This article was originally published on the Business 2 Community Business Blog.
Growing a small business is no easy feat and requires a tremendous amount of perseverance, dedication, focus, and even some luck. Knowing how to manage your growth and ensuring your ability to deliver exceptional service to your customers are paramount for long-term success.
While a myriad of strategies can enable a small business to achieve growth, here are several that warrant consideration and implementation.
1. Align Sales and Marketing. The terms sales and marketing are often used interchangeably. However, these vital functions provide very different—and equally important—contributions to the company or organization. They are, in fact, the Yin-Yang that cultivate customers, generate sales, and serve as the fuel for your company. Marketing is, and should be, viewed as a critical investment for the financial success of the organization. Sales without an appropriate marketing function is costlier, less effective and reduces the bottom-line.
2. Establish a formal referral program. Data conclusively demonstrates that customer referrals are a significantly effective but extremely underutilized business strategy. According to Dale Carnegie, 91 percent of customers would give a referral, but only 11 percent are asked. Creating a formal referral program can allow your customers to help you grow by becoming a brand ambassador for your company.
3. Expand your offerings. Your customers and their needs are always evolving. And, so should your product and service offerings. Being aware of your customers’ long-term needs, research and development or industry trends enables you to anticipate their future needs and position your company to service them. This approach also affords your company the opportunity to be first-to-market and a disruptor.
4. Focus on customer relationships. Per Marketing Metrics, increasing customer retention by five percent can increase profits between 25 and 95 percent. Providing exceptional customer service that creates long-term and loyal customers is a sound strategy to grow your business. Upselling or cross selling current customers is significantly more effective and cost-efficient than securing new clients.
5. Develop strategic partnerships. Many small business owners can benefit from strategic partnerships that enable them to service a larger client or business opportunity together. While horror stories abound, careful planning and due diligence can address many issues before they occur. Engaging professional help, including legal, financial and business experts, to form the partnership is the best approach for profitability and long-term success.
6. Become a recognized thought leader and expert. Here’s a surefire way to elevate your reputation, build brand equity and attract ideal customers. Based on your industry and business, creating a blog, podcast, by-lined articles or other content to share your knowledge can be an effective strategy. Even sharing your expertise through speaking engagements, industry panels or other high-profile events provides an excellent opportunity to showcase your company and expertise.
7. Increase your geographic reach. Focusing on a manageable territory is smart. Developing opportunities to expand your customer reach is a significant growth strategy that should be pursued in a phased approach to ensure that additional customer requirements, logistics and costs are addressed.
8. Develop a new client/customer base. Data suggests that selling to new customers is between 5 and 20 percent successful. Notwithstanding this data, a focused effort to attain customers in new sectors, geographies or segments can be prudent. Knowing when to engage in new client acquisition opportunities requires a well-thought-out strategic approach and flawless implementation.
9. Just say no. Here’s a big challenge for many small business owners. The ability to confidently and appropriately address difficult customers, to walk away from an ill-fitting business opportunity or to end a customer relationship requires the self-confidence and fortitude to opt-out. Learning to say “no” when it’s not a good fit or within your wheelhouse is a significant growth strategy.
10. Elevate your brand. When growing a small business, it is extremely important that your brand continues to evolve, as it can unlock competitive advantages for the company. Your brand is a dynamic asset that must always differentiate your company and its products and services. Oftentimes, as a company grows, its brand remains static and becomes ineffective as a new customer segment, geography or service offering is pursued. It is critical to remember that, as the company grows, you must elevate your brand and communications to address the new market requirements.
11. Optimize your memberships. Each year, small business owners expend significant funds to join business, trade or other membership organizations. Yet, they rarely take advantage of these memberships to share their expertise, elevate their executive profile or build mutually beneficial relationships. With the financial investment, consider the additional investment of your time and talent by chairing a committee, serving on the board or supporting an initiative. By engaging, you will showcase your leadership capability, will enable others to take notice of you and your company, and can leverage your engagement to increase awareness for you and your company.
12. Manage your customer acquisition costs. Opportunity cost is the value of a forgone activity or alternative when another option is chosen. Opportunity cost comes into play in any decision that involves a tradeoff between two or more options. The cost associated with the customer acquisition process is an important measure for a business to evaluate in combination with how much value having each customer typically brings to the business. Your customer acquisition cost evaluation should inform your pricing strategy.
Whether your small business is newly launched, is ready to grow or is in a holding pattern, the thoughtful implementation of these growth strategies can help you succeed well into the future.