Growing a small business isn’t easy. You have to juggle cash flow, marketing and hiring all by yourself and somehow make the numbers balance at the end of the day. If one element of your growth strategy is off, the entire plan falters and you may backslide to where you were a few years before. While building a small business into your own little empire isn’t an easy task, it is definitely worth the effort.
Small businesses make up 99.9% of the businesses in the United States, hitting around 30.2 million companies. Even though that sounds like a lot of competition with new businesses starting every day, not every business out there is in your field.
You can also learn a lot about growing a small business from successful entrepreneurs who’ve gone before you. There are several keys to taking your brand from so-so to extraordinary.
Improve Your Website (or Start One)
The Local Consumer Review Survey for 2019 found that 90% of consumers search online for local businesses. This is the first line of research for many and often starts on mobile devices. If you don’t have a website or yours isn’t up to par, then you may miss out on potential new business. Make sure your website is optimized for mobile, too.
Ramp Up Your Marketing
Most small business owners are in charge of their own marketing. Even though you might not be able to hire a full-time marketing director, you can still improve your efforts. Start by asking your customers to get involved in the process and spread the word about what you do. You should also develop a marketing schedule, so you have a clear plan and specific goals for each campaign. Track the results of each campaign, so you learn over time what works for promoting your company and what falls flat.
Fix Shipping Issues
If you ship any type of product, focus on improving logistics this year. Companies such as Amazon have made it so consumers expect fast and free delivery. Do everything in your power to speed up logistics and offer cheap or free shipping for a certain order threshold. If you find yourself overwhelmed with shipping tasks, it’s time to use a third-party logistics company to improve your speeds and delegate some of the work.
A recent survey by Gartner found about 37% of companies have already implemented artificial intelligence (AI). The advances in the ways computers think and process data means you can likely automate at least some of your marketing and promotional work as well as outreach to your customers. Invest in current technology, such as customer relationship management (CRM) software.
Fix Cash Flow Issues
One of the biggest problems small businesses face as they start growing is cash flow. Before you invest in additional inventory or open that new location, make sure you have several months’ expenses in the bank. If a natural disaster hit or your revenue went to zero for a few weeks, how would you survive it? Investing back into your business is smart, but having an emergency fund is smarter.
In addition to an emergency fund, think through how you’ll pay for big growth. If you need more inventory, can you take pre-orders for the funds to purchase? If you want to develop a new product, could you try Kickstarter? What about angel investors? Think about how you’ll keep money flowing through your business even when sales slump.
Train Your Staff
It takes a lot of time and investment to recruit and train new workers. Unfortunately, if you don’t keep them engaged, you risk losing those now skilled individuals to a competitor or another opportunity. Invest in your employees by offering training opportunities and perks they can’t get anywhere else. You might want to offer a paid day they can do volunteer work at a charity of their choice, for example. Think about what would make you want to stay with a company over other choices and offer that culture to your workers.
Get Out in the Community
One way of growing your business is simply getting the word out about what you do and why you do it. Get involved in your local chamber of commerce. Attend local festivals and art fairs. Sponsor a little league team. There are many ways to make your presence felt locally and begin to draw in new customers. As you gain more recognition, you should expand your area and reach out to surrounding communities and states.
Study Your Competition
You can learn a lot about what to do and what not to do by studying competitors. Make a list of what your nearest competition does really well and what they are lacking. You should do the things they do at least as well but highlight the areas that make you stand out as a brand. For example, perhaps another company offers free shipping, but you’re known for your excellent customer service. If you then add free shipping, you are one step ahead of that other organization.
Create Annual Goals
If you want your business to grow, you have to be very intentional about it. Create annual goals for your company (not always monetary objectives). Once you have a list of two or three main goals, break them into strategic steps that will get you from where you are to successfully reaching those targets. With a little planning, your company will grow each year no matter what other factors influence you or the economy.
At the end of the day, your business is yours. Follow the steps above, but keep in mind your growth may not be linear. As long as you continue to reach your own goals, serve the community and love running your small business each day, you should feel accomplished and proud.
Lexie is a graphic designer and UX strategist. She enjoys taking her goldendoodle on walks and checking out flea markets. Visit her design blog, Design Roast, and follow her on Twitter @lexieludesigner