Small businesses don’t become big ones overnight. Often, it’s a slow transition that’s the product of good operational fundamentals and a growth mindset. It takes a lot of work to establish the pieces of a growing business. Many entrepreneurs and startup founders are surprised to realize that one of the most difficult adjustments to make is all mental.
The transition from startup to full-fledged company happens when founders stop thinking like a startup and begin thinking like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. You might not have the sales, revenue and customer base of these mega corporations, but that shouldn’t stop you from thinking like them! Adopting a forward-thinking mindset is what bridges the gap between where you are now and where you want to be as a growing enterprise.
The path to thinking bigger
Many founders get trapped in the survival mindset. As a small business, every dollar counts and every initiative is urgent. Startups are constantly scrambling to gain ground, capture market share and improve sales. But if you’re only ever engaged in firefighting, you’ll never have the time, energy or forethought to look ahead.
Looking ahead reveals the path to thinking bigger. It’s about realizing your current struggles and laying long-term foundations for overcoming them. More than that, it’s about setting long-term objectives for growth that give you a benchmark to work toward.
Take sales, for example. Every small business owner spends time and energy focused on growing sales. Did this month’s sales beat last month’s sales? What’s your year-over-year growth? What percentage of your sales are one-time vs. recurring? These are all good questions to ask, but they all have one commonality: they’re rear-facing. They already happened. And while looking back and having this data is important, it’s only valuable if you apply it forward.
•Based on your sales over the last four quarters, what should next quarter’s sales be?
•Based on last year’s recurring revenue sources, what should this year’s goal be?
•You’re at $X annual sales and want to reach $Yannual sales. What’s the growth precent?
Looking ahead enables you to set goals and build backwards from them. Instead of simply trying to beat your previous best, you’re charting a course to where you want to be. And it’s not just sales! Small business owners need to do this for every aspect of operations, to chart a course for something bigger.
The mindset of a CEO
As a startup founder, you wear a lot of hats. Today, you’re a CMO; tomorrow, an HR director. Next week? You might be a CFO. There’s a lot of responsibility to go around and very few people capable of assuming it. Hence, founders end up doing a little (or a lot) of everything.
While this jack of all trades mentality is an asset for startups, small business owners eventually need to phase out of it. Why? Because if you spend your time doing many things, you have no time to focus on anything. Instead, founders need to adopt a CEO’s mindset.
A CEO focuses on keeping the company on a growth trajectory. They right the ship and stay the course, handing down high-level direction to leadership to put into action. There comes a time when startup founders need to invest in leadership and delegate their many tasks to a concentrated team they can trust. If you need sales and marketing help, hire an experienced CMO. If your books are switching from cash to accrual and getting more complicated by the month, hire a CFO. If you need to hire consistently to staff a growing team, hire an experienced CHRO to handle interviews and onboarding. It’s a daunting task to hand over the reins of your business to different stakeholders. Part of leaving the startup mindset behind is learning how to delegate operations to people you trust—and empowering them to succeed.
Recognize your strengths and weaknesses
Perhaps the most important step in a transition away from the startup mindset involve having an honest conversation with yourself. Ask yourself what you do well. Then, ask yourself what you struggle to do. Then, leverage your talents to offset your weaknesses.
Some founders are great problem-solvers. Others are natural born salespeople. Some are team builders. For some, finances just make sense. Whatever you gravitate toward, make it a cornerstone of your leadership focus and stay involved on that aspect of the business. For all those things you’re not very good at or lack competency in, delegate. This isn’t to say you should hand off these tasks entirely. Instead, continue to educate yourself in the presence of someone who can do them better.
The bottom line? Good leaders know what they do well and where they struggle. They lean into the former to help the business grow.
Leave the startup mindset behind
They say you should dress for the job you want. You should also adopt the mindset of the position you want to be in. if you constantly see your business as a struggling startup, it’ll be difficult to break out. Instead, if you envision your company as the next big Fortune 500 enterprise, you’ll more clearly see the path to achieving that goal.
It all starts with mindset. We all start as entrepreneurs and founders with a vision. What makes us CEOs is our ability to think bigger. It all starts in your head, with a little perspective.