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If you are looking to grow your business, here are nine steps toward success. …

If you are looking to grow your business, here are nine steps toward success.

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  • If you are looking to grow your business, here are nine steps toward success.Photo: Hands holding seedling as a group. (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)
  • The first step to growing your business is understanding your business — and the first step to understanding your business is to revisit your business plan. What is your business’s mission; what are its core values and beliefs? What are your business’s one-year, five-year and long-term goals? Do these goals align with your mission? How do you measure these goals? To be successful, it is critical that your mission guides your business growth.Another component of understanding your business is having a complete and accurate understanding of your business’s current position. What products or services do you offer? What are the profit or loss margins on these products or services? How do these products or services differ from others on the market? Do any of these products or services trigger cash-flow problems? By understanding your business inside and out, you will know what adjustments you can make — where you can spend more to make more or even spend less to make more.Knowing your market is another critical aspect to expanding your business. What cycles does your market exhibit? What kind of growth can you expect? Are there any major trends in customer behavior? By understanding your market, you can better position your business to expand within that market.Photo: Businesswoman smiling as she looks at growing plant. (Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock)
  • Knowing your competition is the next step to growing your business. Are there other businesses in your geographical location, customer demographic or market? Examine their practices to improve your own.Locate businesses that are the best in your field. What makes them excel? How does your business compare? By examining the strengths of other businesses you can pinpoint what sets them apart. Look for ways to incorporate their best practices into your business.You should also look at your competition’s weaknesses. Are there markets they are ignoring or customer needs they are not addressing? Find what opportunities they are leaving on the table and take advantage of them.Photo: Businessmen lining up for competition on race track. (Stockbyte/Thinkstock)
  • Now that you understand your business and know your competition, it is time to cultivate a passion for your business in others. This passion should stem from your business’s mission; permeate everything from your products to your prices; and attract not only customers but also employees. A simple way to infuse this kind of passion into your business culture is to establish a social agenda. This can include anything from donating a portion of your proceeds to charity to exclusively selling products that do not harm the environment. If your business has conviction for a cause, your customers and employees will have conviction for your business. Just make sure your agenda aligns with your mission. Another way to create an irresistible culture is to surround yourself with talent. Hire happy employees. Ask them for their input, encourage them to innovate and act on their suggestions. Make sure you have experienced advisers — from accountants to attorneys — who have your best interests at heart. Once you have the right team in place, you must create the right environment for them to flourish. Sit down as a team and define specific goals and timeframes. Be sure to establish goals not only for the whole business but also for individual employees. This increases accountability and shows how individual achievement contributes to overall success. Monitor your business and employee goals frequently to make sure everyone is on track, and publicly reward excellence.Photo: Circle of business people with their hands in the center. (Hemera/Thinkstock)
  • Because the easiest customer to convince is the one you already have, the next step to growing your business is enhancing customer experience.Enhancing customer experience is more than just retaining current customers — it is creating an irresistible business environment. By catering to your current customers, you can not only increase sales to them but also sales to others through word-of-mouth referrals. Treat your customers like they are your most important business asset.Listen to your customers. If they are completing a purchase in store or over the phone, have them rate their overall experience with your business. Ask them what you could do to improve. If you want more formal data, conduct a survey. Not only will a survey provide you with feedback and direction, it will also make the customer feel like she is being heard.Finally, give your customers an incentive to remain loyal. Provide discounts, free merchandise or limited-time offers. Consider rewards programs. If you run a cafe, for example, give your customers every tenth cup of coffee free. This simple gesture will keep them coming back for more.Photo: Woman smiling as she handles bundled food to her customers. (Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock)
  • Growing your business is all about nurturing your relationships. While previous steps have addressed employee and customer relations, this step discusses business relations.Maintaining positive relationships with your vendors is vital to business growth. First, being on good terms with your vendors makes it easier to obtain advantageous payment terms. You can ask them to extend payment terms, shorten payment timeframes or discount bulk purchases. Each of these activities improves your business’s cash flow and frees up capital for you to expand.Second, being on good terms with your vendors provides you inside access to market knowledge. Talk to your vendors about your product or service mix, discuss industry and market trends, and ask where the opportunities are. If you have a strong relationship with your vendors, they will be happy to lead you in the right direction.Solid relationships with investors are also critical for business growth. One of the most important things you can do is to establish positive relationships with multiple financial sources. Lenders such as banks, private investors such as angels and companies such as private equity firms are all financial sources. Meet with these investors before you need money. Talk to them about your mission, your goals and your timeframe. Ask for their input and update them on your business’s progress. This builds a foundation of trust that you can call on when your business does need capital to grow.Photo: Woman shaking hands with business partners. (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)
