Estimated reading time: 8 mins
Congratulations. You did it! After countless nerve-wracking meetings, sleepless nights, technical hiccups, staffing issues and one very steep learning curve, you’ve set up your own business. That’s an achievement that should rightly be applauded. But what many small business owners don’t realize is that they’re right on the edge of another danger zone.
You may have just cleared a massive amount of hurdles to get your fledgling company up and running, but unless you have one eye on the long game from the outset, you could be unknowingly putting it all in jeopardy. A common problem with start-ups is putting all their energy into launching, only to find that business stagnates after that point. If you have your eye on achieving high-growth results, the work begins here. What sets apart those start-ups that go stellar from those who flounder along without seeing significant growth? The following factors could be what’s standing between you and stratospheric success:
Recognise your own limits…
One of the biggest barriers to growth can often be the business owner, so it may be time to take a long, hard look at yourself before taking any further action. Where do want to be in 5 or 10 years time? Not all business owners want to find themselves running a stellar multi-national brand, and that’s perfectly fine – it’s all about defining what success looks like to you. Do you have ambitious growth plans? Assuming you do, are you actually the right person to take them forward – do you have the vision and the leadership skills? If you don’t, can you learn them? Investing in your own development and training is a priority if so – look into courses you can take and find out if connecting with a business mentor could help you. You need to be clear that some behavior change and a step up to strategic thinking may be required of you – the ability to think critically about yourself is required. Be clear about your personal goals and how those intersect with the goals you have for growing your business, as they will affect what route you choose. Also, being very clear on cash flow is vital – to expand the business there are going to be significant costs so keep on top of forecasts and really understand the financial requirements of your growth proposal.
…And those of your staff
Getting your business mix right also depends on hiring people with the right skill set to get your business where it needs to be, so an honest appraisal of strengths, weaknesses and any gaps in the capability of the business needs to be done before leaping ahead with expansion plans. Your company is only ever as strong as the people working for it, so make sure you identify their training needs and ambitions and invest in upskilling them. The skills that were needed for you to start up are not the same as the skills you need to expand operations.
It’s an old truism that it costs less to get repeat business than to win a new customer – turbocharge this by using the power of your existing customer base. Incentivise them to spread the word to family and friends – a simple competition on social media or a chance to win something in return for leaving a review can work wonders. There’s nothing customers trust so much as seeing positive feedback from happy clients – and if someone is half-convinced, it can often be the deciding factor that gets them the rest of the way down the sales funnel.
Invest in your business infrastructure
It’s a chicken and egg scenario – to invest in infrastructure, you need growth. In order to grow, you need the right infrastructure. So think carefully about requirements and capacity before pitching for additional funding. It could be as simple as automating some processes and looking into enhanced invoicing software or more server space, or it may be a question of physical problems – perhaps you need to expand your warehousing capabilities by investing in facilities, electricians, architects and all kinds of professional input to upgrade what you can offer to customers. Extending your marketing reach can mean setting up in new locations or developing a better online presence – either on your own website or on a third-party platform that connects you to more potential buyers. Think laterally about what infrastructure suits your business growth plans. Approaching investors for another cash injection will only work if you know the figures inside out and can confidently predict the return on investment you expect to see as a result of improvements. Starting with smaller projects and aiming for incremental improvements can be a good way of getting some quick wins through the door and starting to build a more convincing evidence base for further developments.
Increase your market reach
There are so many ways to increase your visibility and put your company in front of fresh audiences. A solid growth strategy starts with reviewing your company’s marketing plan – are there channels you aren’t using adequately? How could you gain more leads through developing a consistent social media presence? Next, think about any partnerships you could make – mutually beneficial agreements that get your brand in front of a new section of people. Identify natural synergies with companies that aren’t direct competitors but have enough elements in common for it to make sense to customers.Identify what media your target customer consumes and ensure that you have a presence there – go to where the audience is rather than waiting for them to find you. You may even want to develop customer personas to help you better identify their journey and increase their repeat spend.
Think about Exporting potential
Export can be a dominant driver for growth – one that’s turned many small companies into big league performers. It requires a significant commitment of time and resources – start by gathering some expert market research into your planned expansion territories – you have to be more than sure there’s a market in that location for your products and services. Find a reliable source to keep you up to date on how international markets are performing to guide your decisions. Getting in contact with government-run Export Assistance Centres can be a great starting point. Identify what overseas trade shows happen that you could benefit from having a presence at, as this will give you a way to quantify interest in a particular location – if you’re receiving lots of leads, it could be worth setting up an agent in that territory. That will steer you towards being able to produce a SWOT analysis regarding each new market opportunity, giving you and your investors the information needed before expanding.
Diversify your offering
Reviewing the performance of your products and services is an ongoing process, but with a little market research, there’s no need to be afraid to act on the information those figures are telling you. Have a star performer? Look for ways to adapt it and give it top share of the advertising budget. Got a loser product that’s not making you money? Don’t be afraid to cut drop or even look at reformulating it -a little creative thinking here can divert from a big loss. Use the power of the internet and your social reach to make decisions based on informed analysis – canvass your customers’ opinions at every chance you get. Incentivize surveys and passing on their feedback, and listen to this critical information to steer your actions.
Trim unnecessary operating costs
Of course, if you’re looking to drive growth you also need to address the less pleasant task of looking at where you can cut business costs and lean down your operation so that there’s cash available to spend on whatever is mission-critical for growth. That can be a test of leadership, as it often requires making difficult decisions. You may need to reduce staffing costs in the short term and restructure your operations – remember what worked to get your business off the ground may not be the ideal set-up to sustain it and fuel its growth. You can also look at re-negotiating with suppliers to get better deals – what can they be flexible on to keep your custom? If you deal with wholesaling, each penny that you can save on a unit price will add up to a significant impact on your bottom line, so don’t be afraid to drive a hard bargain with suppliers.You need to continually monitor the market to be sure that your business is getting the best deal, and using that information to challenge your current suppliers. Many rely on you not being familiar with the ins and outs yourself. You could also band together with other businesses and pool resources in a purchasing co-operative to leverage discounts on supplies and goods.
Charting a course to glory requires a very different skill set to setting up a business in the first place, so above all, expect to be flexible and responsive. Market conditions, the macro-environment, and stuff closer to home is always shifting, and developing the ability to read ahead of a situation is something that can only be learned through experience. Expanding your business beyond the narrow parameters of a startup is not for everyone – it requires a tremendous amount of dedication, courage and persistence – but those are skills you already have from getting the business off the ground. Do your research, trust your instincts, and you may just be at the helm of the next global success story.