The challenges in a small business’ early stages can be overwhelming. Startup funding, developing a business plan, bringing in talent and creating a winning marketing and sales formula are just a few of the significant hurdles. For owners who get past those first steps, they may start to wonder, “What’s next?”
Growth may be the knee-jerk reaction to that question. How can the business build on its success, create new revenue streams and branch out into bigger areas?
Expansion is an attractive concept, but businesses that experience too much growth too fast could disrupt the foundation that has been established. It may be that smaller steps can help to bolster the business rather than taking great leaps.
Here’s a look at some ways for small businesses to examine growth opportunities.
It’s surprising now to encounter a business that doesn’t have a significant social media presence. Using the various social networks can be an essential part of marketing and advertising, and it can help to keep the business’ brand on people’s minds. Facebook is to go-to spot for many businesses, but as Timothy Sykes examines for Entrepreneur, branching out may be the best bet.
“You may have a social network that you prefer over others, but it doesn’t mean that all of your followers feel that way,” he writes. “If you want to be successful with social media, then you need to post across all networks. This means having and maintaining an account with all of the big social media sites, including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.”
Marketing plans should be “varied and robust,” Sykes writes, and social media can provide a major boost to those campaigns.
“A solid social media plan only adds to your efforts and makes them more successful,” he notes. “It’s an affordable, yet greatly under-utilized platform that can help with virtually every aspect of your marketing plan — and something that you need to start using now.”
A dedicated business owner should be a visible one. By being out front and present, an owner can create connections with customers, answer questions and make an impression that encourages repeat business. As Caron Beesley recommends for the Small Business Administration, “make sure your customers know the face behind the product.”
“Without an actively engaged owner, employees lose motivation and structure, which can quickly lead to sloppy service, a poor product and customer churn,” she writes. “Yes, your business needs to be able to function without your constant presence, but it’s important to strike a balance — find ways to make sure your customers know you and connect with the face behind the business. Businesses really thrive when the energy of the owner is there.”
For business owners that haven’t made a full move to mobile, it’s time to get going. Customers naturally expect to be able to make purchases online and on their phones. Encountering a business that doesn’t accommodate that — or one that has a clunky and hard-to-navigate mobile site — can push a customer elsewhere. Optimization is a crucial step, as John Rampton examines for Forbes.
“Take advantage of mobile optimization tools on WordPress that help you automate your website,” he says. “This type of responsive design provides a way for your website to automatically adjust when it senses what type of device it is being viewed on. If you cannot do so, then you can create a mobile-friendly site that offers a clean design without drop down menus, larger font size, and critical contact information at the top of the page. Another feature to add is more visual content, which is what mobile users like, especially video.”
Social media plays a role here as well. As Katherine Shappley writes for Entrepreneur: “If you have a smartphone and a Facebook page, you have a mobile marketing strategy. And on Facebook, through the Ads Manager app or with products like Slideshow, businesses can create ads right from their phones. If your customers are on mobile, then your business must be as well.”
Expand offerings …
Ambitious entrepreneurs may be thinking big after getting a first taste of success. A growing business may have opportunities to expand with new products, services and even new locations. In a story for Small Business Trends, David William writes that expanding products and modifying existing ones can add new customer interest.
“This way you will open up new territory and expand your business in a new direction,” he explains. “By diversifying, you will also protect your existing customer base and create multiple income streams that can often fill seasonal lows and, of course, increase sales and profit margins. Common ways businesses diversify include importing or exporting their own or other people’s products, selling complementary services or starting consulting services. … You may also need to open another location to serve your new (and existing) market better.”
… But don’t expand too fast
If a business tries to make sweeping changes in the name of growth, there’s always the chance that they could backfire. Going beyond what made the business a success in the first place could serve as a turnoff to day-one clientele. That doesn’t mean expansion can’t happen, but it can require thoughtful analysis rather than quick movements. Michael Olguin, president of the Havas Formula public relations firm, writes about this for Inc.com, advising entrepreneurs to “know what you do and what you don’t do.”
“Some of the best advice I learned early on was don’t try to be all things to all people, because it typically means you are not very good at any one thing,” he says. “As such, I believe that it is a mistake to take on far-reaching service offerings, develop products outside your comfort zone or expand outside of your target markets just to make a few extra bucks. When you do that, you jeopardize your true strength to focus on what you may not be successful at and create undo pressures for your team, your budgets, and your company as a whole.”
Focus on goals
The concept of expansion may be alluring to an ambitious entrepreneur: bigger, better, faster, stronger. A dose of reality is needed while contemplating growth, as is considering the possibility of failure. Having detailed and specific goals, and bringing other employees into the thought process, can help as well, Olguin writes.
“We have always tried to be very strategic in our approach to growth,” he explains. “We set three year business plans, track against those plans, and modify them when necessary. I believe that if you don’t set goals you have no way of measuring yourself, your team and your company against some pre-determined objectives. When everyone understands in a very crystal clear way what the overall goals of the organization are, it allows everyone to rally together and take pride in successfully accomplishing them.”