed take care of itself.

Fast, slow or somewhere in between? What’s the growth-velocity that’s worked for you and your business so far?


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