How can I grow my business?
Business growth strategies teased out
How to grow your business is the most enduring of The 7 Big Questions. All of us business owners have felt frustrated at some stage in our journey to building a Great Business, because we felt the business got stuck at one level and we weren’t sure how to get it to the next level.
Everybody’s favorite business guru, Seth Godin said it really well some years ago. Seth wrote in his blog:
“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.”
And that is how simple it really is to build a Great business that Stands the Test of Time. No argument. But those two simple statements cover so many different aspects of business growth:
- 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
In other words: Easier said then done… Thanks Seth.
But let’s have a go at keeping it as simple as we can anyway (and no simpler):
Below you’ll find a brief summary of each of these aspects of business growth. Besides the summary, there are a bunch of links to further reading, watching or listening on each aspect.
If you come across some great resources on each of these aspects, I’d love you to share them with me and I’ll add them to the page.
On the topic of business growth in general:
I have written about the general topic of business growth in many different places. I think there are a number of misunderstandings about business growth that are not helping us, as business owners to feel better about ourselves. The first article is about that (and you can also read about the misunderstandings about growth in my book: The Ten Truths for Making Business Fun):
- The Business Growth Myth
- The Small Business Health Check analysis
- Slow and steady wins the race in small business
- The Ten Priorities: Foundations for a Great Business and Life
- The Ten Truths for Making Your Business Grow, EBook
- The 7 secrets of business growth
- The 10 strategies for sustainable business growth
- The weekly One-Minute-Business-Tips on growth
- How can I grow my business: The Guardian newspaper
I believe that to grow a Great 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 be able to tell, and then all it comes down to is price. Competing on price is a dog’s game, unless you’re Aldi, where price is your Purpose. The second reason you need to be able the question clearly is that if you can’t, you will never master the greatest skill of effective business owners, namely 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 to grow your business you must start with Goal setting. But effective Goal setting is more complicated than you might think. Most Goals we set for ourselves and for our businesses are at best ineffective and at worst actually hinder our progress. Goals are often arbitrary, unrealistic, and unrelated to what really matters in our lives. A Goal to make $2 million revenue is an arbitrary and meaningless number, why $2 million? why not $1,956,384.13, or $2,163,927.46 for example? And so what when you reach the goal? Will you be better off somehow? What if you fall short? By $100, or by $1,000, or by $100,000? Does that mean you are a failure? Goal setting really makes a difference, as long as 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
And it is. To grow your business you have to look at every aspect of your business. Marketing is about advertising campaigns, and social media and designing your logo and your website, but it’s also about how you answer the telephone, about your pricing policies, about ensuring that your customers are happy with what you sell them. It’s about how you dress and about how you present your quotes and about your Public Relations strategies and about your warranty return policies. One of the greatest marketing strategies is a relentless focus on quality in everything the business does, in order to “Create Raving Fans”, because if your customers are all Raving Fans, they will actually 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 on the market
- How to sell to a generation that hates ads
I don’t mean to imply that online marketing is somehow something different from all other forms of marketing, it isn’t. But it is useful to pay special attention to online engagement and marketing to build and grow your business, because it has become such an important aspect of any marketing strategy. Whether your business is a cafe or a building company or a law practice, or it imports widgets or makes whatsits. You can not ignore a bunch of different forms of online marketing. Email marketing, content marketing, Search Engine Optimisation, Search Engine Marketing, Social Media Engagement, Social Media Marketing, online PR, online reputation management (The ubiquitous star ratings), video marketing. The list is near endless and constantly changing.
You could easily argue (and I have in one of the articles I refer to below), that the principles of marketing haven’t changed, we’ve just got a bunch of new tools to do it with. And at one level that’s true, people still want to get to know, like and trust you before they will do business with you. But 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 they want to know you’ve got a high functioning web presence and that you’ve got a presence on Facebook and on Google local and ideally a bunch of 5 start ratings on Yelp and Trip Adviser. Whether or not you have a bricks and mortar presence, simply doesn’t matter anymore. Online engagement in all forms must be part of your marketing strategies or you will not be taken seriously.
More about online 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 saw hanging on the wall at a big office once, many years ago. And it’s true. No business growth, no 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 conditions are, if you’re not selling, the business will cease to exist.
Sales is often seen as a subset of marketing, but I’m giving it it’s own section here, because I think of marketing as getting the customers to your door and sales as actually getting them to hand over money. Lead generation v lead conversion. Sales is about skill and it’s about mindset and systems and above all, it’s about making it easy for people. And this last word is the key to the whole shebang. It’s always about people. The old saying is:
People do business with people they know like and trust
You must always remember it’s about people first and foremost and in small business especially it’s about people in both directions: People do business with people. Your whole approach to sales, all aspects of it 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:
1) 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 and form part of the documentation to obtain a loan or other form of funding or make a proposal to a third party of some sort. Internal Plans are documents designed to help the business and everyone in it, focus. They are combined with meaningful goals (see above) and they help people in their day to day decision making processes. Internal and external plans have different functions and are presented quite differently as well.
