Move fast and make things: How to be agile in small business

It can take years of painstaking behind-the-scenes work to build a business. And then one day, sometimes out of the blue, you might finally get your lucky break. But how do you make sure you're ready to strike while the iron's hot?

If anyone knows, it’s Be Fit Food CEO and co-founder, Kate Save, who spent two years building her business before deciding to take a risk and appear on Shark Tank in 2017.

“After Shark Tank, we experienced 1500% growth overnight. We went from doing up to 2,000 meals a week to around 30,000 meals a week,” Save says.

It was a similar story for teenage sensation Morgan Hipworth (pictured), 19, owner and founder of Bistro Morgan, who saw sales for his Melbourne doughnut store double overnight after appearing on Shark Tank as a 17-year-old.

“The next day, we sold out at 1pm. It went crazy fast,” says Hipworth, whose shop usually keeps its doors open until 5pm.

Here’s some tips on how to move fast and scale up quickly:

Staffing demands

In the month following the Shark Tank appearance, Be Fit Food grew from a team of five to 63.

“Many hands made light work, and that’s what really got us through that initial phase,” Save says.

Hipworth warns, however, that it can be difficult training up new staff during periods of growth – so be prepared.

“It can be a real balancing act,” he explains.

“You need to be mindful not to stretch your staff too much – you don’t want them staying back three hours and going home disgruntled.”

Systems and procedures

Save says it took her almost six months to get her business running efficiently at a larger scale.

“We didn’t have the right systems to run a business at that size – we had to break all of our systems down and rebuild them,” Save explains.

Part of that process included identifying outsourcing opportunities.

“We were doing absolutely everything ourselves, even our pick-and-pack operation,” Save says.

“We soon figured out that rather than having 20 people standing in a line and packing boxes all day, we could outsource that to a company with better systems and fewer errors.”

Premises and upgrades

An increase in demand such as the one that Be Fit Food experienced usually requires a business to expand its physical premises.

“It took us six months to find the right locations and suppliers to operate at that next level,” Save says.

“Not only did we need extra storage and space, but we didn’t have enough power coming into the building, so we had to get another warehouse with more power.”

Cash flow and capital

After Save successfully struck a deal with the Shark Tank’s Janine Allis, she says: “I naively thought I’d walk out with a cheque and someone to fix my business”.

“It was nothing like that at all,” she says, “It was a hard road those next 12 months – only three businesses that have appeared on Shark Tank have passed the due diligence process.

“We’d go into meetings with Janine every month and sort of fail the due diligence, but we just never gave up and kept trying.”

So, while business was booming, Save didn’t have access to the cash flow or capital that the Shark Tank deal was intended to help fix.

“We were self-funding. So to help during that period we extended our terms to 21-day payments, or however long we needed until the Shark Tank deal with Allis went through,” Save says.

Keeping customers happy

Another key challenge, says Hipworth, is keeping up with demand to ensure customers remain happy.

“You don’t want anyone to drive an hour to try your product only for them to find out it’s sold out,” he says.

“It’s important to have clear communication if you do sell out – communicate to customers on social media or your website.”

And as bad as it might sound, says Hipworth, he’d prefer to be sold out of his product than sell an inferior version.

“Don’t compromise quality over quantity, especially for a business like ours where it’s important for repeat traffic and word of mouth,” he says.

Website and lead capture

It’s not just foot traffic that you need to be ready for, Save says you need to ensure your website can handle heavy traffic.

Unfortunately, she found that out the hard way: when 25,000 people tried to purchase on her custom-built website simultaneously.

“The lead capture on our platform was good, but that doesn’t matter very much when your site goes down,” Save says.

“We’ve since moved to Shopify, which can handle heavier loads and allows us to try new and different plugins at a minimal cost.”

Final tip for agility

While it’s great to experience growth spurts due to an increase in publicity, Hipworth warns that it’s important not to overextend yourself.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking it could last forever. Business owners can sometimes make the mistake of thinking that a two-month or six-month spike is going to last for the lifetime of the business,” he says.

“The reality is – especially in food – that people are always looking for the next big trendy thing. So it’s all about trying to keep your most loyal customers happy.”

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