Do these 5 things right every time and your business will never stop growing
I’m often asked by clients to help them grow their service business. I nearly always tell them that growth is easy in a business based on services, anyone can grow a small business.
All you need to do is this:
Deliver what you promise
At the time you promise it
For the price you promise it
For a profit and
With a smile.
That’s all… Honestly
If you do those 5 things, every day, customers will break down your doors, because so few small businesses do.
Most small businesses fail doing those 5 things consistently and stunt their growth, because of the classic problem of small business growth:
It’s easy when you’re small
You see, when your business is small, you and a couple of people delivering all the services, be it plumbing, washing machine repairs, fixing cars, bookkeeping, designing websites or building houses, then it’s easy to manage and be in control of everything. You can make sure things happen the way you want them to happen.
Once you start to grow with 5, 10 or more employees, and you have a number of teams, or vans on the road, suddenly you’re not in touch with everything that goes on anymore. You don’t even get to meet all the customers and you won’t personally see all the services that get delivered. You have to rely on others, and hope they do things the way you want them done. That they communicate with customers they way you expect them to and that they take their dirty boots off before they traipse in through the house.
Managing by keeping your fingers crossed.
And guess what? It doesn’t work. Your customers start being less than happy, they start looking elsewhere, you’ll believe you need to lower your prices to keep them and it all becomes a dog’s game.
So here’s the biggest secret of all to growing your business:
Learn to say no.
Learn to say no, until you can handle the growth. Never taken on any work, any new business, unless you are confident you can deliver it to those 5 standards above.
If you do that, you’ll be in control of your business, you won’t have to compromise on price and you will build a Beautiful Business and Life. And the customers? They’ll keep coming. There is never a shortage of customers for businesses who deliver on all of their promises, with a smile… I promise you.
Growth is the most enduring topic of the 7 big questions of small business. There are literally thousands of business growth strategies bandied about by business experts and gurus. Every business owner that ever was has felt frustrated and stuck at some stage while wondering how they can grow their business to the next level. Which are the growth strategies that are going to work for your business?
This page lays out the 11 most important strategies to grow your business to where you want it to be. All of the 11 growth strategies are solid and proven, it’s up to you to mix and match. It’s a bit like baking a cake. Most cakes have eggs, flour and sugar in them, but you can’t make a cake just with flour or with nothing but eggs, you need a mixture of ingredients. So it is with building and growing your business. You may not need all the 11 business growth strategies, but you certainly need a mixture of them.
So … Get yourself to the kitchen and bake something beautiful.
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:
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
8. Grow your business with systems and quality improvement:
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).
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.
10. Grow your business with hiring, firing and engaging people:
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:
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.