Scaling a small business may seem daunting, but creativity may hold the key.
Scaling is a challenging, serious business. It’s made even more challenging because, almost always, scaling takes investment in things such as human resources, inventory, distribution and marketing. And those investments are usually required soon after startup—at the exact time when new businesses are least able to afford new investment.
How then, can a new business with limited resources scale effectively?
Based on my experience in seeking and raising $2.9 million in venture capital—and scaling my business, Educents, globally to 73 countries before and after that investment—here are four things you can do to help scale without putting your business under water.
1. Find passionate support.
The first and most important thing is to surround your venture with people who are super passionate about your company mission. That includes employees, board members and early investors. Find people who completely buy into your vision. You can find these people at meetups, events that pertain to your sector, your alma mater, and through friends who have the same passions as you. In our case, it meant finding people who were as passionate as we were about education and how to make the classroom experience better, easier and less expensive.
2. Be clear about your problem/solution.
Companies that scale are often clear about their problem and solution—the thing the business will solve or make better. Understanding the problem fix and being able to explain it clearly and quickly may help keep focus while scaling as well as help attract and retain passionate supporters.
Customers and supporters want to back something that they feel a pain point for. If you don’t have a clear problem you are solving, you may create a product that isn’t going to go viral and isn’t going to reach mass adoption. Consider being clear about the problem you are solving and relentlessly follow that problem until you come up with a solution. Once you have that solution, your supporters may be more likely to back you and tell their friends and colleagues about you, allowing you to find support from every angle.
3. Hire interns.
It’s not glamorous, but hiring inexpensive, less experienced interns may be a company saver during scaling when resources are so precious. Instead of investing early in a VP of marketing, passionate, connected interns who get fired up by the small, important projects may not only add valuable staff muscle, they can be the best brand evangelists. For us, we relied so heavily on interns—and we were so impressed by them—that we hired four of them as full-time employees. Bringing interns to our long-term workforce was so important, it’s now part of our corporate culture. But they aren’t free labor. You can get in sticky water if you offer unpaid internships if you are a for-profit company.
4. Be nimble and bold.
Until you hit mass adoption of your product or service, it can help to try to be adaptive and flexible. Try different things to get where you need to go. Not everything will work, but don’t be afraid to try anything and everything. Not only might you be surprised at what does and doesn’t work, the results may help you decide which senior positions you need to hire for immediately and which can wait. Don’t go into your scaling period with a predetermined path. Doing that may limit your ability to see and try new things that may transform and grow your company in amazing ways.
A version of this article was originally published on June 23, 2015.