How to Grow a Small Business to a Company with 50 or More Employees

June 7, 2019 / Comments Off on How to Grow a Small Business to a Company with 50 or More Employees


Starting a business is great and there’s nothing better than seeing your company grow – you’ve gone through the start-up phase where you’ve agonized over many ideas and decisions, landed some good quality customers and you are now starting to enjoy the fruits of your labor…and of course, you still want to grow.

Now the real hard work begins.

I always like to give advice based on what I know and what I’ve experienced and at the peak, my company had 100 employees dotted around the world.  It was an exhilarating feeling, but with hindsight, I wished I had stopped at 50!

And the reason was that I simply lost control.

Looking back on what I did now, makes me how literally stupid I was at the time – but I was in the ‘thick of it,’ selling like crazy, with great success and we were in a huge growth phase, so everyone was growing, it was almost like the industry was operating in a parallel universe!

So how do you grow a business to this level of employees and what can you learn from myself and others who have made the mistakes of growing their companies in the wrong way?

  • What Type of Business Owner/CEO Are You?

how-to-grow-a-small-businessThis is vital to understand and with regard to myself, I know it now, but I wished I had paid more attention to it earlier.  I am a sales focussed CEO and not a ‘numbers’ one.

That means I need a strong financial guy by my side to make sure I don’t go off the rails – the reverse is true.  Do you have a strong personality?  I do, which means I need a very strong layer around me to challenge my thinking and only a few managed it in my career, which was a reflection on my hiring skills as I should have hired much tougher people than myself.

How ‘in tune’ are you with your employees – are you stand-offish and prefer to set strong operational boundaries or are you too relaxed with them, where there is a possibility of people over-stepping the mark.  I was a bit of both, but I did listen to my employees and that is where you can create some problems as well as doing a lot of good.

It’s all about being self-aware and as I said, I wished I had been more self-aware in my youth.

  • What Team Do You Have Around You

I am going to open this part with a suggestion for you – invest in the areas of Human Resources (HR) and Legal and Compliance early on.  You don’t have to employ people to address these issues as there are many options regarding outsourcing in today’s world.  Labor laws are becoming more complex and challenging by the day and things like your working environment, employee benefits and a whole host of other factors are issues you must consider in today’s economic world.

You also need to start thinking like a large corporation and address your business functions accordingly:

  1. Sales and Marketing
  2. Finance
  3. Operations and Administration
  4. Human Resources
  5. Legal and Compliance
  6. Technology
  7. Customer Service and Support

When I started my company, I performed all of the above functions because the revenue was small, but it consumed an enormous amount of my time.  I would sell by the day and learn double-entry bookkeeping by night!  The first hire I made was a good assistant who took away a lot of the administrative burden away from me.

Systematically, I hired heads for each of the above functions, but I did take my ‘eye off the ball’ with some and relied too much on the head of the function to make all of the decisions.  I know you are thinking “but that’s why you hired them,” but never forget you are the CEO and you must maintain oversight on everything.

I went from one extreme to the other – granting too much autonomy or getting too involved.

  • Do You Need 50, 40, or 20 Employees?

You should be constantly analyzing your market, looking at trends and understanding how your industry got where it is today and more importantly, where it is going in the future – I cover some of this here in the ‘research’ part.

You already know how your business model is working, so you can try to use simple math to work out the people to sales ratio.

How I wished I paid attention to this when I was younger, but I guess that it comes down to the exuberance of youth!

What you have today, is a tremendous opportunity to leverage technology and so many people I talk to through my coaching and mentoring work simply don’t understand what is available and more worryingly, don’t want to understand.

I came from a sales background and ended up in technology staffing and software and my company helped to shape the technology platforms we have in place today, especially in the field of mobile communications, so I understand it.

Whatever business you are in, look to technology to make it better – make sure you learn about it and understand, because it should be a major influence regarding the number of employees that you will need.

Technology and your people to sales ratio should be the drivers of the hiring process.

  • Recruiting

You would expect me as a recruiter to some of the worlds largest companies to be able to really nail this aspect of business growth and you couldn’t have been more wrong!

Recruiting for my clients was easy as I could remain detached from and impartial to the process – not so for my own company.  I let emotion, impatience, and ego drive the process – I wanted to make my company the very best it could be and I knew I needed to hire and I would take suggestions from many in respect of  ‘whom we needed to hire.’

Don’t make this mistake and here are some simple tips you can follow starting with the obvious – I am not going into detail here about the recruiting process, it is for another article but the usual applies – make sure you check that what is on the C.V/Resume can be backed up and of course, check for references.  I would add that also it is a good idea to make sure you also understand the legal implications of interviewing!

