How can I grow my business?
The 11 biggest business growth strategies:
Growth is the most enduring topic of the 7 big questions of small business. All of us business owners have felt frustrated and stuck at some stage while wondering how we can take things to the next level.
Everybody’s favourite business guru, Seth Godin, once summed up the solution perfectly:
“To build and grow a great business, you really only have to do two things:
- Build a great product or deliver a great service.
- Make sure lots of people know about it.”
In other words, easier said than done. Thanks, Seth!
Those two simple statements cover many different aspects of business growth, but I believe we can keep things much simpler than they may seem at first glance. Let’s break each one down.
Skip ahead to the following sections:
- Grow your business with vision and purpose
- Grow your business by setting goals
- Grow your business with marketing
- Grow your business with planning
- Grow your business with online marketing
- Grow your business with sales
- Grow your business with customer service
- Grow your business with inventory management
- Grow your business with systems and quality improvement
- Grow your business with hiring, firing and engaging people
- Grow your business with innovation
If you want to grow a beautiful business that stands the test of time, you must be able to answer the question: Why does your business exist and why would anybody care?
Most business owners can’t answer that question succinctly and powerfully. That’s bad because:
- If you don’t know why your business exists, your customers certainly won’t either and that makes price the only differentiator. Competing on price is a dog’s game (unless you’re Aldi, where price is your purpose).
- If you don’t know where to focus your energy, you will never master the greatest skill of effective business owners: the ability to say “NO”.
More about purpose here:
- Learning to say no in your business
- Purpose and the accidental business owner
- The Purpose of business podcast
- Small Business Masterminds Webinar on The Purpose of business
- The Ten Priorities on saying “NO”
- The most important word in business
- In the Huffington Post on Purpose
- On Inc.com on Purpose
We’ve all heard that the first step towards business growth is goal setting. However, effective goal setting is more complicated than you might initially think.
Most of the goals we set for ourselves are ineffective at best, and at worst, actually hinder our progress. They’re often arbitrary, unrealistic and unrelated to what truly matters in our lives.
For instance, a goal to make $2 million revenue is meaningless. Why $2 million? Why not $1,956,384.13? And what happens when you reach that goal? Will you be better off somehow? What if you fall short by $100 or even $100,000? Does that mean you are a failure? Goal setting only makes a difference if you understand that goals are like a compass; they provide a direction on your journey, they are not the destination.
More about goal setting here:
- Journeys, Adventures and Goals article and podcast
- Ten rules for happiness in business and life
- The Ten Truths for Making Business Fun, video: Goals
- The trouble with Goal setting
- How to set Goals that work
- Why Goal setting is confusing
Marketing is about creating opportunities to sell your stuff. As such, I fervently believe that:
“Marketing is everything and everything is marketing.”
That’s why, if you want to grow your business, you must analyse every aspect of your business.
Yes, marketing is about branding, advertising campaigns, social media and your website, but it’s also about how you answer the phone, your pricing policies and ensuring your customers are happy with what you sell them. It’s about how you dress, how you present your quotes, your PR strategies and your warranty return policies.
In fact, one of the most powerful marketing strategies is maintaining a relentless focus on quality in everything the business does in order to create “raving fans”. Why? Because if your customers are all raving fans, they will do your marketing for you.
More about marketing here:
- Create Raving Fans
- Marketing made easy
- Getting clear about your perfect clients
- How to do networking and referral marketing
- The 5 things you must do at every networking event
- Get the basics of marketing right before you spend money on advertising
- How to market your business when your client is your competitor
- Small Business Masterminds webinar on the market
- How to sell to a generation that hates ads
- Ten questions to answer to create a marketing plan, The Balance
I don’t mean to imply that digital marketing is something wildly different from all other forms of marketing. However, it is useful to pay special attention to the online space because it has become such a critical component of any growth-driving marketing strategy.
Whether your business serves food, builds houses, crunches numbers, imports widgets or makes whatsits, you can’t ignore digital marketing activities, like email marketing, content marketing, social media and influencer/affiliate marketing, search engine optimisation (SEO), pay-per-click advertising (PPC) and online PR. The list is almost endless and constantly changing with emerging technology, such as artificial intelligence, voice search, chatbots, virtual reality, drones, and progressive web apps.
You could easily argue that the core principles of marketing haven’t changed, we’ve simply got a bunch of new tools to use. At one level that’s true because people still want to get to know, like and trust you before they will do business with you. However, on another level, things have changed drastically.
Ten years ago, you’d give someone a business card with your web address on it and they would immediately want to know if you also had a bricks and mortar store. These days, people want to know you’ve got a high-functioning, active web presence, including a Facebook and Instagram page, a Google My Business listing and ideally, a bunch of 5-star ratings on all the major review platforms.
