Anyone can have a great idea. The tough part is to turn that idea into a profitable business.
To discover how some of today’s brightest founders scale ideas and making millions, I turned to some of the top brands and took a closer look at their innovative leaders. While each person shared a personal and unique lesson, I noticed reoccurring themes. Here’s what I learned and how you can apply it your business.
1. Make automation your ally
“The reason we’ve been able to scale across 19 countries on five continents is based on our commitment to automating our internal processes,” says Karlin Sloan, founder of CEO Sloan Group International. “Every part of every engagement we do follows a tightly managed process that is outlined online. The advantage of using replicable online processes is that it makes research into outcomes easier and takes away all variables except people. We can manage and mentor more effectively, track our outcomes in real time and feed our customers aggregate data in easy-to-digest reports.”
2. Focus on the right things
“In the beginning, there are millions of issues and opportunities a founder can spend their precious time on,” says AJ Agrawal, founder of Verma Media. “But in truth, the key to growth is finding the one or two areas of your business to put all your efforts into and to put the rest on the backburner. Some call it the 80/20 rule, I choose to believe it’s more like 95/5.”
3. Pay yourself last
“We started with no employees and did everything ourselves,” say Amalia and Manuela Sierr, founders of Maaji Swimwear. “We decided to not take money out of the company for a very long time. We did not even pay our salaries. We invested all the funds generated by the company to grow the business. It was always a trial and error process, and we learned a lot from our mistakes while growing.”
4. Listen to your intuition
“As you see your business grow, consciously choose to listen to your intuition,” says Lizzie Francis, partner at Brilliant Ventures. “This is especially vital when confronted with tough decisions. More often than not, we push aside intuition in our race to make progress when in reality it’s a reminder of the North Star we’ve set for our businesses.”
5. Stick to your mission
“Your company mission should always have priority over investor returns,” says Mirran Raphaely, founder of Arcadium. “Stick to it and protect it with your corporate governance articles. Make sure the ‘how we do it’ of your operations are as strong as your ‘what we do.’ Take your time with incoming colleagues, particularly with managers and directors. It’s vital. Look for a culture match as much as competencies.”
6. Remember content is king
“Throughout my journey, I learned quickly that content will always be king,” says Brandon Perlman, CEO and founder of The Gramlist. “If you want to grow you should never sacrifice the quality of your team creating that content for you on a daily basis. You must invest in your ability to create things that matter to your following or you will fail. By focusing on the power of creating a good product in 18 months, I scaled and sold a business with mechanized technology that continues to flourish.”
7. Let go and trust your team
“To grow the networks I founded, I learned that our team must launch in-person events in new markets,” says Darrah Brustein, founder of Equitable Payments, Network Under 40 and Network Over 40. “This was challenging since it means relying on people I don’t work with on a daily basis. I was always hesitant to give other people on my team the freedom to run my business themselves, but I ultimately came to the realization that we couldn’t do it without them. So today I have fully embraced it. Me being able to let go and trust helped us scale faster than I would have imagined.”
8. Forget perfection
“When you obsess over every misstep or criticism, you become your own roadblock to growth,” says Ariel Kaye, founder and CEO of Parachute. “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Growth is a double-edged sword. With it comes hard choices and unexpected challenges. Keeping a positive, solutions-minded attitude and focusing on the big picture is imperative to moving forward.”
9. You can’t spell ‘scale’ without ‘sale’
“I learned that how you scale is directly related to how well you sell your product,” says Mark Daley, co-founder of Propper Daley. “Every time a new client approaches you ask yourself these questions: Are they serious about hiring you? Can they afford you? Are they willing to pay for your services? If you answered ‘no’ to any of these, move on. If you don’t move on, you’re wasting time closing your next sale.”
10. Understand cash flow
“I learned you must make sure you have your cash flow properly planned,” says Diana Goodwin, founder and CEO of AquaMobile. “At AquaMobile, we were, and still are, scaling quickly. As we’ve gotten bigger, we’ve had to be much more diligent about forecasting to make sure we can support ourselves through the next stage of growth. It’s quite common to need to build out the infrastructure (technology, people, systems, etc.) before you reach the next level. And if you haven’t properly planned, you can get stuck in a cash crunch.”
No matter what kind of business you are running, if you really want to scale, its pays to learn from how others have done it and succeeded. Having mentors is priceless and asking for help along the way can be a game changer, too. One thing I have learned is to never underestimate how hard it is to grow — but know the rewards are worth it.
This article has been edited.
Beth Doane is an award winning writer, speaker, and social entrepreneur. Managing partner of Main & Rose.