Getting your small business off the ground can be tough. Looking to just get some early momentum started, a lot of companies put very little forethought into what happens once they start to generate some buzz. That buzz can come fast, though, and businesses that are ready for growth when it comes are better positioned to take advantage of their newfound stability. Whether you’ve been around for six months or sixteen years, here are some helpful tips that will put you on the path to growth starting tomorrow:
Plan for growth early. A lack in planning can result in a business plan that isn’t designed to adapt to growth, which will lead to some pretty substantial growing pains. In this case, growing pains mean lost revenue. Don’t just build a foundation and expect the rest of your plan to fill in! According to InfoEntrepreneurs, ongoing planning is key to long term success, because it keeps your business nimble and ready for change. Establish a linear path towards growth, one that is flexible and designed with realistic mile markers to keep you on track along the way. How does that work? Do you have a plan for keeping your digital operation up to speed for your growing demand? Do you know what kind of people you will need as you expand? A lot of these questions boil down to simple scaling.
Scale smarter. There will almost always be some trial and error getting a startup running. Some businesses will take a consistent uptick in sales as the sign they’ve figured out what works, then just multiply what they’re doing to meet demand. When you do this, you miss a great opportunity to reset your footing and streamline processes to get more out of your current model. Whether it’s hiring fulfillment experts to make your distribution cleaner or UX professionals to improve your digital presence, the way you scale your growth can make a big difference when pushing into the big leagues.
Build a lean, mean selling machine. Revising your plan should also help clean out waste in your sales pipeline. A big batch of leads will only turn into a lot of sales when your leads are good. The folks at Salesforce found that “lean” pipelines, meaning ones that disqualify bad leads to make time for good ones, generate 48 percent more sales than “fat” pipelines that collect every lead. As strong as your sales team may be, a garbage lead isn’t going to generate revenue, but it will take up your time. Plus, trying to salvage a bunch of bad leads wears down morale pretty quickly. Why not set up your sales team for success?
Learn to love the CRM. A lot of entrepreneurs see a CRM as something that will happen . . . eventually. Once you’re established, a CRM can do a lot for streamlining your sales flow and making more of your digital presence. Start researching a CRM early and see if it can help your current business model blossom. If you’re not sure where to start, Business News Insider developed a great tool to help you learn more about different CRM options.
Hire, hire, hire. Running a skeleton crew at full bore will undoubtedly result in burnout, especially amongst your most skilled and valuable people. A lot of businesses are experiencing a shortage of expert talent as it is, especially for advanced tech and creative roles, and pushing the good people you hire away is no way to maintain longevity. Keep your eye on the job boards at all times, and scoop up both the people you need now as well as those you’ll need shortly. This helps streamline projects in your pipeline, and gives your new people the opportunity to get comfortable in your company culture (so they can really show their stuff!)
Communication is king. Happy sales people are productive sales people. They’re your front line when it comes to diagnosing problems with customers, and good sales people are natural communicators. Give them the avenues to keep you informed about how things are going, and incentivise feedback by being responsive to their concerns.
Seek out feedback. People who are upset with you will undoubtedly give you feedback on what you’re doing wrong. But what about individuals who are satisfied with your product and service? They can tell you an incredible insight into what’s working and, more importantly, where you can improve. One way to source information on your customer’s satisfaction is to ask them directly. Once they’ve completed the checkout process, or spoken with one of your sales reps, offer them the opportunity to rate their experience, using either an on-page rating system, Yelp, or Google reviews. Positive reviews are one of the most effective ways to convince customers about the value of your product or services. Giving them the offer of a discount on their next purchase will help sweeten the deal, and give you a lot of feedback for cheap.
If you’re processing credit card orders with Square, customers who elect a receipt via email also receive a satisfaction survey, which can help give you insight into how your brick-and-mortar store is performing as well.
Hire great service people. Your customer service people are your most direct contact with the outside world. Skillful customer service professionals aren’t a dime a dozen, so when you have good people, treat them well and keep them around. When your CS folks are friendly and helpful, so is your brand.
Keep track of what channels your customers prefer. Different people voice their needs to companies in a variety of ways. Some gravitate towards face-to-face interactions at brick and mortar stores, whereas others would rather chat with you on social media. Some of these tendencies are tied to the age group or demographic you sell to most—young people have preferences different than their parents or grandparents, who aren’t as likely to hit up a brand on Twitter. Make it easy for your customers to reach you, and make it easy for your customer service department to help them.
Put your values at the forefront of your brand. People today want more than cheap prices, they want to know that their purchase is doing good in the world. This tendency is particularly the case among younger purchasers. Companies like Toms and Warby Parker, who put an altruistic aim at the forefront of their branding, connect with customers who want to do better through their buying. Donating a percentage of your profit or your product to a good cause can help you generate good press as well, which puts more eyes on your branding. Do good and tell people about it. Chances are, they’ll tell people about the good you’re doing, too.
Search engines. Most shoppers today use the internet to research products before they buy them. One surefire way to generate interest in your brand is to allocate resources towards getting your name at the top of Google search results in your field. There are several ways achieve this goal, but one of the best is also among the easiest—write about what it is you do and give people useful information about how they can live better, easier, and smarter. If you’re looking to make big progress, consider hiring an SEO expert to help boost your page ranking.
Combine content with gate to generate leads. Content creates value beyond simple SEO strategy. When you’re producing content that people want to read, you can use it to direct traffic and generate leads. Establishing a gate on your content that asks customers to provide their basic information will help you generate leads, as well as sustain contact with readers through regular email blasts. If your content is good, people will want more. This is especially true when you work in the B2B space, where your content can help inform potential clients. Adding a gate and maintaining regular contact like the good folks at Quicksprout do can do wonders for generating leads.
Look bigger than you are. Perhaps the best tool small businesses have in the digital marketplace is the ability to look like they’re much bigger than they are. Companies comprised of ten or fifteen driven and talented people can compete with established multinational corporations . . . if they have the right strategy and approach. Leverage your resources to make your digital presence look big, even if you aren’t. FastCompany suggests that startups really only need six people on their team to be successful at the beginning, but that’s really no reason you can’t look much bigger than you are to generate hype.
Once you’re off the ground, the world comes at you fast. It’s never too late to take a step back and study what’s working for your company (and places you can fix up your strategy). Even when times are good, taking a moment to plan for potential problems can do wonders for making the rough times easier to weather. With the right strategy and infrastructure in place, success is well within reach, no matter what you do.