New business owners have numerous goals when they're starting out, including rapid growth and recognition for their fledgling venture. But overnight success isn't often the standard: There's no specific "special sauce" to add to the recipe for instant results, and nothing is guaranteed.
However, there are ways to reach growth milestones that can catapult a business to success. We asked small business leaders to share their tips for accelerating growth.
Hire the right people
Before you can even think about your company's growth trajectory, you need to ensure that you have a solid staff that can help you achieve it.
"With a small business looking to grow, it's important to have the right players at the table," said April Davis, founder of online dating service Cupid's Cronies. "They need to be people who aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves. The words 'That's not my job,' do not exist in their vocabulary. They have to be dedicated to the mission."
"Hiring the absolute best people you can is a surefire way to ensure fast growth," added Christian Lanng, CEO and chairman of business software provider Tradeshift. "It's all about having the right team."
Focus on established revenue sources
Rather than trying to acquire new customers, direct your attention to the core customers you already have, said Bill Reilly, a Wisconsin-based auto repair entrepreneur. You can do this by implementing a referral or customer loyalty program, or trying out marketing strategies based on previous purchase behaviors to encourage repeat business, he said.
This focus on your established market is especially important if you're trying to get funding.
"In the past, we would highlight our business goal to become a franchise, which didn't resonate with banks," Reilly said. "We learned to emphasize that there is a large market for what we do. This would pique a banker's interest because he or she cares about the return on investment more than your business aspirations."
Reduce your risks
Risk is an inevitable part of starting and growing a business. It's impossible to control everything, but there are plenty of ways to limit internal and external threats to your company and its growth. One important resource to help you accomplish this is your business insurance provider.
"Small businesses need to manage their growth to avert disruptions that can bring business to a grinding halt," said Mike DeHetre, vice president of product development at Travelers. For example, "the theft of employee data, customer records and product designs can destroy a small business, generating significant costs and eroding customer confidence and loyalty," he said. "Not every business owner's policy covers data breaches or other cyber losses. Small businesses should be prepared by seeking insurance products that help them recover, including those that cover the cost of remediation and lawsuits."
As small businesses grow, they may add space or equipment, create new products or services, or increase their operating and distribution footprint, so DeHetre advised periodically reviewing your policy to ensure you have the right coverage.
"It's easy to forget this step amid rapid expansion, but you don't want to find out that you've outgrown your coverage just when you need it the most," DeHetre said.
One trait that successful startups often have in common is the ability to switch directions quickly in response to changes in the market. Lanng noted that an agile approach to development, both in terms of your product and your company, will help you grow more quickly.
"By allowing yourself to adapt and change quickly, you're able to test different approaches to business and find out what works best," Lanng told Business News Daily. "It allows you to fail, pick yourself back up and keep going."
Chris Cornell, founder and CEO of Manhead Merchandise, said his company has found adaptability to be key in expanding its client base beyond the music industry.
"Look to current pop culture trends for an opportunity to become part of the movement, when it makes sense," Cornell said. "In an era of internet-fame, we looked to expand our horizons beyond the music industry. We partnered with 'The King of Pop Culture' and insta-famous pup, Doug the Pug to release his new gear. Recognizing the reach and popularity of Doug, we were able to take his merchandise to the next level, extending our business model beyond bands."
Focus on your customer experience
Customers' perceptions of your business can really make or break a business. Deliver quality experiences and products, and they'll quickly sing your praises on social media; mess it up, and they'll tell the world even faster. Fast growth depends on making your current and potential customers happy with their experience, DeHetre said.
"Compared with large companies, small businesses are nimble, and often better able to see, anticipate and respond to their customers' needs," DeHetre said. "The most successful small businesses exploit this advantage, by bringing new and innovative products and services to market more quickly and developing and nurturing long-term customer relationships."
Dennis Tanjeloff, president and CEO of Astro Gallery of Gems, agreed. He said listening to your customers and giving them what they want is of utmost importance.
"Diversify your offerings so you can best cater to the customers' changing tastes," Tanjeloff said. "Remember, you are here to serve the customer — it's why you are open for business."
Cornell noted that engaging with your audience is crucial, but personalizing the experience can boost and strengthen that relationship.
"At Manhead, we come up with unique creative designs, customized storefronts and pop-up shops personalized for each band [we work with] to help them engage with fans in a new way," Cornell said.
Invest in yourself
In the early stages of your business, you'll likely see a very lean profit margin (or no profit at all), so any money you do make should go directly toward helping you grow.
"A startup's ability to invest in itself [helps] accelerate growth," Lanng said. "In those early years, it's critical to make sure that you're redirecting any revenues back into the company. It's vital to invest early and heavily in order to grow quickly."
[See also: CRM for solopreneurs]
Always think ahead
While agility is an important quality for a startup, you can't fly by the seat of your pants when you're running a business. Planning your next step, even if that means anticipating all possible scenarios, is the best way to stay grounded and secure as your business evolves.
"Set the foundation in place, water it and watch it grow," Davis said. "If you do the foundational work, when you experience growth, it won't be that difficult to adjust, since the hard part is already done."
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon Taylor.