YOU have spent countless hours developing your business idea, establishing your company, sourcing funding, building your inventory and getting sales off and running.
You are now ready to take the next step to growing your business. What are your best options? Depending on the nature of your business and how you would like to increase its size and reach, here are some key tips that will help you plan your next moves.
Map out your goals
The first step is to make sure that you clearly understand how you want to grow your business, and how much time and money you have at your disposal. Where do you want to see your business in five years time? How about in 10 or 20 years time?
Can you invest more time than you already have? Do you have money to improve your services or hire more staff to share the workload? Do you want to grow your business locally, nationally or perhaps even internationally? Do you have a digital footprint?
Strengthen your basics
There is nothing like a satisfied customer that comes back time and time again to buy your products and services. A sure way to keep them returning and get them to recommend you to their family and friends is to improve the services you already offer.
These can include free or faster shipping, special discounts for returning customers, a more streamlined shopping experience and mailing lists to inform customers of new or restocked items.
A key factor is aftercare service, particularly if you have an online-based business. Customers may want to return items that may not have matched what they had wanted, and providing fast and pain-free ways to get products or services exchanged or refunded is a sure-fire way to retain and draw in new clients.
Spread the word
Your established customers already know who you are. So how do you reach new customers? If you are online but not yet harnessing the reach of social media, now is the time to do so. Social media sites can be daunting and posting to them can feel like shouting into a void. But start with simple posts about your products and services, and then build on them.
The first step is to get to know the difference between social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Instagram, for example, is very visual and an excellent way to post about your new products. LinkedIn is a good way to showcase your own business background and the depth of your experience in your field. Being on Facebook is a great way for your existing and new customers to talk about your business and interact with your directly.
If you have a service to offer clients (eg. a Yoga Studio), why don’t you start a Facebook group that your customers can join? This could be a good way to chat to them, update them on new classes and even share health tips. A lively, active group will attract new customers when they come across your service on Facebook.
At the same time, why don’t you list your company on business review websites.? If you run a bed and breakfast, use such sites to upload plenty of photos of your accommodation, your facilities and the surrounding environment. Write about why people should visit your property and what’s unique or distinctive about it. Visit the sites regularly and review the opinions being posted by users, including those that are negative, and use the criticism to further improve your offerings.
Burn some shoe leather
Being on review and social media sites may be one of the key ways to grow your digital footprint, but there is nothing like the tried and tested ways of letting potential new customers know about your presence in the neighbourhood.
That could include buying an advertisement in the local community newspaper, advertising or sponsoring a neighbourhood event and even setting up a stall at a weekly market to spruik your products or services.
Placing pamphlets in mail boxes can also be effective, such as through offering promotions to entice new customers.
There are other businesses that may offer complementary products or services that you could team up with.
If you run an online sports store, a nearby gym may be willing for you to promote your products in their business, perhaps for a small fee. In return, your store could offer discounts to your customers to use the gym.
With the vast arrays of choices out there and fierce competition — sometimes from businesses at the other end of the world — offering products or services that other companies already cover well may not be the best way to get noticed by new customers.
Instead, be niche. What can you offer that your competitors can’t? Your offerings do not have to be radically different. Instead, look at where there may be small gaps in your target market. Could you offer premium versions of your products or services that could attract sufficient demand? Or is faster shipping or next-day delivery important for your customers if you are selling party dresses? Are your products handmade or locally grown?
Find a big client
Sometimes the best way to grow your business is to get a larger, more established client. This can come through getting a contract to sell your product or service with a local government service or small businesses in your neighbourhood. Contact local government councils and find out where tenders are advertised so that you can submit proposals to bid for contracts.
The process may be time-consuming, involve research and certainly lots of paperwork, but once you secure the contract, you will have a steady stream of revenue that you can build on. At the same time, working on such proposals gives you further opportunity to refine and become more aware of what your business’ targets and goals are.
With the advent of the internet, the globalisation of trade and services has reached levels never seen before in the world of commerce. While trying to expand in such a large and complex universe can be daunting, you can also use the growing ecosystem to learn about market trends and what could be the next stage of evolution for your business.
The key is to continuously keep track of the trends on your industry. Meet your competitors and collaborators at industry events. Find out what are the latest developments in the industry. Where will businesses like yours be in five years? What do you have to do to continue raking in profits what you reach that time? How can you change your current business structures to be more flexible and adaptable to changes and technological disruptions?
You have maximised the potential of your current business. So perhaps it is time to think about selling complementary products or services. If you sell organic facial and body products, how about expanding to offer natural or organic brushes, fabric or clothing? If you sell clothing, how about expanding into footwear, accessories and bags?
Diversifying can also mean offering your products in different forms. If you currently sell hardcopy books, offer customers the choice of electronic or audio forms.
Look at diversifying both vertically and horizontally. Can you offer complementary flight, dinner and activity packages to your accommodation offerings? Can you add services on your property such as wi-fi, free parking, airport or train transfers?
All about sales
Ultimately, growing your business is about expanding sales. The more revenue you bring in while keeping your costs down, the more profit you will get to take home at the end of each month.
Growing sales can include going back to your current business structure. Are there better systems you can adopt to help free up time for yourself and your staff? Do you need to hire more staff to give yourself the chance to work on longer-term strategies? Can you see a growth area in certain types of customers?
At the same time, do not be afraid of stepping back on certain parts of your business if you think the amount of time you are spending on it does not justify the profitability you are getting. Refine your sales pitch and focus on where you think the most growth in sales is likely to come from.
Listen to your customers. Ask them to take a survey after their experience with your business and be open to suggestions and criticisms. Understand what they want and make it a point to show them that you value their sales and their opinions. In return, a good review on a website about your business can go a long way in attracting new customers.
Your staff are also an invaluable source of feedback. They may be more aware of the day-to-day sales issues and can tell you how to make the process more effective and efficient.