When you first launch your business, your main goal is to establish your brand and start growing. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen overnight. Growth is an ongoing process that requires hard work, patience and dedication. There's no special step or secret way to surpass other businesses in the industry or achieve immediate success.
There are, however, proven ways to reach growth milestones that can catapult a business to success. We asked small business leaders to share their tips for accelerating growth.
1. Hire the right people.
Before you can even think about your company's growth trajectory, you need to have a solid staff to help you achieve your goals.
"Hiring the absolute best people you can is a surefire way to ensure fast growth," said Christian Lanng, CEO and co-founder of business software provider Tradeshift. "It's all about having the right team."
With hardworking employees dedicated to your company's success, your business will be better equipped for continued growth. In addition, delegating tasks to focus on important work will free up your time and energy, allowing you to perform at your best and cultivate a collaborative work culture.
2. Focus on established revenue sources.
Rather than trying to acquire new customers, direct your attention to the core customers you already have, suggested 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 purchasing 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 they care about the return on investment more than your business aspirations."
Tip: Maximize your current customer base by implementing a customer loyalty program or trying out marketing strategies based on customers' purchase histories.
3. Reduce your risks.
Risk is an inevitable part of starting and growing a business. It's impossible to control everything, but there are many 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. 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 your small business grows, you may add space or equipment, create new products or services, or increase your operating and distribution footprint, so DeHetre recommends 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," he said.
4. Be adaptable.
One trait that many successful startups have in common is the ability to switch directions quickly in response to changes in the market. Lanng said that an agile approach to development, both in 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 its initial focus on music merchandise.
"Look to current pop culture trends for an opportunity to become part of the movement when it makes sense," he 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."
5. Focus on your customer experience.
Customers' perceptions can make or break your 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.
"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. [Learn how customer relationship management software can help you better understand your customers.]
"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."
While engaging with your audience is crucial, 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.
Key takeaway: Small businesses can quickly adapt and respond to customers' needs. This agility can give them an advantage over larger businesses.
6. 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 to 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."
While it might be tempting to pocket all your profits, it's better to invest in your business's growth so you can reap bigger benefits later. Determine which parts of your business need more attention: For example, do you need to hire more workers, expand your marketing efforts, or secure additional funding? When you find a crucial area that needs improvement, give that area your financial support.
7. 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 – in anticipation of all possible scenarios – is the best way to stay grounded and secure as your business evolves.
Thinking ahead is broad advice, but it can be as simple as reviewing all ongoing contracts, like comparing rates with the best credit card processors and seeing if you can negotiate a better deal.
8. Boost your customer service.
Another great method of growing your business is to focus on providing superior customer service. When you exceed customers' expectations, they are likely to tell their friends, family and followers about your business.
When you go the extra mile, such as by offering discounts if a customer has a poor experience or following up to ensure a client was satisfied with your product or service, you establish a reputation for great customer service. [Make sure you have the best business phone system for your customer service team.]
9. Focus on social media.
Another method to grow your business is to create profiles on all of the major social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). An active profile allows you to better market your business and interact with far more potential customers.
When your business has an account that you update regularly on the major platforms, consumers can find your business more easily and are more likely to share your business with their friends. You'll also create a more engaging experience for your audience, helping them feel more connected to your brand and cultivating trust.
10. Attend networking events.
Networking events allow you to connect with like-minded individuals, many of whom have unique perspectives and insights that can help you grow your business. The connections and relationships that come from attending networking events can be beneficial for years to come.
11. Practice corporate social responsibility.
Consumers want to buy from businesses passionate about causes that help make the world a better place. Whether you donate to cancer research or support a nonprofit such as a homeless shelter, look for ways to contribute meaningfully to the causes you support and share that with your customers.
You could publicly express your support to underserved communities, donate to various organizations, offer your time to fundraisers, and offer sustainable products to help the environment. There are many ways to be socially responsible as a business; find a few that work for you.
12. Host local events.
While attending events is a great way to grow your network, hosting your own events within your community is even more beneficial – whether it's running a fundraiser, offering exclusive deals on a holiday, or sponsoring a local sports team. Creating a unique experience for your customers will foster more personal relationships with them.
If you host events in your area, you'll increase brand awareness and show your community that you are invested in their wellbeing. When you are committed to them, they'll feel more loyalty to your business.
13. Research your competitors.
While this might not elicit immediate growth, researching your competitors is one of the most important first steps in launching your business. Ask yourself who your competitors are, what they're doing (that you're not doing) that works for them, and how you can differentiate your business from theirs. The answers to these questions will help you form a more productive business strategy, defining the areas of your business that require more attention to flourish. [Read related article: How to Conduct a Competitive Analysis]
Shannon Gausepohl contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.