The difference between planned and unplanned business growth — and how to prepare for both

Jim Ilievski

CKI Group chief executive Jim Ilievski.

Scaling a business has always been one of the hardest and hit-and-miss things to get right.

Business growth comes in so many forms, and you would need a crystal ball to predict where, when and how it happens most of the time.

The way I look at scalability and growth takes two forms: planned or unplanned.

The planned version consists of a full sales pipeline and the ability to scale by targeted growth strategies systematically. This type of growth is what big companies with mega resources behind them can do so easily.

At least in theory. However, significant pitfalls lurk even in meticulously planned growth strategies.

As the saying goes: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

On the other hand, unplanned growth is when you can’t deliver the work you have signed up for, and you are continually missing things.

Unplanned growth could be seen as a bad thing. However, this is not always the case.

How you handle it is what makes or breaks you.

Unplanned growth also holds the potential for massive returns. It is a little riskier than planned growth, and it requires a business to be adaptable, agile and smart.

It can look messy to an outsider, but it has its own internal logic.

Planned scalability usually has the following characteristics:

  • A comprehensive, revenue-rich pipeline of work and opportunities;
  • A high probability of winning this work or even have already won it;
  • Good understanding of the skills that will be needed to deliver this work;
  • Having most of the resources already within your team and only needing a small contingent workforce; and
  • The business has adequate capital and can afford to take calculated risks.

Unplanned scalability looks more like this:

  • You have lots of leads and are unsure when they will convert or even if they will convert;
  • You already have more work than your team can handle;
  • Your resource skill base is limited, and you are constantly saying no to work because you are missing key skills to deliver it; and
  • Your business has limited funds to invest for many reasons.

All growth is good growth

With either of these scenarios, you are having this debate or making this decision because your business is growing. So it’s a great problem to have.

The question is, how do you manage it?

Managing planned scalability is not any easier than trying to manage unplanned scalability.

That’s not to say that some of the unplanned traits can’t appear in a business that has the resources, or even the capital, or visa versa.

There will almost always be grey areas and overlap, especially if you are running an agile and flexible business that is alert to new opportunities.

The fact remains, based on your business makeup, you need to take action so that you do not miss the opportunity to grow.

There is a great saying: “Don’t let perfect get in the way of being better.”

Growing even a little is a great thing because it puts you in a better place than you were before.

There are some subtle differences when it comes to preparing for planned versus unplanned scalability, and these will vary from business to business.

However, the core fundamentals are the same.

1. Take some time to plan.

Yes, even in an unplanned situation, you need to have a plan.

You already do this in the form of business mitigation strategies, so expand it to include the possibility or future work.

2. Make sure you know your work priorities.

What needs to be delivered when and what things can be adjusted or moved without annoying your clients.

Client relationships are critical, as a good client understands that your business is growing, and they can work with you because it’s also in their interest not to lose you.

3. Have the right people around you.

Continuously work on your labour force, both permanent and contingent labour, even if you do not need them yet.

Make sure you stay in touch with people who you may need in the future.

Assemble a core group of multi-skilled individuals who are loyal, hardworking and adaptable.

4. From a financial perspective, save some money.

Find a way to do this even if it means you take less profit in some years to be ready.

It’s not too different from saving money for a rainy day.

In this case, it’s just about planning for the future of your growth and having funds on hand to service that growth.

No silver bullet

The above are all ways to think about scaling, and not the silver bullet to solving the growth challenge.

One thing I can say for sure, do not be scared to grow, even if that growth is unplanned.

Plan so that even if your growth strategy does not work out exactly as you had hoped, you don’t go backwards.

Be prepared to head into uncharted territory because, as in life, we grow the most when we challenge ourselves and stretch our capabilities.

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