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Going Up? 5 Ways to Prime Your Kansas City Startup or Small Business to Scale

By guest contributor Doug Stine, Stine-Nichols Plumbing

Entrepreneurship is not easy. It’s as simple as that. No matter how great your product may be or how knowledgeable you are about your product or service, starting a business will lead to plenty of challenges along the way. And guess what happens once you start scaling? You’ll face new challenges, and you’ll have to solve them to stay in business.

My name is Doug Stine, and I run a Kansas City-based plumbing company called Stine-Nichols Plumbing. While I wouldn’t call myself a serial entrepreneur, I’ve always had an itch for innovation. Having started my business after years as an employee in the same industry, this curiosity for coming up with new ways of doing things was a major influence in opening the doors to Stine-Nichols.

But starting and scaling a business are two completely different animals. As our business has started to scale in recent years, I’ve learned it takes a little more than grit and hard work. In fact, I truly believe the most important skill you can have in the business world is the art of communication. I’ll show you why communication is vital to scaling your business.

A group of business owners talk around a table

1. A solid company culture is at the core

When it comes to the importance of company culture and how that ties into building a scalable business, the quote below speaks volumes. It’s from author Stan Slap, owner of the business consulting firm The Slap Company:

“A company can’t buy true emotional commitment from managers no matter how much it’s willing to spend; this is something too valuable to have a price tag. And yet a company can’t afford not to have it.”

So how does culture fit in to scaling your business? Employees. See, hiring employees is hard. Hiring the right employees who can help you scale your business, even harder. But keeping the right employees—that’s the secret sauce and that depends solely on the culture you build.

Here’s an example: We’ve all had a job at one point in our lives that didn’t have the most endearing culture. Maybe your boss micro-managed everything you did. Maybe employees simply didn’t get along and only viewed work as the 40 hours they had to put in each week. In all of these situations, it becomes a place that you dread going to each morning. Nonetheless, the one thing that can solve 99% of these problems is communication.

As a business owner, one of your most important responsibilities is to show your employees you truly care about their well-being, not just their performance on work-related projects. Developing a culture where employees aren’t afraid to have a casual conversation with the boss can work wonders for your business. Not only will they be happier to come into the office each morning, but they’ll know that you believe in them getting their job done. And if you aren’t able to make this happen, I can’t lie, it will be a difficult journey scaling to even double-digit employees.

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2. You can’t do it all; you’ll have to delegate

I would be willing to bet that the majority of business owners have said a major challenge in scaling is delegating for the first time. You’ve built this company up to the level it is and likely have a specific way of doing every single thing. From scheduling your staff to ordering materials and interacting with customers, it’s always worked that particular way. To piggy-back off the previous section, one area you’ll have to delegate is communication.

What I’m about to say isn’t meant to contradict the previous section about culture but rather a realization that there are only a certain number of hours in the day. As you scale from five employees to 20 and even 100, you (the CEO) simply don’t have the time to be a constant communicator with every single person. Yes, you will still talk with them from time-to-time, but the consistency will have to drop considerably. Those formal talks will eventually transition to once a month and maybe even once a quarter.

This is where you have to delegate communicating to your managers. They’ll spend a lot more time with these individuals, so they need to be the ones breathing your company mission, core values and vision. Aligning all of these goals will give you time to focus on the big-picture items and still have everything following right along.

A business person holds a sign that says "innovation"

3. Foster innovation

If you’re not innovating, you’ll find yourself out of business in five to 10 years. I’m a firm believer in this mindset. Tech companies, like Google, have embraced this concept and have seen tremendous dividends from it. While you might not peg the plumbing industry as one that’s constantly innovating, the truth is without embracing innovation, I’m not sure we would’ve been able to get going when we started five years ago. With all the competition in today’s market, how else are you going to convince a prospective client to choose you over someone who’s been in business for 50-plus years?

You know what ties right into developing an innovation-happy culture? Yep, it’s communication! To be a disruptor in an industry and scale your business, you have to find a way to spark that curiosity among your workforce.

Create an open-communication playing field where your employees know there won’t be backlash if they tell you there’s a better way of doing things (even if you’ve done it that way for years).

Businesses aren’t going to magically scale. You have to figure out new practices that the competition isn’t doing. For us, this may be everything from going all-in on connecting with our clients digitally to coming up with a way to get a plumbing job done more efficiently. Innovation is everywhere,–and your employees, especially those on the ground, in the field and on the front lines, have fresh ideas on how to do their work better, faster and more innovatively.

4. Maintain transparency with all parties involved

Remember when I said, entrepreneurship is essentially a long road of challenges? Well, this is another obstacle you’ll need to overcome. Reviews are a big way to deter a negative opinion buyers have about an industry, but they aren’t always the complete answer. We’ve consistently believed in transparency being an invaluable asset to any business.

People buy from companies they know, like and trust. If you have a business, write this down somewhere and live by it every single day. One branch of the communication tree is how you treat customers and vendors. No matter how big or small your business is, you must always provide transparency. This encompasses so much more than just being a friendly face.

  • Listen and respond to customers. While you may know the right answer, make sure it’s always two-way communication. Remember, repeat business is a lot cheaper to acquire than generating new leads.
  • Be accurate and truthful on all billing.
  • Share your expertise and knowledge. As plumbers, if we know a quick tip that can prevent a homeowner from having the same exact issue again, why not fill them in on the secret?
  • Always display gratitude. If not for your customers and employees, you wouldn’t have a business.
  • Don’t be afraid to show appreciation every single day.

As a side note, think about how an employee is going to act if he or she has previously seen a boss lie directly to a client or be disrespectful?

5. Prepare to scale

Have you ever heard someone say they don’t want to scale too fast? If so, they hit the nail right on the head. Scaling a business is just as difficult as starting one. You’ll have more employees, greater amounts of overhead and more than a few moving pieces every day. Before truly focusing on scaling, make sure you have a plan in place. Everything from cultivating managers who eat and sleep the company’s core values to creating a welcoming culture is all part of the puzzle.

If you’d ever like to discuss small business or the challenges living the entrepreneurial life, feel free to give our team at Stine-Nichols a shout!

Doug Stine has been in the plumbing world for over 45 years and is the owner of Stine-Nichols Plumbing. As a full-service plumbing contractor, Stine-Nichols does everything from commercial design-build projects to residential service calls. He served a five-year apprenticeship with Plumber's Local Union No. 8 and graduated in 1977 with a Building Trades Journeyman Plumbers License. He also holds a master plumber's license in Missouri and Kansas. He blogs weekly at StineNichols.com and is contributor to various plumbing blogs.

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