2) 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 said: Life’s what happens when we’re making other plans. Planning is like that, we make a bunch of assumptions and plan our actions accordingly. Then we go ahead and check reality as it unfolds and make changes to our plans to suit the new realities, every day, every week, every month and every year. Business Plans that work, that 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 of course, if done well it leads to more business from those customers, and as I said above, everything is marketing and marketing is everything, but it’s worth mentioning separately, because of the concept of Raving Fans. Ken Blanchard wrote a little book that said it best in the title: Create Raving Fans and have your customers do your marketing for you. It’s a great little book and there’s a link below to get yourself a copy of it.
The principle of Ken Blanchard’s book is that your business should always be working to do one better for your customers than they expect. If you do so, your customers will become your advocates (Raving Fans) and advocates will go out of their way to help your business grow. They will talk to their friends about you, they will drag their colleagues to your door. They will defend your business against the competition and best of all, they won’t quibble about price. If your business focuses on turning it’s customers into Raving Fans, you will be able to slash your marketing budget in half, over time, for a better result.
More about customers 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 them grow their business, and I often tell them to stop worrying about that. Getting more customers is actually the easy part. The hard part of business is:
- To deliver 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, the customers will come flocking to your door and you won’t have to spend much money on marketing (for one thing because you’ll be creating Raving Fans, see the previous topic). And right now, you may well be doing all those things, with a smile, but the trick is to be able to keep doing that as the business starts to grow. I can’t tell you how many businesses I have seen struggle and fail in my years in business who couldn’t maintain their product or service quality and dependability and price, at scale. Once the business starts to grow and you, yourself, are no longer in charge of every step in the process, things start going wrong. Quality becomes inconsistent, delivery times become unreliable, prices go up or profitability suffers and your smile starts to disappear. Once the rot sets in like that, your reputation starts to suffer and customers start to look elsewhere.
There are only two answers to this dilemma: Either, don’t grow, stay small, learn to say no and say it all the time… Or systematise. Developing systems for all aspects of the operation is the only answer. Systems for how the phone is answered, systems for estimating, systems for quality checking, systems for calendar management, systems for inventory management, systems for callbacks and warranty repairs. Systems for marketing, systems for hiring and firing etc etc. Above all, systems allow you to create Continuous Improvement Loops into your organisation. And continuous improvement is 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, and 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 Great business that Stands the Test of Time. My earliest lessons of inventory management came from the owner of a big hardware store I dealt with a lot in my days as a builder, Colin. 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 asked Colin once if keeping such high stock levels of everything a builder such as myself 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 and 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 in the years since, 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, to minimise shelf apace and inventory cost.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I 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 be picked up.
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
Michael Gerber in his famous book “The E-Myth” wrote that it’s impossible to manage people and hence great businesses focus on systems, and manage those instead. And that’s certainly what grew McDonalds into the enormous business it is today, no argument. 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. But, I can’t tell you how happy I am that not everyone in the restaurant industry wants to build McDonalds, because the world (and my palate) would be the poorer. The same 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 in the right direction and also know which people to get off the bus. 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 hiring policies, being prepared to hire people who might be better than you are at certain things, learning how to do great interviews, implementing induction and development training programs. It means learning how to coach your people, encourage them and hold them accountable. And it means learning about effective delegating. It means doing the HR admin and compliance effectively, writing job descriptions and doing performance reviews. It means learning what it takes to be a leader and it means being prepared to take the tough decisions when required, and take them quickly and respectfully.
More about 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
To build and grow a Great business that Stands the Test of Time, you can’t afford to be left behind. The pace of change and innovation is relentless and what was ok even a few years ago is no longer ok now. Not long ago it was still fine for a cafe to have a sign saying “cash only” , but in 2017, you’ll lose a lot of business if you don’t accept cards in payment. Even in a business as simple as mine, people expect me to be able to accept online bookings. Cloud computing combined with smart phone technology and advanced GPS systems mean that customers now expect to be informed that their plumber is on its way and can be expected to pull up in front of their house in 13 minutes.
You don’t need to be Uber or AirBandB to implement new technology and come up with new ways of doing business. I just 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 a foot in the house or the state. A client of mine with a creative marketing agency has a team of designers and 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 allow him to see what’s going on in any part of any store and to get live access to each of the store’s Point of Sale systems. He’s also just implement a bunch of tablet screens in his stores allowing 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 in doctor’s surgeries and lawyer’s offices, and copywriting agencies. If you think that technology and innovation isn’t going to have a massive impact on the way you do business and how to create business growth, you are kidding yourself.
More about innovation here: