How to know when it’s time to scale your startup

By Editor August 5, 2014

Scott Brandt, SurePayroll2By Scott Brandt, vice president of marketing, SurePayroll

The startups we hear about in the news make it look easy. But the men and women running startups know there’s a lot more blood, sweat, and tears than it looks like when we hear about the explosive growth of Spotify, or Snapchat, or WhatsApp.

There are times when you think you have it figured out and times when it feels like nothing can go right.

One of the difficult parts of running a startup is knowing when to scale. In other words, when do you put your foot on the gas and do more, faster?

There are several things to look out for that will tell you it’s time to scale:

1. You and your employees are nearing burnout.

Working for a startup is exciting, and often a small staff is willing to work long hours to succeed. However, if business is going well, but it’s at the cost of your health and sanity, it’s time to scale. And you don’t want to push your valuable employees to the point of wanting to leave.

How to scale: Hire someone. You’ve been getting by with a skeleton crew, but even the addition of one person could make a world of difference. With many startups, this is a 50-to-100 percent increase in staff. Think about how much you could grow with 50-to-100 percent greater productivity output.

If you’ve built your business up to the point that it’s time to scale, you’ve likely identified some very specific areas where your business could be better and more efficient. Find someone with the skills to close that gap and all of a sudden you’ve turned a weakness into a strength.

2. Tasks that are not core to your expertise are slowing you down.

Whether you’re a software developer or a clothing designer, you know there’s a lot more to running a business than your core competency. Administrative tasks can be complicated and very time consuming.

How to scale: Outsource to technology. Whether it’s a customer management tool, an online payroll service, or a virtual assistant, you can accomplish a lot very quickly for a relatively small cost. How much are those hours spent pouring over a convoluted spreadsheet worth to you? Taking time-consuming, tedious tasks off you and your employees’ to-do lists can also be a big boost for morale. People want to work on the things they like doing.

One word of caution: Be diligent with the providers you choose. Make sure they can show how other similar businesses have been successful using their services. It may also be worth it to talk with some of the vendor’s clients and get some real insight on what their experience has been like. Once you find the right provider for whatever it is you need to scale, you could save yourself time and money.

3. You can’t keep up with demand.

This is a good problem to have, but you don’t want to start letting down your clients and customers because they want your product or service, and you can’t deliver.

How to scale: Seek capital. It might be time for an influx of capital to support your operation, and while lending has been tough on small businesses in recent years, it’s starting to pick up. Banks are offering lower rates, and alternative lenders can provide quick cash. Or maybe it’s human capital you need (see No. 1). Also consider 1099s and freelance workers who can help you get specific tasks done while you move on to other projects.

Other Situations That Call For Scaling

Every business is, of course, different, but there are some key situations in which you might want to employ one of the tactics above.

If you’re getting media attention, it may be time to invest in an outside consult in public relations or media relations that can help you shape your message to reporters, bloggers, etc., as well as field requests and determine which ones are going to have value for the business.

Another situation to monitor closely is if-and-when your competitors are starting to copy you. Maybe when you started out your idea was totally original and no one else was doing it. However, as you become successful, that’s likely going to change. This is where being able to scale and be more efficient in your execution will set you apart.

Finally, if another company is showing interest in acquiring you, that’s a great time to show you can do more. Find a way to scale what you’re already doing and you will be that much more of an attractive purchase.

Running a startup is a bold move in its own right. You know there are certain risks. Scaling your startup is an extension of that, but the risk could well be worth the return. The more you can produce and the more efficiently you can run the business, the better your chances of taking it to the next level.

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Scott Brandt is responsible for all aspects of SurePayroll’s marketing efforts. Prior to arriving at SurePayroll, Scott spent 13 years with Monster Worldwide, helping build the consumer relocation division,, and most recently, directing the online advertising and lead generation efforts for Monster’s family of websites, including and Prior to joining Monster, Brandt worked with Monster’s then parent company, TMP Worldwide, where he was the vice president, strategic marketing, for a new business group, helping sell national yellow pages programs to Fortune 500 companies and small businesses.

Brandt holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Indiana University and an MBA from DePaul University.