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Let's cut to the chase. Scaling up your business is a delicate process. In fact, it's easier than you think to completely derail your business when growing, even if it's in a strong and healthy place. And there are a whole range of factors to consider, such as preserving company culture, acquiring the right talent and choosing the right tools for your processes.

Did you know that 90% of young businesses die within five years after starting?

We know we’re not the only companies out there experiencing some of these growing pains, so what better way to gain expert insight than to hear from the people with first-hand experience scaling a company from the ground up?

In our most recent co-hosted webinar, we joined forces with PayFit, a cloud-based payroll software and Quantico, an in-house finance team supporting rapidly growing businesses. Sara, our VP of Sales at Pleo, also joined the webinar, for a jam-packed session full of tips and tricks. 

So, without further ado, here are five things to keep in mind when scaling up a start-up.

1. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to market expansion

To kick things off, Nick Miller, Managing Director of PayFit, succinctly captured PayFit’s initial approach to market expansion: 

"Take one person, land on the ground, and figure everything out once you're there."  

As the payroll company expanded its market from France to England, there were a lot of teething problems. He explains that a targeted and calculated approach to new markets is crucial to overcome unanticipated obstacles. 

"There was a clear product-market fit but we had some difficulty operating as we scaled. PayFit had to identify systems that were lacking and mitigate those hurdles.” Nick explains. "We have a team on the ground that implements things fast — maximising speed as a priority."

Sara Brooks, VP of Sales at Pleo, explained how Pleo looks to approach their markets from a global vantage before regionalising the systems they have in place. And a dedicated market expansion can do exactly this. This is essentially a team responsible for a "soft launch" in each country, as Sara puts it, "a mini internal consultancy" to slowly prepare for take-off. 

Sam Wilkinson, Director of Quantico, points out that, ultimately, there is no clear-cut path to market expansion and it depends largely on the individual priorities of the company. This is something he sees first hand, on a day-to-day basis as he helps build personalised scalable systems to grow businesses.

2. Strike the right balance with tools

There’s no denying the importance of finding the right software. Tedious admin work exponentially increases as your company grows. Luckily, a wave of fintech tools have launched in the past few years that can truly transform how modern businesses manage efficiency. It’s all about taking the time to get the right balance.

Sam stresses the need for scale-ups to be supported by the right structures and internal systems. He explains that before “even considering headcount”, it is necessary to ensure that “the right processes and tools” are in place.

In terms of HR, accounting and payroll, if you don't have the right structure at the beginning then those administrative systems can cripple the speed your business is able to scale. The value of HR teams continues to grow as businesses realise how important it is to retain their most talented people.

However, there is a caveat to this…

Can too many tools weigh you down? Quite frankly, yes. Sara was quick to cut out tools when she joined Pleo. Niche tools for smaller teams can often lead to confusion and inefficiencies. They’re also notoriously difficult to manage for finance. 

"The tech stack was unbelievable when I joined. You don't want to sit around clicking tools all day long,” Sara remarks. Try and evaluate the key added value of each tool before you add it to a growing reserve.

3. Future-proof your strategies

Focusing on speeding up sales and marketing activities is often a key preoccupation when scaling a business. But let's be honest, such tactics only work in the short-term. Value must be placed on producing long-term demand and ensuring a robust buyer market.

Sam emphasises the need to “build for the future” and that starts with the product. Businesses must consider the longevity of their product offerings and how they can ensure that they're future-proof. Olov Eriksson, Pleo's very own Chief Product Officer, discussed this back in December at our digital summit, Forward.

"At Pleo, we try to do this by focusing more on the input than the short-term outcomes. I don't care as much about moving that specific metric by 10%. I'd rather look at: Do we understand our customers well enough? Have we built a culture in our team where there's passion and constructive conflict? Is the team taking risks on things that might not work out?"

Sara also explains that Pleo also goes about “future-proofing” their strategies through building a  clearly-defined operating model. It’s important to clearly identify and prioritise the changes necessary to align the operating model to any financial and strategic targets set in the long term. 

4. Get your company branding right

Companies need to clearly brand themselves and their values to candidates. According to LinkedIn, 72% of recruiting leaders worldwide agreed that employer branding has a significant impact on hiring. Candidates typically scour a company's website, professional networks and social media prior to embarking on the application process.

Before even applying for a job, 75% of job seekers consider an employer’s brand.

Getting your branding right is what makes it possible to find people who are truly aligned with your company's mission and values. And this is crucial – building up a team with people who aren't aligned with the purpose of your company means that you run the risk of losing sight of who you are and what you stand for. 

"Staying true to your culture and values as you scale is hard. But you have to make it a priority. In every new hire, you should never compromise," explains Nick. 

This is equally as important for retention purposes. Companies need to be able to portray what it's really like to work (and develop) within the team. This makes attracting and retaining a lot easier.

Culture alignment and preservation is also really important at Quantico. However, Sam Wilkinson, Director of Quantico, is quick to acknowledge the difficulty in building and branding a company culture when everything is done via Zoom and in front of a computer screen. When adding remote workers to your team, you have to ask yourself: How can we brand ourselves clearly in order to preserve our culture whilst we scale internationally?

5. Ensure you are getting the right talent

Building a scalable recruiting strategy takes time. Let's be real, the war for talent is on

We’re living in an employee-first world. It's important to remember that, just like your customers, your employees are individuals and they should be treated with the same level of importance. 

Pleo and PayFit are on a mission to ensure that everybody embodies the right values and contributes positively to their respective company cultures. Both Sara and Nick spend over 50% of their time in hiring interviews, it's an investment they're happy making. 

"Historically, we don't have a large talent acquisition team and in this market, it's hard to find talent. That's exactly why we are increasing investment in this area as a function," says Sara.

Retaining talent has become an equally integral consideration. Many businesses have made tangible progress towards offering greater outcomes for current staff, such as embracing flexible work arrangements to boost employee satisfaction.

So there you have it. As we’ve observed in the varying experiences of Nick, Sam and Sara, there’s no clear cut path to success. You’re going to have to be agile in order to quickly capitalise on new opportunities and steer your company in the right direction.

Brace yourself. Brand yourself. Be true to who you are. And buckle up – it’s going to be a bumpy ride. 

Alys Walton, Pleo's Marketing Intern

Alys Walton

Marketing Assistant

Welsh graduate turned growth marketer working in the UK&I market. Don’t be shy, get in touch!

alys@pleo.io

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