The reality is, often your physical presence doesn’t even matter anymore. If you want to be taken seriously today, online engagement across all mediums and channels must be at the heart of your marketing strategy.
More about digital marketing here:
- The skinny on online marketing to help you grow your business
- Old fashioned marketing in the digital age, webinar
- Social media marketing
- Marketing in the days of Facebook
“Nothing happens until we sell something.”
That’s a quote I once saw hanging on the wall at a big office. And it’s true. You won’t achieve any business growth (or even have a business!) without sales. No matter how great your product is, how beautiful your logo is, how smart your website is or how wonderful your employee culture is – if you’re not selling, your business will cease to exist. Simple.
Sales is often seen as a subset of marketing, but I’m giving it a solo section because I think of marketing as getting the customers to your door and sales as getting them to hand over the money. Lead generation vs lead conversion.
Sales is about skill, mindset and systems, but above all, it’s about making things easy for people. And that last word is the key to the whole shebang: it’s always about people. The old saying goes:
“People do business with people they know, like and trust.”
It’s especially important to remember this in small business because people do business with people. Your entire approach to sales must be built on a people-to-people philosophy.
More about sales here:
- No business growth without sales
- Sales is about Giving rather than Taking
- Small Business Masterminds on Sales
- Becoming a sales machine
- Business Bedtime Stories on Sales
- Cold calling is not dead, it just smells funny
“A business without a plan achieves everything in it.”
Nothing in other words.
Your business growth depends on planning. No human endeavour ever amounted to anything without a plan. Yet planning is guessing. It can never be anything more than guessing, because we can not know the future. So if planning is guessing, why does it matter so much and how can we do it so it works? There are two important answers to those questions:
- You must understand that there are two entirely different types of business plans: internal plans and external plans.External plans are designed to impress others about your business. They form part of the documentation to obtain a loan (or other type of funding) or make a proposal to a third party. Internal Plans are designed to help the business focus. They are drawn up using meaningful goals (see above), and they help people with their day-to-day decision-making processes.
- Planning is a verb. It’s not static, it’s an activity that never stops. As soon as one plan is created, we start again.John Lennon once said, “Life’s what happens when we’re making other plans,”. Planning is like that. We make a bunch of assumptions and map our actions accordingly. Next, we check reality as it unfolds and make changes to suit those new realities – every day, every week, every month and every year.
The bottom line? Business plans that truly work and make a difference are living documents.
More about planning here:
- The Ten Priorities on Planning
- Life is what happens when we’re making other plans
- Business plans that work to grow your business
- Small Business Masterminds webinar about Planning
- Business Bedtime Stories about Planning
- Planning is a waste of time, but please keep doing it
- The Ten Truths for Making Business Fun, video: Planning
- Pillars of success on Kochie’s business builders: Planning
Customer service is also a subset of marketing, and if done well, it leads to more business from those customers (plus, as I said above, everything is marketing and marketing is everything). However, it’s worth mentioning separately because of the concept of “raving fans”.
Ken Blanchard wrote a little book called “Ravings Fans” that talks about how your business should always be working to do one better for your customers than they expect. If you do so successfully, your customers will become advocates that go out of their way to help your business grow. They will talk to their friends about you, drag their colleagues to your door, defend your business against the competition and best of all, they won’t quibble about the price. If you focus on turning your customers into raving fans, you will ultimately be able to slash your marketing budget in half and achieve a long-lasting competitive edge.
More about customer service here:
- Ken Blanchard: Raving Fans
- Make sweet love to your customers and watch your business grow
- Do you know what your customers really think about you?
- Small Business Masterminds webinar about customers
- Business Bedtime Stories: Kelvin astounds his customers
- Worry about making your clients happy and business growth will follow by itself
My clients often ask me to help grow their business and I often tell them to stop worrying about that. Getting more customers is the easy part. The hard bit about business is delivering what you say you will by the time you say you will for the price you say you will at the quality you say you will… with a smile!
If you can do that all the time, even as your business grows, then customers will come flocking to your door and you won’t need to spend much money on marketing (largely because you’ll be creating raving fans !).
I can’t tell you how many businesses I have seen struggle and fail because they couldn’t maintain their product/service quality, dependability and price once they scaled.
When your business starts to grow and you are no longer in charge of every step in the process, things often start going wrong. Quality becomes inconsistent, delivery times become unreliable, prices go up or profitability suffers – and your smile disappears. Once the rot sets in like that, your reputation nosedives and customers begin to look elsewhere.
There are only two answers to this dilemma:
- Stay small: Don’t grow and learn to say “NO” often.