  • Now that you have your business and business relationships in line, you are ready to expand. Remember that when you expand, you put yourself back into startup mode. While this time you may have the momentum, resources and wisdom to avoid costly mistakes, it is still better to pursue one expansion opportunity at a time.One option is to diversify your offering. Can you add a product or service that complements what you currently provide? Will this product or service appeal to your current customers? Can you leverage your current resources to make this product or offer this service? Will this product or service require little capital or financial risk? If you answered yes to these questions, expanding your products or services may be right for you. When you do expand your offering, solicit feedback from your customers early to make sure you are on the right track.Another expansion option is to enter a new niche. Is there a different segment of the market you can address? Is there a different customer need you can fulfill? If you answered yes to these questions, expanding into a new market demographic may be your path toward business growth.Entering new distribution channels is another way to expand. Are you currently operating a brick-and-mortar store? Could you tap into new markets with a website? How about with a new business location or though an alliance with a complementary business? These are all ways to grow your business by expanding the channels through which you deliver your product or service.Photo: “Open” sign hanging inside the door of a business. (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)
  • The next step to growing your business is raising awareness through promotions, advertising and networking.Promotions create a buzz around your business. Before you run a promotion, clearly define your goals. Are you trying to create better brand awareness for your business or are you trying to boost quarterly sales? Are you focusing on new customers or current ones? After you have outlined your goals, you can better craft a promotion to achieve those goals.Advertising can come in the form of a flyer, a radio spot or a year-long campaign. As with a promotion, clearly define your advertising objectives. Who is your audience? What is the best way to reach this audience? What do you want them to do? How do you want your business to be perceived? Once you have answered these questions, you can select the best medium and message for your advertisement.Networking is a low-cost, high-impact way to raise awareness of you and your business. Attend events, join clubs and host events with people inside and outside your industry. Are there people in your community who know everyone? How about people who are known by everyone? Are there individuals that always have the latest gadget? How about people who are the first to know about everything? Foster relationships with these people and display your expertise. Remember that you are an ambassador for your business.Photo: Woman handing out promotional materials. (Stockbyte/Thinkstock)
  • You know raising awareness and listening to your customers are important steps to grow your business. Did you know you can do both without leaving your office? To extend your business’s reach, engage your community online through social media.Social networking and microblogging sites offer a variety of tools to help you inform, engage and connect with new and existing customers. They give your business a personal voice and provide a simple route for customer feedback. They can also help drive traffic to your website.Do some research before diving in. Which social networks are most popular in your area? What about with your target customers? Do they provide access to populations you had not considered before? Each platform is different; take some time to familiarize yourself with their styles and norms.Finally, remember that social media is about listening. Engage your customers in a conversation about your business and its products. Reply to messages and comments. Don’t be afraid of criticism — acknowledge it and take steps to address it. Involve your followers by asking questions, running contests and offering exclusive promotions. If you own a sandwich shop, for instance, you could ask your followers for new recipe ideas, or run a contest to name a new menu item. You could post a “word of the day” online and give a free beverage to anyone who says the word. Use images and videos to catch the most attention, and don’t forget to include links to your website.Photo: Mother and daughter using laptop. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock)
  • The final step to growing your business is using people and technology to work more efficiently.You have already created solid relationships with your employees, customers, vendors, investors and community members. Call on their expertise to streamline your business processes. Encourage your current customers to upgrade to a better product or purchase a complementary product. Convince business partners to add your product or service to their sales pitch. Use people to boost revenues.Another way to work more efficiently is to adopt new technology. There are computers, gadgets and programs available at many price points to satisfy your business needs. For example, you can purchase inventory software to keep track of your inventory and forecast your future inventory needs, or customer relationship management software to track your customers’ interests, needs and buying habits. While it may cost to adopt new technology in the beginning, the strategy and organization it lends to your business can pay off in the long run.Photo: Team looking over business documents. (Digital Vision/Thinkstock)

Transcript

  • 1. Grow Your Business: Nine Steps toward Success
  • 2. Revisiting your plan: Mission Position Market Not for public distribution
  • 3. Know your competition: Strengths Weaknesses Not for public distribution
  • 4. Create a positive culture: Social Talent Goals Not for public distribution agenda
  • 5. Enhance your experience: Cater Listen Reward Not for public distribution
  • 6. Nurture relationships: Vendors Investors Not for public distribution
  • 7. Expand your horizons: New offerings New customers New distributions Not for public distribution
  • 8. Raise awareness: Promotions Advertising Networking Not for public distribution
  • 9. Engage your community:  Inform  Connect  Listen
  • 10. Work smart, not hard: People Technology Not for public distribution