May 2, 2019

What happens when your company outgrows its clothes?

Becca Apfelstadt
The three things a business owner needs to keep in mind the next time the company's clothes simply don't fit.

After years of hustling to establish an approach for every aspect of the business, there will come a day when, suddenly, you realize your company’s “clothes” don’t fit anymore. It happens every few years, in every single business. Systems, processes and even service offerings that used to serve you will feel tight, awkward or incredibly out of style, and seemingly overnight.

For treetree, a recent example came shortly before our 10th birthday. We were growing up even more, no longer in the awkward teenager phase, the “pimply” phase when we were growing into “floods” and outgrowing our processes.

Which begged the question: How do we make sure we’re set up for the next 10 years?

For us, those answers have come through hard conversations, introspection and facing those growing pains head-on, and as a team.

Question everything.

So, how can you continue to evolve your business after a decade? I think it starts with questioning your questions, and asking different ones. I started to approach every aspect of our business with a lot of curiosity.

Are your services still relevant and profitable?

Do they still make sense for your model?

Are they still effective?

There were different elements we were piecing together when growing up became our quest. We were slicing and dicing the state of the business in a million different ways.

What did we find at the end of those questions?

The hardest realization was that one of our core services no longer fit. We found that, as much as we adored our clients who relied on us for the management and logistical planning of events, this service was no longer smart or profitable, and it was becoming harder to staff as the market shifted.

As terrifying as it was, we said goodbye to that section of our events offering, a fairly big slice of our pie at the time. We are still lovingly supporting our partners through this transition, and grateful that it has opened the door for work that better aligns with who we are in our next decade.

When we started asking different questions, we also started looking for answers from different people.

Get an outside perspective. 

I sought perspective and ideas from several new partners, including an executive coach.

I decided that outside of my own outlets for growing and learning, it was time to find outside sources to close that gap. I needed someone to hold up a mirror and make sure my leaderships skills are in alignment with what my company needs 10 years into the game.

I also realized I had too many answers with my team throughout the day, and not enough questions. I was in put-out-the-fire mode. You had a question? I had an answer.  There was too much I was doing that took away others’ opportunities to grow and learn. I wanted to get better at coaching and “asking more than telling.”

And I learned a lot about the power of clarity and getting aligned with everyone. I learned how to tell my team: My role is changing, here’s why, here’s what I’m going to be doing, here’s what I’m not going to be doing. Now, all this shifting came with emotions—What if my team thinks I’m lazy or I’m abandoning them? What if I become irrelevant and they don’t need me to put out fires? 

My coach helped me find clarity and make peace with these feelings as my role shifted.

Evaluate every process.

A couple years ago, treetree’s operations side was in its teenager phase. During that time, I would have described the company’s structure and process as “pimply.” We were hiring like crazy, had lots of growing pains and were generally outgrowing our “clothes” in that sense, but still had an amazing culture and happy clients so addressing it continued to get put off.

We had few formalized processes, zero HR support and way too much happening on paper because “that’s how we had always done it.”

But here’s the thing: “Because we’ve always done it that way,” just isn’t good enough. It doesn’t cut it as a reason to keep doing anything, especially if you want to grow a successful and sustainable business.

I decided I didn’t want the description of our company to be “pimply” anymore, so this was the moment to question everything and turn over every single stone. I encouraged our team to question why we’re doing “it” – whatever “it” was—that way, and if we could do it better (or not at all).

What I learned is this: My job as a leader is to set the tone that I’m open to conversation, observation, suggestions, solutions and ideas about our business and not only our clients’ businesses.

In just the past year, we have implemented a full-scale project management software, hired new partners from HR to IT to accounting, and have done our best to go paperless, purging folder after folder after folder.

Why? Because the old ways no longer made sense. And after going through all of this change, I can attest that it’s worth it. You can get in the right size.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.