If you’re lucky, you might be facing one of the best worst problems a business can face: You’re growing. In fact, you’ve been contemplating the really big question – whether to expand to a separate location. You know every in and out of your company. You built it up, and you’re set to build again. Still, the wisdom you’ve accrued whispers sometimes, wondering exactly how challenging this expansion might be. That’s exactly why we want to reach out and share our experiences with you.
1. Teach Company Culture
A paper titled “Culture and Subculture” from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business highlights three characteristics of culture:
- “Culture is comprehensive.”
- “Culture is learned.”
- “Culture is manifested within boundaries.”
In short, your company has a personality all its own with a distinct way of conducting business. Your vendors know what you like, and your customers like what you do. Your employees know how to do their jobs, and even your suppliers arrive like clockwork. Everyone’s centrally located, and when a problem arises, touchstones and answers are close at hand. If you remember, it’s taken time and hard work to achieve that unity in operation. You also probably remember that, while you were addressing the big issues, small hiccups could take on a life of their own.
Making It Comprehensive
Making something comprehensive means integrating all details fine and small into the larger parts to form a cohesive whole – your company’s culture. Little things matter because a corporate culture manifests itself in them. Everything from how a receptionist answers the phone to how an employee packages your product just right reveals whether those people – often some of your lowest wage earners – believe they play vital roles. Every person has value, and every detail matters – even when they’re hours away from your primary site.
Learning Requires Teaching
Culture must be learned; therefore, it must also be taught. Your original venture had the benefit of novelty and time to overcome unfamiliarity. Everyone was starting fresh. Although you set initial policies and procedures, developments and adaptations have been gradual with everyone on board being part of the process. For many of your original employees, you’ve raised them in your company culture, but they’ve also contributed to it.
One of the greatest challenges is maintaining consistency among sites. Couple that with the fact that people learn best by doing, and you see how important educating your new staff becomes. If you want your satellite’s operations to dovetail with headquarters’, the people bound for that remote site need to learn how you conduct business at the original location first.
Many successful companies with multiple established sites start new employees, regardless of their eventual assignment, at headquarters or regional locations before sending them to an outlying part of the business. It not only teaches new hires how to do their job your way but also is a way of sending a culture refresher by emissary. If you decide to send representatives out into the field, they, too, need time at headquarters to center their perception and learn new strategies or focuses.
Learning the Boundaries
Your company functions because of established boundaries: rules, policies, procedures and knowledge of what will and will not yield positive outcomes. Those tenets form the boundaries of your company’s culture. They encompass how things are done as well as why they should and must be done that way. Your employees want to do a good job for you. They want to merit their pay as well as future raises and promotions. Ensuring boundaries are consistent and defined helps your employees please you and your customers.
That, again, means training staff as well as writing things down. Many managers have been shocked when an employee charged with documenting policies and procedures detailed operations that were quite disparate from what the owner or manager had envisioned. Having a reference ensures that employees can look something up rather than make something up. Even simple checklists can help keep everyone on track. This way, you have a means of ensuring everyone knows that certain rules have changed.
Obstacles and Adversaries
As soon as a wall is involved, communication becomes more difficult. We intuitively know and accept this yet still wonder why intervening time and space – hours and miles – between locations prove so challenging. Even within one location, departments can become competitive, guarded or adversarial, wary of blame or cost chargebacks. When locations are in different cities, the idea of a cohesive whole can become foreign, especially when people at one site don’t really know the people at the other. Worse, we can believe that someone knows something that they don’t know at all.
Familiarity and Trust
Repeated familiarity over time, however, breeds respect and trust. Even when people don’t necessarily always agree, they learn what to expect and how to navigate or even prevent misunderstandings. They learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and that’s how powerful, productive teams form. Never underestimate the possible benefits of the Tuesday-morning brain-brew meeting with coffee and croissants or Friday’s beer-thirty hour when everyone can unwind together after a hectic week. The challenge is in using inclusion to bridge the gap between locations.
Tools and Strategies
Phones are not enough, and neither is email. Nothing can replace spontaneous face-to-face interaction for effective, memorable communication, especially when deadlines loom or problems demand solutions. Technology can help you overcome the time-space barrier. Combine it with some visual or group strategies, and communication can flow:
- Sign up for services like Hangouts.Google.com. The service supports instant messaging, voice calls and video chats. Being able to see and hear how a product in action functions – or doesn’t – may allow a team hours away to provide a simple, quick solution. All sorts of services are available for one-one-one or group video chats. You can even use it for training.
