Sunday, February 27, 2011

Many Firms Lack Infrastructure Necessaary to Support Their Growth

"Do you know what amazes me more than anything else? The impotence of force to organize anything." ~Napoleon Bonaparte

Infrastructure — the people, things and money that support a business — is a vital consideration for every entrepreneur. Determining what is adequate for your business requires careful planning and a balance between the infrastructure needed to support growth and available funds.

Adding infrastructure is a significant investment. Many entrepreneurs are tempted to "make do" with what they have instead of putting up the cash to support their growth. However, it is absolutely necessary to have the infrastructure or support system in place before attempting to grow.

Nothing makes me angrier than calling a customer service representative and being put on hold for 30 minutes because "call waiting times are longer than ordinary due to unanticipated call volume." When I hear this same message week after week (I have many technology challenges), I know the firm has not made the requisite investment in infrastructure.

Too often I see firms trying to grow before they have hired the staff they will need to handle the increased business. Sales can only grow as fast as the infrastructure allows, and trying to grow without the necessary support always yields traumatic results.

We assisted an entrepreneur whose business was helping disabled workers find employment. He had hired more than 600 of these individuals as independent contractors, but he only had three full-time employees. He had more than 2,700 e-mails in his in-box that he had been unable to answer for weeks. The firm was also suffering from other significant problems, each arising from that lack of infrastructure.

When I asked this entrepreneur why he had not answered the e-mails, he said, "I just do not have the time, and if there is an issue, they can always call me." I asked why he did not have more people to help him through this morass, and he responded that he did not have the money since he had to invest any idle cash into growing his business.

I tried to get him to slow the growth until he could bring his infrastructure up to speed, but he continues to plow ahead. If he continues on this course, his stress will become overwhelming and the quality of service will decline beyond repair.

When considering adding infrastructure, first decide what level of sales is attainable and then determine the resources necessary to support it. The best way to do this is to forecast your sales, then estimate how much infrastructure in dollars you need for this growth. Ask yourself whether you have the funds necessary to support this sales level. If you do not, you will need to slow the growth rate until you have the funds needed.

Now go out and make sure that you have adequate infrastructure in place to support your current and future growth.

You can do this!

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