So you have a business and business is good. Now how do you make it better? The best businesses are always looking for ways to improve, whether that’s offering better products or adopting more efficient processes. Here’s how you can take your business to the next level.
Signs It’s Time to Grow
You should always look for ways to improve your business, but there is such a thing as growing too soon or too quickly. Take American Apparel, for example, which opened nearly 300 stores just six years after its launch, then fell deeply in debt, filed for bankruptcy, and shut down its stores, becoming an online-only retailer. The lesson here? Before you invest too much time, energy and other resources into your business, make sure it’s the right time to grow. Here are some signs.
Your industry is growing
If your market or industry is poised for growth, it might be time to grow your business along with it. According to a report from financial services company Fundera, some of the fastest-growing industries in the United States right now are real estate, hospitality and consumer retail. Jim Patterson, the managing editor of The Kiplinger Letter, shares a handful of other industries he expects to grow quite a bit over the next five years, including cannabis, online grocery delivery and health care.
Cash flow is steady
Make sure you’re financially prepared for growth. Before you take any major steps, you should have a few years of steady revenue and a steady flow of new customers. “A consistently growing base of people who want to be customers means the demand is there,” said Paco de Leon of The Hell Yeah Group, a financial firm for creative entrepreneurs. “And steady profits means you’ll be able to grow sustainably, and you’re not putting the cart before the horse.”
Your customers want more
If you have more business than you can handle, it’s probably time to grow. Of course, sudden spikes in sales aren’t necessarily an indicator that demand is high — this could just be a fluke. So make sure you consistently have more demand than you can supply. Do they want different products that you could be offering? Interview your customers. Survey them about satisfaction, interest in new products and overall feedback about your business. Then look for patterns in the responses you get. If your customers want more of your product, faster delivery or additional services, that’s a good sign.
Decided it’s time to take the next step? Here are a few strategies you could try.
Get New Customers
Perhaps the most obvious way to grow your business is to get more customers. And there are a handful of strategic ways to achieve this, whether those customers are consumers or other businesses.
Get to know your existing customers better
“To understand what people really want, you have to find out what their real challenges are,” said Ramit Sethi, the author of the New York Times bestseller, “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” and founder of Growth Lab, a company that helps entrepreneurs build and grow online businesses. Figure out what made your current customers want to buy your product. This will help you pinpoint what you’re doing right, and what marketing strategies might be a waste of time. Mr. Sethi interviews tens of thousands of his own customers, who are also business owners, to find their pain points and advises them to do the same He asks the following questions:
- Tell us about your day. What are the best parts? What are the hardest parts?
- Have you bought something like this before?
- If you could wave a magic wand, what would success look like?
If your company serves other businesses (known as B2B), ask about their business and revenue goals. You might conduct these interviews over the phone or via email. Choose a wide swath of customers: ones you interact with all the time and ones that only use your business once in a while. Either way, the interview process can help you figure out what’s working and what isn’t in your marketing.
Pinpoint what makes you different
Many entrepreneurs find initial success copying a competitor’s business model. If you want your business to grow however, you’ll have to set it apart and find your unique brand identity. Customer interviews can come in handy with this, too.
Try it: Create an avatar for your target customer. Write a before and after description for him or her — that is, a quick bio of who they are before and after purchasing your product or using your business. You may have done this when you first launched, but it’s important to update this avatar as your business expands.
Get other people to help
Affiliate marketing involves selling your product or service through a third-party who then gets a small cut of your profits. This may be especially useful for B2B companies, who can tap their existing customers to share these products with their own customers. This is a smart way to advertise and grow your reach with the help of like-minded companies, bloggers or influencers. (Of course, you want to make sure these aren’t direct competitors.) You can try to reach out to potential affiliates on your own, but make sure you have an affiliate marketing process in place to track link clicks and purchases. Tools like ClickBank and Rakuten can help you get started.
Build a bigger online presence
Even if you don’t have an online business, expanding your online brand presence is crucial to getting your product in front of more eyes, especially if your product sells directly to consumers. Some strategies you might consider:
- Post content consistently. Whether you share content via a blog, newsletter or Twitter account, posting regularly will help your followers stay interested and engaged with your brand. Use tools like Hootsuite and IFTTT to schedule posts and shares.
- Stay true to your brand identity. Whichever online platform you use to promote your business, make sure the content you post is consistent to your brand’s identity. For example, if your brand is about simplicity and minimalism, you probably don’t want to post something about the best Black Friday deals.
- Run a promotion. Generate buzz around your business with a giveaway or contest. For example, Lonely Planet uses Instagram to encourage users to tag their travel photos for a chance to be featured on the Lonely Planet page. This expands their reach to other audiences and gets users to advertise Lonely Planet at no cost to the brand.
Split test marketing strategies
There’s no shortage of quick marketing “hacks” you can play with. Split testing, also called A/B testing, helps you test out these strategies to see what works best. For example, you could test how well a green “buy now” button works on converting customers on your website versus a yellow one. Some other things you could split test:
- Email subject lines: Which one has a higher open rate?
- Web page titles: Which one gets more clicks?
- Days you post to social media: Which day gets more engagement?