Much like a plant, a business requires care, attention and the proper conditions in order to grow and flourish. You might think you have your growth formula all figured out, but if you've tried it and aren't achieving the results you want, it might be time to take a different approach.
Entrepreneurs and business leaders shared their experiences with some overlooked, unconventional methods for growth, and offered advice for taking your business to the next level.
Become a trusted resource
It seems counterintuitive, but sometimes the best way to make a sale is by not actually selling anything. Playing the long game — that is, offering no-strings-attached help and advice for the sake of building up a relationship — earns a potential client's trust and makes that person more likely to come to you in the future, said Bart Mroz, founder and CEO of digital commerce consultancy SUMO Heavy.
"Become a trusted resource within your industry and community," Mroz said. "A great way to do this is by actively engaging on relevant social media groups, blogs, forums, etc. During my free time, I like to participate in any conversation where I can provide insight and tips for the curious, but I make sure not to directly promote and sell my services. These aren't your traditional customer acquisition channels, so they shouldn't be approached as such."
Mroz also noted that this approach lets you position yourself as an expert, and keeps you up-to-date with the latest industry trends, so you'll know what your customers are looking for. [See Related Story: 7 Secrets for Growing Your Business Quickly]
Narrow your focus
Most startups dream of huge growth in their early days. But taking it from 0 to 100 right away isn't always the best way to grow. John Shapiro, director of product management in the small business group at Intuit, advised you to limit your growth at first, and hone in on a very small segment of your target market.
"Focus on a small microcosm, whether that's a geography, industry vertical or something else," Shapiro said. "You want to get to critical density, which is a lot easier to do if you reduce the ground you’re trying to cover. Think of Facebook's growth strategy — they focused on one, then two, then four college campuses. They added campus by campus over time, and it was years before they opened up to all consumers."
Highly focused and personalized service to your early customers will generate positive word-of-mouth branding very quickly, Shapiro said. This will help you build that solid base you need for greater growth in the future.
Try a new sales channel
Retail today is all about omnichannel customer service and marketing: You have to be where your customers are and reach them through their preferred channels. The omnichannel mentality can even be applied to the locations in which you sell your products.
Many retailers who operate out of a physical store have expanded their operations to the web and sell products both online and in the store. Online-only businesses can benefit from this approach by expanding to a brick-and-mortar location, if they have the resources for it.
For example, online mattress retailer Leesa recently opened up a flagship store in New York City to showcase its products in a new and different way than they had been doing.
"It may seem unconventional and even counterintuitive, but often for e-commerce businesses, establishing a physical brick-and-mortar presence is one of the most cost-efficient ways to drive online leads and generate brand awareness," said Matt Hayes, Leesa's director of marketing. "Opening our Leesa Dream Gallery retail concept ... allowed customers to try the Leesa mattress for themselves in a pressure-free environment."
Similarly, Rahul Mewawalla, CEO of social and mobile referral platform Everfave, advised brick-and-mortar businesses to borrow tech-savvy digital methods from their e-commerce counterparts to increase growth.
"Businesses have to look ahead of the curve," Mewawalla said. "We went from traditional advertising like TV [and] radio to internet-based marketing in the last 15 years, and the next 15 years will be focused on mobile and social-based approaches. To stand out and be more effective, businesses have to continuously look at new and novel ways to grow."
Take a risk
Entrepreneurship is all about stepping outside your comfort zone, so the act of taking a risk may not seem all that unconventional. But the specific risk you take — whatever it is that seems like it's too wild and "out there" for your business — could prove to be the spark that serves as a catalyst for growth.
Kerrie Hileman, owner of The White Magnolia bridal boutiques, said a reality TV star recently shopped in one of their stores for an upcoming segment of her show, complete with a camera crew. Hileman admitted that she was wary of being filmed and nervous about how the business might be portrayed on the show, but ended up having a very positive experience. As a result, the reality star featured The White Magnolia on her Instagram page and gave a huge boost for Hileman's business.
"The group was absolutely amazing to work with," she told Business News Daily. "We have noticed a huge jump in our Instagram following and have even had brides who came in to shop because they knew the reality star found her gown here. We are so happy we took the risk, and it's paid off tenfold already."
"Don't be afraid," Intuit's Shapiro added. "If you want to grow your company unconventionally and successfully, you need to be comfortable taking the appropriate risks."