- Schedule conference calls regularly. Your employees are much more likely to communicate between sites on their own if they’re familiar with how to do it. Reserving time each week or biweekly sets the tone that communication is important and will actually save you time and money in mistakes avoided.
- Arrange visits between sites for team-building exercises semi-annually or quarterly. Workplace camaraderie is usually born from mutual respect of complementary abilities and skill sets. Team-building exercises set fun objectives designed to showcase the unique leadership skills that each and every member of the team has.
- Cross-train or cross-team. Swapping willing employees between sites for special projects lets everyone know that they’re valued. Everyone develops some form of expertise, and sharing can offer fresh ideas, valuable insights and opportunities for promotion.
3. Anticipate Expenses and Logistics
Scaling your business for growth can make budgets expand exponentially. Your new location may need a duplicate of your original site’s every asset. You may have worked up to the quantities and level of quality you provide to headquarters clients. Now, however, the additional site is going to require comparable resources, possibly from the start. The location you choose may present distinct challenges in having sufficient infrastructure to support your business’ increasing demands. In addition to the actual site, you’ll need to anticipate costs for:
- Travel between the two offices, for you and for employees and vendors.
- Ongoing legal and permitting fees.
- Easily accessible open communication venues to connect the two offices virtually.
- Compatible technological, cloud-based interfaces between locations for inventory, ordering and accounting systems, for example.
- Equipment, technology and software purchases, maintenance and upgrades at multiple locations.
- New hiring and employee training for your location’s opening and ensuing expansions.
- Marketing and customer education and acquisition in a new market.
- Work space or structure adaptations, remodeling or reconfigurations as the new location grows.
- Varying prices due to new vendors or extended services, particularly if other businesses or amenities aren’t nearby.
- Time for the additional location to become profitable.
- Scaling employer-sponsored employee benefit programs in compliance with the Affordable Care Act.
- Time lost if employees must travel long distances to reach local amenities, including business vendors, supply stores, child care, hospitals or doctor’s offices, restaurants or other conveniences.
- Weather considerations, especially snow removal or lost workdays in cold climates.
4. Don’t Forget SEO – Search Engine Optimization
We live in an Internet-driven world, and we literally Google everything, especially the businesses we consider patronizing; 80 to 90 percent of consumers check online reviews before buying. All the expertise, care and quality may well go to waste, however, if no one can find you or realizes that you’ve expanded. Words matter in business, and perhaps nowhere do they matter more than in SEO – a unique facet of search-engine technology applied to how we use language. SEO focuses on finding requested keywords or terms within Web pages and yielding accurate results that contain those words in an appropriate context.
Many businesses are using it as a form of branding, doing their best to ensure that they at least rank within the first page or two of search results simply to build name recognition and credibility. When you’re thinking along SEO lines, you need to consider the words most prevalent for your industry. Don’t forget your locations, either, especially the new one. Most potential customers search by city or town. If you’re providing products or services for a large area, SEO vocabulary may be extensive to include the boroughs or parishes of a metropolis or the assortment of outlying towns and suburbs in a region.
Take advantage of opportunities to set up local landing pages, especially the Google+ Local Page option. That listing will provide your potential customers with all the important information that they want to know right away: your business name, address, phone number, hours of operation and links to images if you choose. It will also allow you to add click-to-call and click-for-directions links. Armed with that information, customers have everything they need.
Points of Contact
Take the time to update your business website, and don’t forget your footers. Web surfers have learned to check the footer for the important information and shortcuts to what they really want to know. Chances are, you have your business address there as well as “about us” and “contact us” links. You’ll want to update all of those and be sure to include all the new contact information and links for your new location. Don’t be afraid to invite viewers to check out your new location or its dedicated pages. Make your website friendly and easy for them to use, and they’ll assume that doing business with you will be equally convenient.
Everyone Grows Up
Eventually, your new location will mature, and your employees will become seasoned, able to achieve remarkable milestones and solve the most confounding problems. In all the hustle, bustle and hectic headaches, don’t forget that, ultimately, they are what makes success happen. If you can keep employees happy and make them feel valued, you’ll save yourself thousands in turnover costs. A study by Kelly Services asked employees what they wanted most at work, and the answer was perhaps far simpler than you might expect:
- Goals and objectives.
- Autonomy to work.
- Job flexibility.
- Recognition and attention.
- Freedom to innovate.
- Open-minded management.
- Clear understanding of their employer objectives.
- Fair compensation.
Your challenges will always be culture, communication, costs and customers, no matter where you are, but if you pay attention to the details and include everyone in your vision, together they’ll make a cohesive, profitable whole.