- Systematise: Develop systems for all aspects of your operation, including estimating, quality checking, calendar management, inventory management, callbacks, warranty repair, marketing, hiring, firing and even how the phone is answered. Systems allow you to create continuous improvement loops in your organisation (and that’s the Holy Grail of business. It’s what made companies like Toyota great).
More about systems and quality here:
- Small Business Masterminds webinar on numbers and systems
- Growing your business is the easy part of the job
- Making money from death and hamburgers
- The world’s greatest business tool
- The Ten Truths for Making Business Fun, video: Rhythm of Business
- The Rhythm of Business
Inventory management is a big, specialised topic. It’s really a subset of the systems section above. There are whole management libraries written about the various philosophical approaches to managing stock when building and growing a beautiful business that stands the test of time.
My earliest inventory management lessons came from Colin, the owner of a large hardware store who I dealt with a lot during my days as a builder. One of the reasons I bought so much of my material from Colin was that he always had everything in stock. Colin clearly knew what it took to create business growth because his business was booming.
I once asked Colin if keeping such high stock levels of everything that a builder might need from time to time was economical for him. I imagined that it was a very expensive way to run a business, having all that money tied up in timber, hardware and bits and bobs. His answer was:
“If I don’t stock it, I can’t sell it.”
I have often thought about that statement, particularly now that most operations run on the principle of “just in time”. Supermarkets have made an art form of stocking just enough and not a jar more than required in order to minimise shelf space and inventory cost.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that Colin got all my business for 20 years and most Sydney builders had an account with him because everything we needed was always ready to collect.
More about inventory management here:
- Download The 7 Habits of Highly Chilled Small Business Owners, Habit 1
- Business growth in retail businesses
- The best business software tools
- The journey of a business owner podcast
In his famous book “The E-Myth”, Michael Gerber wrote that it is impossible to manage people, so great businesses focus on systems and manage those instead. That’s certainly what grew McDonald’s into the enormous business it is today. And as I’ve written elsewhere before, if you set out to make as much money as possible from selling restaurant food, it is undeniably the case that the McDonald’s model is the one to emulate (that doesn’t mean I like it!). This philosophy can be applied to any industry.
If you’d like to build and grow a unique business, a business with an individual character, you’re going to have to manage people. You’re going to have to get good at putting the right people on the bus, sitting in the right seats, facing the right direction while also knowing which others should get off. If you don’t learn how to find (and keep!) the right people and get them to do great work, your business will always struggle. That means:
- Developing strategic hiring policies
- Being prepared to employ people who might be better than you at certain things
- Learning how to conduct great interviews
- Implementing meaningful induction and development training programs
- Learning how to coach, encourage and hold your people accountable
- Getting better at delegating
- Doing HR admin and compliance effectively
- Writing job descriptions
- Scheduling performance reviews
- Learning what it takes to be a leader
- Making tough decisions when required (quickly and respectfully)
More about hiring, firing and engaging people here:
- Staff and the Germans in Brazil
- Why some businesses grow and others don’t
- Inspiring your people
- The highs and lows of employing people overseas
- Staff can make or break your business growth and development
- The Ten Priorities: Doing No Thing
- How to get and keep great people (1)
- How to get and keep great people (2)
- The Ten Truths for Making Business Fun, video: The team
If you want to build and grow a beautiful business that stands the test of time, you can’t afford to get left behind. The pace of change and innovation is relentless. What was acceptable even a few years ago is no longer acceptable now.
Not long ago, it was still okay for a cafe to have a sign that said, “cash only”. Today, you’ll lose a lot of business if you don’t accept card payments. Even with a business as simple as mine, people still expect the option to make online bookings. Cloud computing combined with smartphone technology and advanced GPS systems mean that customers now even expect to be informed that their plumber is on the way and will pull up in front of their house in 13 minutes.
You don’t need to be Uber or Airbnb to implement new technology or come up with new ways of doing business. A few years ago, I bought a house in a different state of Australia. The real estate agent gave me a private showing of the house via Skype. I engaged the conveyancer, the building inspector and a surveyor all without setting foot in the house or even the state.
A client of mine with a creative marketing agency has a team of designers, copywriters and marketing assistants all over the world and she rarely even meets her clients face to face. Another client with a small supermarket chain has technology in his stores that allows him to see what’s going on in every area as well as getting live access to each of the store’s point-of-sale (POS) systems. He’s also put a bunch of tablet screens in his stores that allow people to find dinner recipes incorporating the fresh vegetables he has on special.
And all this stuff is only the beginning. It won’t be long before artificial intelligence is integrated into doctor’s surgeries, lawyer’s offices and copywriting agencies. If you think that technology and innovation won’t have a massive impact on the way you do business and how you create business growth, you are kidding yourself.