This weekend I was a panelist in the Women in WordPress session at WordCamp Brighton, together with Louise Towler of Indigo Tree, Megg Fenn of Shake It Up Creative and Marieke van de Rakt of Yoast, facilitated by Kelly Molson of Rubber Cheese.
We discussed a variety of topics but the main theme of the panel was scaling and growth. We’ll write another post with some key learnings from the panel and a video of the session as soon as it is available, but for now I thought I’d just share a few of my own thoughts on scaling and growth.
My perspective on scaling and growth
We have always believed that their are pro’s and con’s to growth and have tried hard to maximise the pro’s and minimise the con’s where possible. We might have grown from 2 people to 16, but we are still intentionally a small business and we have grown cautiously and consciously. It’s a delicate balancing act and we are always adjusting our course.
The benefits of growth
The advantages of scale for me are largely in the potential to create more impact. As a mission driven company, growth offers us the opportunity to do more good work in promoting a sustainable web, supporting good causes, helping positive businesses to thrive and providing meaningful employment to more people. On top of that, a larger teams inherently increases the opportunity for all forms of diversity if handled well, providing both strength in numbers and in diversity.
The downsides of growth
Despite offering some clear benefits, scale can present some very real financial and cultural risks. On the financial side, it is essential to ensure that any growth is financially sustainable and that revenue growth can be maintained long term in line with headcount and costs. All too often we see business that grow fast and then implode, which doesn’t serve anyone well in the long run.
The cultural risks of growth are less tangible but no less important. One of the risks is the reduction in agility that is brought about by the increased inertia of a larger organisation. Larger teams need more formal management structures and processes, and change management is naturally easier in a small close knit team that a larger more corporate environment.
The other cultural risk is the impact of growth on team relationships. It is well established that humans can only maintain close relationships with a relatively small number of people and as such, when a workplace grows there is a tipping point at which point the culture changes significantly. That isn’t necessarily a problem if you want to run a more corporate organisation but myself and Tom both love working closely with and knowing everyone in the team on a personal level. Our close knit team culture is something that we don’t want to compromise on and at some point that means that we have to draw a line on our company size. Exactly what that size should be is something that we constantly review, but I think it is safe to safe that we feel close to optimal at this point in time.
Should we be growing?
Over the years we have been constantly reviewing our size as a company and although we have actively throttled growth, we have nevertheless continued to grow. The reasons that we have allowed ourselves to grow have mainly been due to demand for additional capacity from existing clients and on occasion, a need for additional skills. At every stage we have grown a bit, and then paused to observe the effect on our team culture before moving forwards again. Looking ahead we have a couple of strategic positions that we feel will help everyone in the team to operate more efficiently at the scale that we are at and that might, just might be where we draw the line. Time will tell.
For anyone else thinking about growing their business, my advice would simply be to ask yourself hard questions about why you are growing and what the impact might be. That way you will know that you are growing for the right reasons and not just because its what you think you are supposed to do. Growth is a choice, and it is yours to make.