I’m serious here and there are certain things you cannot ask a potential employee – for the UK, check here and the US, here.

Please don’t fall foul of these regulations as I did, nearly giving my HR director a heart attack during the interview!

One other thing that I like to do before hiring someone, is to get an idea of what their performance expectations are in terms of what they believe they can achieve for my company in the first 12 weeks.

This is only for guidance purposes, but it creates an expectation of performance from both sides and gives us both a basis for weekly evaluation over that period.  It varies obviously by job type and seniority.

There are two areas that I will talk about that are often overlooked by many and I want you to think of this statement:

“You hire people for what they know and fire them for who they are.

You can only gauge so much in an interview or even three, so I recommend that you take steps to get to know the person.  The best way to do this is to create a situation outside of the work environment, bring some of your staff down and see how the potential candidate would fit in.

With Senior Executives, I would take them out for a meal and look at how they handled themselves – sometimes with disastrous consequences such as when one candidate got so drunk they fell over in the bathroom and had to be lifted out by the restaurant staff!  Still, it was better to know then and it was a small price to pay considering the alternative.

The next aspect to consider is ‘will they fit into your company culture?’

Whether you know it or not, you already have a company culture and if you do, then document it and use it as a guide and benchmark for all future hiring.

Large companies like Google and Apple are very serious about preserving their company culture and you should be too.

If you have no idea what it is, start to think about what you stand for and create it!

  • Now Get Out And Do It!

Taking action is the only way you are going to make growth happen and now you have some ideas as to how to prepare, so let’s take a look at what you can do to increase your chances of success:

  1. Make sure you are 100% customer-centric – everything you do, every process and system you create, every person you hire should have the interests of the customer as their primary concern
  2. Make sure that every single person in your company fully understands the company message – every part of the business is connected and you want people to hear the same answer from someone in accounts, that they would hear from someone in sales when it comes down to asking the question, “what exactly does your company do”
  3. The above points should go a long way to ensuring that everyone in the company is committed to the success of the company
  4. Create an employee incentive plan – it is vital to share success and make sure there are tangible rewards for doing so
  5. Create and implement an aggressive growth plan as well as managing risk– when you have taken the time and trouble to prepare for growth and are aware of the risks, you can really go for it.  Today’s economic landscape is possibly the most volatile and uncertain ever.  I have survived three economic recessions, so I had to learn the hard way, but you can prepare for them, which I will also cover in a future article
  6. Keep an eye on your personal finances – I have seen many entrepreneurs sink everything into their companies, with almost a total disregard in relation to their personal finances. You must keep your personal finances under control as they can reflect negatively on your business growth plans if you are using outside capital to fund that growth.

Update April 2020

We are in unprecedented times with the global outbreak of the coronavirus.

This virus is having a dramatic effect on the global economy as well as the health of the people and it is placing a tremendous financial strain on the hardworking entrepreneurs that are the backbone of the start-up and business-growth economy.

If you were in an aggressive growth mode before this, you are probably now extremely concerned as to whether your business can survive and global governments are offering companies different support packages to help them survive and get through these extremely tough times.

It is important that you take action swiftly:

In the UK, you can go here to find out what help is on offer and if you are in the US, then look here.

I touched on the importance of keeping your personal finances in order in point 6 above and the personal finance company, Bankrate, has published a great article called  “7 ways to help recession-proof your finances.”

Take a look and now let’s get back to the article…

Taking action is the most important aspect and one that I personally relished more than anything and now you must look carefully at the last part of this article…

  • Metrics

You absolutely must learn to measure everything in relation to your business.

It is only through gaining data or information that you can measure it and this is extremely important to find out what is working and what is not.

In my early growth years in business, I omitted this step in favor of sales and at one point, my entire business in relation to operational procedures nearly collapsed – it cost me a small fortune to hire the right people to put it right.

Today, technology can work miracles and there are so many data analytical tools out there to help companies measure their performance.

I will also deal here with the uncomfortable issue of firing employees.  It is never a good thing from either the employers or the employees perspective to have to terminate someone’s employment.

I learned as was usual for me, the hard way and when you have no clear performance expectations set out from the start, then you can only expect things to have the potential to get out of hand.

In reality, the expectations should be set, both parties should agree and there is ample provision for either party to question and further clarify any issue throughout the process.

In this manner, it is simply a question of whether expectations have been met, whether there are any clear reasons as to “why,” if they are not, which determines the outcome.

So there you have some tips to help you grow your employees and of course your company.  Remember, simply taking on one more employee than yourself is a tremendous achievement…but growing a company to 50, 100 or many more employees requires a total commitment to setting the foundation, systems, and procedures to support that growth!


Note: This article has been updated in April 2020.

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Last modified: April 9, 2020