By Sharon Fishburne
Starting a business is hard. Keeping it afloat through the first few years can be even harder. But once your small company is sustainable, and your profits and customer levels are stable, how do you expand your small business?
1. Do a Marketing Push
When you start a new business, selling yourself and your products is a matter of life or death. But once a business reaches a certain size, many owners drop the ball on marketing. To grow, you must refocus on marketing, commit to invest and make it part of your day-to-day strategy. The first thing you need to do is accept that successful marketing is a full-time job. You need at least one person dedicated to business development – and that can’t be you.
There is no doubt that getting your marketing plan right is difficult. If it was easy, everyone would be successful. In fact, 64% of people say that generating leads and traffic online is their main marketing challenge.
Once you have the resource in place you can start doing some serious marketing. Consider radio, television and print advertising, direct mail campaigns and newsletters, as well as email campaigns, offers and competitions. You will have to experiment. No single channel works for every business, so you’ll need to make sure that you monitor and measure how many sales these each of these different channels produces.
Metrics are the backbone of every successful marketing strategy. Make sure that you have a spreadsheet that shows how much you have to invest via the different channels to deliver a sale. This will then give you the backup you need to know where to put your money to maximize profits.
2. Create a New Service or Open a New Branch
One way to grow your business is to acquire new customers through marketing. Another way is to add new products or services. In many cases, this may mean squeezing extra revenue out of your existing customers. In fact, this is often much easier than acquiring new customers. According to book Marketing Metrics, the probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20% – but the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%.
If, for example, you run a retail outlet that sells eye glasses, like one of my clients, you may think about other types of products that your customers need. The client and I sat down and had a discussion about the type of people who regularly come into their shop: older people who are conscious about their eyesight and health more generally. That led us to consider adding other products, and we hit upon hearing aids as the next market to go after.
We launched the new products with a trial, targeting the business’s existing loyal customers – and made sales to more than 20% of these customers right out of the gate. After two years of work, the shop is now the largest local retailer of hearing products.
When you’re thinking of adding a new product range, consider products or services that are frequently bought with your main product – what can you sell alongside? What is a natural fit? What do you regular customers also regularly buy?
3. Make a Targeted Acquisition
Lots of noise has been made about how this last year has been very difficult for businesses, especially smaller business. In fact, that is true for the last decade since the financial crash. But in reality, periods of business turbulence or uncertainty can present real opportunities. Many older companies are starting to struggle and that means they’re ripe for a takeover.
Acquisitions are a very good way to drive quick and extreme growth in your business. Whether that is acquiring another local business which the opportunity to give you a base in another town close by, or making a huge, calculated gamble on acquiring a business that is much bigger than yours – usually with the support of the bank.
But you should be aware of the risk as well: acquiring and merging a business can be very difficult, and there may be lots of hidden risks in the new business. Make sure you know what you are buying, and make sure you have the time and resource to run the businesses and bring them together separately.
4. Make the Most of Digital
Finally, you might love your website and think you’re using digital to your advantage. But in my experience, you’re almost certainly not. If you started your business more than five years ago, your digital strategy is most likely out of date.
First, take a hard look at how you’re using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. In fact, only 32% of small- and medium-sized businesses say they invest “seriously” in social media marketing. Are you really engaging with people or are you just pumping out boring factual information about your company? Have you created a vibrant community of followers? Make sure you’re keeping people entertained as well as informed. Demonstrate your company personality, and showcase what you’re up to every week.
Is your website really looking it’s best? Is your logo and branding up to scratch? And what about your product photography – is it looking a bit jaded? Are you collecting your visitors’ contact data efficiently, and do you have a blog to ensure there’s always fresh content on the site to drive your search engine ranking? Don’t skimp on your website – it’s your global storefront. Make sure it’s always looking it’s best and working hard to sell your company every single day.