Imagine you’re starting to achieve some success in your professional life. If you’re building a business, you’re getting more and more sales. If you’re building a career, your team is getting recognized and taking on bigger projects.

But then a feeling of dread starts to creeps up on you. You realize you may not have the capacity to take on so much at once.

On the flip side, you may be ready but you aren’t finding as many opportunities as you would have liked.

These two situations come from the same dilemma: how do you know when you should turn your focus to external expansion versus internal growth?

Expansion

This is usually the initial focus of anything new. This is when you get a business or department off the ground. Your goal is to win over customers, clients, stakeholders and/or investors.

Activities associated with expansion revolve around marketing and sales. If you want to be better known for what you do, then you want to put yourself out there to network, do sales calls and grab the attention of as many in your target market as you can.

This is often why starting anything is difficult. Any business or new department faces a lot of rejection in the beginning. There is also the matter that some expansions have to reach a tipping point before finally occurring. Many don’t have the patience or resilience to wait that long, even though grit is the differentiator for success.

Let’s use the first corporate team that I worked in as an example. The group started off very small. I still remember the days when our service offering was considered very gimmicky.

But now, the team is a national brand within the bigger firm because of the work management put into building the team’s brand.

This success only came after a great deal of time invested in marketing the group. The higher ups were constantly presenting, setting up demos and even doing free work. There were countless times when the group expected the free work to convert into a bigger project but with no dice in the end.

This is what expansion looks like. The two questions you should keep in mind now are whether you are doing too much expansion or too little. Too little usually happens because people become complacent and move too slow. But in the case of too much…

Growth

There will be times when you want to invest in yourself and your team to develop your skills and systems. This can either be to handle the level of expansion you have right now or t be prepared for where you’re heading in the future.

Many leaders and entrepreneurs don’t take this stage of growth seriously enough. Their thoughts are constantly on expansion. What happens to these people?

Sometimes over-expanding can immediately break everything. But there are also times when systems begin to break very slowly. The warning signs are easy to miss and they slip under your attention. You realize what you got yourself into only after these warnings signs have built up too momentum for you to do anything..

If you feel like you’re constantly dealing with fires left and right, this is probably why. Knowing this, do you want to wait to invest in being ready for expansion?

Activities associated with growth involve hiring, training and finding better alternatives for current systems.

Hiring is a tricky one since many businesses also make the mistake of taking on more people than they need. Systems instantly break once the number of people exceeds a certain amount. This is also known as The Rule of 3 and 10. Are you truly prepared for what it means to add even one more person to your team?

You also want to think outside the box for training. Putting yourself and your people through courses and whatnot is almost always pointless.

Most people do not learn effectively in a classroom setting. You can achieve much more by creating something more engaging and applicable to what you want them to do in the future. This seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many people create programs stuffed with information that don’t apply to the skills people need.

There is also the question of whether or not management is ready to take on a big expansion. Startups often have to learn this the hard way. The founder will sometimes have to turn over the position of CEO to another leader because of this. Leadership development is extremely important to the effectiveness of a team. Don’t forget to consider this.

How Do You Know When To Pivot?

Each phase of expansion and growth should not last too long. If you focus too much on expansion, you break. If you focus too much on growth, you’ll run out of opportunities to apply your skills to. How do you know when it’s time to move from one to the next?

One way is to work on both your level of self awareness as well as your team’s. If you get into the habit of regularly and honestly auditing how everything (and I mean everything) is going, you’ll start to see the same problems over and over again.

These problems can point to doing not enough of either expansion or growth. If you don’t do this, then you run the risk of letting these problems go on too for long and costing your business.

The second way is to work with another person (or people) to take on what you’re not focusing on. Very few people in this world are meant to be good at everything. They are ultra rare, even more so than the so called 1%. But all you need is to be amazing at one or two skills.

Back when I was vice president of a local cultural group, the president and I split up our roles in this manner. She would handle all external affairs, which involved working with other groups, creating a better public image and keeping on top of the external metrics. I focused on developing the skills of the other board members and creating a unified team.

This worked amazingly well. I had plans already on what policies would work out best for how the group was run and I was more motivated by seeing how the other officers grew. She focused on other metrics. By doing this, we never ran out of perspective and kept each other in line whenever one of us got tunnel vision.

In a corporate setting, you should already know that you need a team behind for you. For entrepreneurs, you hopefully learn about this before you hit burnout. Anything of significance was never done alone.

And So…

There is a difference between working on your business and working in your business. Even if you aren’t a leader and you’re starting to see a trend of not doing enough growth or expansion, you can still have an impact by speaking up and bringing others’ attention to this.

Do you feel you are having trouble with transitioning expansion or growth?. If you think a business coach can help, let’s talk.

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