image credit: Dr. X's Free Associations
Most startups are looking to grow. But once success hits, how can you scale your company without shedding the shared values and culture that helped make you successful in the first place?
FreshBooks, a cloud accounting company based in Toronto, started in 2003 as a handful of people in a small office. Today, more than 5 million people have used FreshBooks to manage their books and we now have more than 90 employees.
As we've moved beyond our initial startup stages, here are four ways that we strive to keep our small business values as we continue to grow:
1. Keep a small-business owner's perspective. When we were a really small business, it was easy to empathize with the pains felt by our small business customers -- be it paperwork keeping them from the work they love, to struggling to grow their own businesses. As we grow, it's critical that we continue to see things from the small business owner's perspective.
Empathy is important in more than just customer support. From marketers to product design and quality assurance, we want our employees to all be able to step inside the small business owner's shoes and then focus on how to make their lives easier.
2. Build a foundation of shared beliefs. Every business has its own culture, whether you define one or not. It doesn't mean that all of your employees must think exactly the same way as management does. But by creating a set of shared beliefs, everyone has a framework for how to set priorities, make decisions, treat customers, and treat each other.
To keep your company's core beliefs fresh in everyone's mind, consider writing them down somewhere highly visable. For example, online retailer, Zappos, has the 10 core values of the company written on every staff member's nametag. Whether you do this or not, the actions of your company's leaders will always speak louder than any words in the corporate manual.
3. Create open channels of communication. When your company is small everyone wears multiple hats and experiences the business from multiple dimensions. As a company grows, communication can become a labyrinth and employees get pigeonholed into one or two roles.
At FreshBooks, we've taken a unique approach to keep the small company dynamic. Everyone (executive management included) rotates through customer support. A customer might get the CEO one day or a developer the next day. We take this unorthodox approach because we want everyone at the company to stay close to the customers.
4. Develop company culture outside business hours. If a company expects employees to love its customers, the company must love its employees. We include a lot activities outside of the office -- in fact, fun is one of our values. For example, one weekend every year, the entire company and their families take a group vacation.