Running a small business is no easy feat. Owners face a variety of responsibilities, from addressing daily challenges to planning long term goals. But being at a business every day can get you thinking with a certain mindset. Let’s take a step back to re-evaluate. It’s always good to get a fresh perspective.
There are many ways to grow your small business. The difficult part is choosing which route to go. It's best to identify all your opportunities and narrow down the choices as you go.
Restructuring your business model
Simply put, a business model dictates how you run your business. Think of it as the system in place which successfully manages your daily operations. It is a part of every department; from the supply chain to marketing. With societal change and new technological advances, business models can change and become more efficient.
If you are unsatisfied with a certain part of your business, maybe it's time to to re-evaluate your business model. This can be a long and arduous process, but pays off in the long run. Small tinkers here and there can make all the difference. An example of restructuring is increasing cross-departmental collaboration on projects. You can utilize new technologies by adding internal, private communication channels. Here's another example: many consumer goods companies are skipping the middleman altogether by selling direct to consumer through online means. This form of retailing reduces a lot of initial overhead costs.
Offering product lines/extensions
Most products go through stages, known as the Product Life Cycle (PLC). These consist of Introduction, Growth, Maturity, and Decline stages. They are affected by variables such as competition and trends. If your product is in its maturity stage, consider changes (or an upgrade) before it reaches a decline. Many companies opt for supplements, to prolong a product's lifespan. Others choose to introduce an alternative product with similar functions. For example, Apple has the iPad, which can complement or be sold separately from an iPhone.
Maybe you’ve hit a stalemate at your business. It’s maintaining a steady rate of return annually, but not growing at a desired pace. As the saying goes, a frog in a pot of water with slowly rising temperatures will die without knowing what happened, but a frog placed into boiling water will recognize the difference in heat and try to get out immediately. The lesson is to stay innovative. This ensures that the competition isn't slowly but surely surpassing you. Remember, running a business requires continuous innovation.
Leverage your team
Behind every great leader, there is a great team. While it's important to survey customers, the employee can offer equally great (or even better) suggestions. Plan out a short sit-down with your employees every few months. Their feedback may trigger something you had not thought of, or re-affirm what you had in mind. Either way, it’s a good exercise for team building.
Target a new customer demographic
Your product or service might be able to serve several target markets. If you have already captured a large portion of the existing demographic, you are left with these options: increase loyalty within the existing market or diversify into another market. When starting off, it’s wise to focus your efforts on one demographic. When branching out to other customers, do your research and ensure there is an opportunity. This means knowing the market size, ease of access, ways to market, likeliness to try new products, etc. All these variables are important to factor in.
Use social media with purpose
The digital age brings thousands of different marketing channels and platforms. Social media is an affordable option often used to provide customer service, promotions, and maintain engagement. To achieve success, it requires considerable planning. This translates to understanding your brand's purpose on social media. Are you here to educate consumers, showcase a new side of your brand, or provide fast and effective customer service? It is important to promote your products and services, but don't do it exclusively. Think about the interests that your customers might have in common. From there, it will be easier to bring value to clients through an online platform.
Invest in a website
The future is digital. Consumers are increasingly dependant on digital services. With this in mind, it's best to invest in a website now if you haven't already. Don't think of a website as a mundane task. A website's primary function is to reach your global audience and showcase an important message about your brand. There are thousands of tools that can be built into your website, from payment processing to customer data management.
Reach online markets
Digital marketing is not limited to building a website and getting on social media. There are many other ways to grow, such as building a subscriber email list, sponsored content, and partnerships. To learn more about expanding your business through digital means, check out our free guide to digital marketing for small business.
Work with locals
For many small business, word-of-mouth is the primary tool for acquiring customers. While this tactic is effective (and free), there's always more you can do to bring awareness. Partner with your next door neighbor. After all, they share the same foot traffic as you. A partnership can result in new customers for you, and for them.
You can also bring awareness to your brand by networking with other businesses. Many brands naturally complement each other. If you own a physical location, try hosting a fellow business within your shop. That business will refer their customers to your shop. At the same time, it gives your existing customers a reason to visit.
You can turn potential customers into paying customers through incentives like events. The type of event you host depends on your product and goal. If you sell a high-cost product, people usually spend more time before coming to a decision. Events like seminars can relay important information quickly and to a large number of people. Workshops boost customer loyalty and help in acquiring testimonials. Retailers often host exclusive in-store sales events for loyal customers. The key ingredient to any successful event is engagement. At the end of the day, people want a reason to show support. A well-planned event can become something people look forward to.
Add a personal touch
Small business is known for a personal approach to daily operations. A personalized touch shows the customer that they are more than just a number on the board.
These types of things encourage repeat business by building a loyal customer base. Over time, these efforts can become a part of your brand identity.
There are many different ways to show your thanks, whether little or big. Even a customized thank you note in every purchase can show your dedication to the craft. Some businesses take the process online, by checking in with a customer over email after every purchase.
To ensure greater control over your sales and customers, many businesses opt out of a traditional manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer model. Eliminating the middlemen creates greater personalization and control during delivery, product packaging, customer experience, and more.
Build a referral program
An efficient referral programs is a fast and simple way to acquire new clients. It's also a good way to reward loyal, returning customers. It’s a win-win. The key is to keep things simple and make sure the reward aligns with the task (the time and effort it takes for your customers to refer).
Learn from the competition
A smart business takes cues from it's competitors. To beat the competition, your business should have a fast response time.
The winner is not the company which innovates first, but the one which responds fastest and innovates best.
The theory behind this: the first-to-market will have a great product but have suffered high overhead cost due to research and development. If a competitor were to adapt fast, they can improve on that product and avoid the overhead costs incurred by company #1. It's not always plausible, but that's the general concept.
Get granular (but don't overthink it)
Figure out where you can improve. Is it in the marketing department? The financials? The human resources and employee engagement? Then dive deep into the processes and systems of that area. Find out where you can save costs (make efficient, not cut around corners).
Survey your customers
The customer knows best. Make sure you are asking the right questions. Ensure there is a way to record and utilize these results.
Consult with a professional
If all else fails, hire an expert.
I hope you took something away from this article on how to grow your small business. For more ideas, check out our #SmallEpic stories, which highlight experiences and advice from veteran small business owners across Canada. Read how Kelly Black from Una Pizza manages his popular pizza place, or Dalia Kohen maintains sustainable practices at her tasty vegetarian spot, The Coup. To learn more about this project, read from the beginning.
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