THE BLOG

How to Build Your Airplane While Flying: 3 Tips for Business Owners

06/02/2015 03:55 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2015

2015-04-09-1428612459-5874235-ZackStratton.jpgAuthor Zack Stratton is a co-founder and CEO of Stratton and Bratt. Zack is in charge of creating and implementing S&B long term goals, strategic partnerships and overseeing its various divisions. While studying at Brigham Young University in 2009 Zack formed Cascade Landscapes with his partner, two employees and a old pick-up truck. Since that time Zack has led the company through several acquisitions and now has over 200 employees completing large scale projects in multiple states and countries. 

When I was starting my company, my partner and I would take on projects and clients before we completely knew how we were going to complete the work. Looking back, this was a risky way of doing business, but it made us focus only on the things that the customer valued. We quickly developed the systems that were needed to complete our workload, but as the company grew the projects grew in complexity and size. Clients asked for more, so we began talking about the need to build that airplane -- the company that would help us keep growing -- while we were already flying.

While we continued on our trajectory, we determined three areas where we needed to refine our focus in order to get the most important things done first. We have now gone through three distinct stages of growth as a company, and these principles have applied to each stage:

Monitor Your Cash Flow

Cash flow will stunt the growth of a company as fast as anything. Managing it correctly will give you peace of mind and the ability to put energy into other areas of the business. So negotiate your vendor accounts and receivables with the most favorable terms for your company. No one loves you as much as you love yourself, and you have to negotiate what works best for you. Also, before you take on a new client, account or project, ask yourself if your cash flow will be able to handle the growth. This was one of the hardest lessons to learn and it takes a large measure of self control. And once you start making money, leave enough in the bank to keep the ball rolling.

Invest in Your Human Capital

Hire people who have strengths in areas where you are weak. As you begin hiring, make sure you call references, have multiple interviews, run background checks and become comfortable that they have a personality that will fit in with your company. It is a lot easier to recover from a bad hire once you have a few hundred employees, but you have to get there first.

Once they are on the team, ensure that they have a defined role and clear responsibilities. Invest in these people, because some of the first hires will become "lifers." I was taking with a fellow business owner recently and he felt that training and investing in his current employees would create a greater impetus for  them to leave his company and work for a competitor. My comment was, what happens if you don't invest in them and train them -- and then they stay with your company?

Develop Standardized Operating Procedures

Many entrepreneurs find they have strengths in sales and business development but weaknesses in operations, or vice versa. They quickly find that if they are not intimately involved on a daily basis then their company struggles. Implementation of solid standard operating procedures will create predictable operational outcomes. Beginning to manage your operating procedures and not your employees will improve margins while enabling owners to focus on long term growth and sustainability.

When a company goes through a period of growth there are a million things to do all at once. It can be overwhelming and leave the owner asking why they went there in the first place. I see many entrepreneurs struggle because they decided to take on more while not having a plan in place to adapt quickly while their airplane -- the company -- was already flying. I found that when I compartmentalized the different things that needed to be done, and really honed in on these three areas, everything else just fell into place.