Following startup, many small businesses are so concentrated on daily business operations that they do not, or cannot, take the time to actively focus on business growth. While others are focused on growth but do not have a strategic plan to achieve it. The Top Ten Ways to Grow Your Business is provided to help your small business enterprise attain growth beyond startup on a continuous basis, and is based on my experience working with small businesses from startups to expansion.
Know Your Market Opportunity – When I work with small business executives and entrepreneurs, one of my first questions, if not the first, is-“Do you really know your market opportunity”, or more succinctly, “Do you know your strategic market opportunity?” And then, “How well do you know your strategic market opportunity?” These are your common how, where and what questions that a small business owner or entrepreneur must ask. For instance, how do you see your market?, where is your market”, and what is your market? Business growth is extricably linked with and to market opportunity, and how well you capture it. In my experience business growth is a function of envisioning your strategic market opportunity, planning how to acquire it, executing your plan, and then working your plan to attain it.
Know Your Customer – Your customer is the primary focus of your business enterprise. Identifying who your customer actually is, followed by knowing your customer needs, is essential in meeting growth objectives. Staying connected with your customers via email, web site, face-to-face conversations, and special customer appreciation programs, such as offering a monthly customer discount, strengthens your customer base and lets you know who your customer is. Think of it this way; a customer-centric organization gains a competitive advantage over competition, which typically results in a bigger share of the market.
Cultivate and Maximize Your Brand – Brand recognition has become critically vital to small business growth as much as knowing your market, customer development, product and service credibility, growth strategy, pricing, cash flow, and having the right executive team in place. Your brand is the ‘face’ of your small business enterprise and how well recognized it is well directly impact your business growth. Cultivating and maximizing brand recognition is crucial to your business success. The new marketing media approaches include social networking venues such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, YouTube, etc, which need to be exploited. Global companies have realized the enormous marketing opportunity these venues provide and have established social networking as a primary business function. The small business enterprise can likewise take advantage of this expanded, nearly free, marketing approach to reach customers and increase brand recognition. Cultivating and maximizing your brand distinguishes you from competition and allows your customers to link your business with your brand.
Develop Your Growth Strategy – Developing a growth strategy is a best-management process which involves determining long-term growth objectives and developing a specific action plan for attaining these objectives. The process involves an assessment of your market environment from the perspective of having the relevant market experience after startup; performing a SWOT analysis; selecting a set of alternative growth strategies based on changing market conditions, and then implementing your strategy. Note that this is in reference to the ‘envision, plan, execute and attain’ model I mentioned previously. The strategic growth plan is developed from the viewpoint of your small business corporate entity, where the focus is on the accomplishment of your strategic business objectives based on four critical questions: Who are we? What do we do? Where do we want to go? How do we get there? The answers to these questions will give you the information necessary to create your strategic objectives for your growth strategy.
Get The Right People On The Bus – This is one of my favorite discussion points, concerning leadership and relates to the strength, character and capability of your executive team. Here we use ‘bus’ to refer to the small business enterprise or organization and comes from Jim Collins’ book, ‘Good To Great”, where he quotes Ken Kesey’s reference to a bus as being the company, organization or firm. Collins found”…if we get the right people on the bus [in the company], the right people in the right seats [in the right executive roles], and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it somewhere great [to attain the founder’s vision]…” As a small business owner, it is incumbent upon you to ensure you have the right executive team in place that will take your vision of where you want your company to go, and achieve it. Business growth at all levels is largely achieved with the right people on the corporate ‘bus’, driving it to success.
Listen To The Experts-Hire a Business Advisor, Coach – According to The National Federation of Independent Business [NFIB] Education Foundation, over the lifetime of any small business, 30 percent will lose money, 30 percent will break even, and just fewer than 40 percent will be profitable. The Small Business Administration [SBA] reports that 50 percent of all small business fail after their first year, 33 percent fail after two years, and nearly 60 percent fail after four years. A Business Coach and Advisor will work with you to help avoid becoming an SBA or NFIB statistic, help you to maintain focus on driving your business forward, work with you to develop and refine your objectives, help you to develop critical business growth strategies; and provide an honest assessment of where your business is in its life cycle.
Follow Your SOLE – It has been my experience that the small business executive responsible for business growth almost always follows and prescribes to a framework that embodies the envision, plan, execute and plan strategy in achieving business growth. Often this resembles what I have developed for my clients as the SOLE Framework. The SOLE Framework provides the context for accomplishing business growth optimization where you: Solve a critical market problem or need; Optimize growth by meeting customer needs in solving a problem, Leverage your principle business core competency, and Establish a competitive baseline to achieve business growth.
Be A Hedge Hog – The Hedge Hog Concept was developed by Isaiah Berlin in his “The Hedge Hog and the Fox” Study which divided management, leadership and professional positions into two clusters: hedge hogs and foxes, based on Greek mythology, where the fox knows many things, however the hedge hog knows one big thing. The fox is a sleek, cunning, fleetly, crafty and beautiful animal. On the other hand, the hedge hog is a dowdier creature, more like a cross between a porcupine and a small armadillo who when faced with danger rolls up into a very prickly ball and spends his days looking for food. However, Berlin points out that this otherwise simple creature is certainly not stupid, or simpletons; they have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns of behavior. The hedge hog sees what is essential, critical, and important, and ignores everything else. To be a Hedge Hog, the small business executive must see only what is essential and focus on it, exploiting the essential in a positive, productive manner and concentrate on three key dimensions: what you can be the best in the world at; what you are most passionate about; and what drives your economic engine.
Establish a Competitive Culture – A competitive culture concerns how your organization is structured for market competitiveness. In fact, corporate culture is a competitive advantage for a small business focused on growth by following a rather simplistic approach, based on organizational shared values, direction, mission and belief that the primary focus of a small business is to first meet customer needs, followed by employee empowerment to meet those needs, then community involvement, using common business sense approaches towards conservation, and then attention to investor interests. This hierarchical organization places the most important focus on meeting customer needs, followed by empowering employees to meet those needs creating a company structure that is positioned to be highly competitive.
Optimize Business Growth – What is Business Growth Optimization? I think a good way to initially answer this question, is to draw an analogy to a perfectly timed automobile engine running on all cylinders, smoothly, fully optimizing its capability to produce maximum power. Similarly, the small business growth company that is fully optimizing its core business competencies is structured to maximize competitive advantages and has a strategic business growth framework; running smoothly on all cylinders if it were, is attaining Business Growth Optimization. In my experience, attaining Business Growth Optimization is a three-tier process involving the SOLE Framework, achieved through the establishment of the Hedge Hog Model and implementation of the Cultural Competitiveness Organization structure.