It's never too early to start planning for your business's future. Read about eight key milestones that you can plan for today to set your business up for long-term success.

Every small business follows a unique path, but there are common characteristics that define small business success; tenacity, ingenuity, and a willingness to learn are all traits that small business owners bring to the table when running their companies. Therefore, it is unsurprising that many growth-minded small business owners also face similar challenges and opportunities as they work to move their businesses forward.

While all small businesses differ, there are certain milestones on the path to new growth that emerge across industries and present themselves at key points along the business journey. How business owners handle these milestones can often dictate how effectively they are able to build on their success.

The first step for maximizing these key growth milestones is identifying what they are and when you can expect to encounter them as your business evolves. From here, you can start thinking about how you will approach each opportunity.

Here are eight milestones over the life of your business that you can start planning for today:

Short-Term Milestones

Like many small business owners, you probably managed and funded much of your business yourself when you first launched your company. As your business continues to grow, however, you will have new opportunities to delegate key business tasks and seek additional funding from outside sources.

Here are three short-term milestones you may experience as you look for new growth opportunities in the coming months and years:

1. Obtaining financing or outside investment 

Starting out, you might have relied on your own funds to support your business. Now that you have an established foothold in the market, your business can look to utilize new and more advanced financing methods to gain the capital you need. Some of these options include investment banks, venture capital firms, or traditional bank loans. Be on the lookout for financing opportunities that may not be available to early-stage businesses, but could benefit your growing company as you look to the next stage of your journey.

2. Hiring professional services

Many small business owners become amateur accountants and IT pros in the early days of their business. Being open to learning new skills is a hallmark of small business success, but as your company evolves, it can help to bring in outside experts to streamline your financial and technological capabilities. Hiring an IT or human resources consultant or a part-time CFO for your business can take some responsibility off your plate so you can focus on growing your company. Be open to these opportunities and aware of the benefits that these experienced professionals can bring to your business.

3. Expanding your team

As organizations grow, it’s important that they have enough hands on deck to ensure all the work gets done. This will also help maximize profits. You can lean on your CFO to ensure that you have the financial resources to hire additional help. As with outside consultants, expanding your existing team and spreading the workload will allow you to focus more on the things that really matter, like driving new growth.

Mid-Term Milestones

In addition to short-term milestones, it’s also important to consider the growth opportunities that are slightly further down the road. As your business continues to evolve, you may experience bottlenecks that require you to adapt. Eventually, you may hit a sales plateau with your current product offerings, or you might outgrow your current footprint and need more space. There are several ways that you can manage these challenges as they emerge for your company.

Here are three medium-term milestones that your business can leverage to continue on your growth trajectory:

4. Building a second or third line of business

One of the most common obstacles that business owners encounter along their growth journeys is a plateau in sales—you’ve had success with your existing product offerings, but may be having a harder time acquiring new customers and growing your revenue. Diversifying your lines of business can be a great way to overcome inertia and reach new peaks in your sales. Be prepared to take advantage of opportunities to build out new product offerings that complement your existing services and open new doors for your business.

5. Making an acquisition

Another strategy that business owners can use to overcome bottlenecks in their sales is acquiring a competitor company. If you’re having challenges with organic growth, a new acquisition could be a great way to expand your services, penetrate new markets, and increase your business’s reach.

6. Opening a second location

As your business expands through the years, your team will likely grow, your customer base will increase, and your inventory needs will multiply (especially if you’re thinking about adding lines of business or making a new acquisition). The location where you started your business may no longer have the capacity you need. It may be time to think about opening a second location. You could rent a new space to keep up with increased demand, or purchase your own building and invest for your future.

Long-Term Milestones

Finally, it’s never too early to start thinking about long-term business milestones. These opportunities may be years down the line, but there are steps you can take today to prepare your business and yourself for the future.

7. Hiring a CEO or board of directors 

It may be difficult to imagine today, but there could be a time in the future where you no longer want to run the day-to-day operations of your company. Hiring a CEO or board of directors that oversees management can enable you to begin your gradual transition out of your business while still focusing on the key decisions that matter most to you.

8. Leaving your business

Retirement is perhaps the most important milestone you will experience as a small business owner. After decades of hard work building your business, it’s time to step back and enjoy the fruits of your efforts.

However, achieving success with this crucial milestone depends heavily on how you plan today. How do you want to leave your business? Do you have a succession plan in place for  one of your family members or long-time employees? Or, are you planning on selling your company? If you’re hoping to pass your business down, how will you prepare your successor for this important role?

These are all questions to consider as you plan for your retirement. You may not have all the  answers today—and that’s okay. The first step is to start thinking about your future goals and talking them over with your trusted advisors. The earlier you get started on this milestone, the better prepared you will be for life after your business.

Ultimately, every small business is different, and every small business owner has a different vision for the future of their company. Yet common milestones exist along the path to smart business growth, and they can determine how your company responds to obstacles and pushes forward through adversity. Preparing today for the milestones to come can help your business thrive at every stage of your growth evolution.

Looking for additional tips to help your business achieve smart, sustainable growth for the road ahead? Connect with a Santander Small Business Banker today

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