There are hundreds of thousands of small business owners within the U.S. and millions around the world; they form a vibrant core to many national economies. However, a large portion of small businesses do not survive. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, only about 31% of small businesses survive for at least seven years - never mind making it big.
Almost every small business would like to grow its revenues, but most are only working with teams of a few employees. While some marketing and growth tactics that work well for large corporations can be applied to small businesses, many cannot, and growing a new business from scratch is even more unique.
Read on to find out how to grow a small business and bring it to the big leagues.
1. Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry
Start a blog, give speeches, write articles or publish a book on your niche area of business. Become the expert that people seek out when they need a solution. If you market yourself enough you will be receiving warm phone calls from individuals wanting to buy from you instead of potentially cold calling on individuals who have no interest in your business. (For further reading, check out Small Business: It's All About Relationships.)
This is the least expensive suggestion on how to grow your business - there are many places where you can start a blog for free. Invest one hour a day in learning about your market and writing about what you learn and within one year, you will have potential customers and joint venture partnerships approaching you. This strategy works for all types of niches, including dog training, hedge fund investing, copywriting, fundraising and physical therapy. Every niche has an online audience looking to learn more about the subject. Start feeding them with valuable content and they will start feeding your business with leads and marketing opportunities. This tip is provided first because this alone has helped hundreds of businesses grow to more than $1 million a year in revenue.
2. Create Passive Income Streams
Subscription-based models and membership programs sell a customer once and earn a profit every month as long as you keep those customers happy. An example of this is a website information portal selling a service provider directory listing. The website charges $99 a month and receives that payment every single month of the year as long as the website remains popular and relevant. Passive income models could incorporate a low monthly fee for on-demand customer service or maintenance, subscription access to exclusive coaching or a newsletter with interviews, book reviews and market analysis on your industry.
3. "Up Sell" Your Current Customers.
If you have a customer who loves your product, perhaps he or she would like a premium version of that same product, or a second one for a coworker or a family member. One of the easiest ways to quickly grow your business is to earn additional sales through your current customers.
4. Over-Deliver to Every Customer Whenever Possible
Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool that you can employ. Many large corporations spend millions of dollars on marketing only to pay their customer service personnel minimum wage. This is their area of vulnerability - your small business can create more personal relationships and provide better delivery and customer service than most of the large players in the industry.
5. Conduct a Best Practices Analysis
Analyze your top five competitors; everything from their websites, customer service, to product lines and prices. Take notes and write down 10 new ideas you could use from each of these competitors. If you do this once a year, not only will you keep up with your competitors as they innovate and evolve, but you will leapfrog over them as many others will not do this hard work, and the combination of new ideas will lead to new creative solutions for your customers. (To learn more, see Competitive Advantage Counts.)
6. Stay Focused
Your business is an investment; changing your environment by spending time with other motivated individuals can help you keep focused. Become a student of positive psychology, and clear your office and desk of distractions. If you get up early and start each day by studying your industry, your competitors and your top-level goals, you will work more efficiently and gain an edge on your competition.
7. Sell Your Products and Services Internationally
Choose one to three target markets outside of where you are currently operating and identify would-be competitors there. What do they charge? What products do they offer? Call or email these companies as time permits, and introduce yourself. Tell them you are doing research, as many will be happy to lend some advice or tips. In a worst-case scenario, you will find that there is no way to expand abroad, but you will probably come across another product idea or customer acquisition strategy by completing the research and seeing what the industry is like within other regions of the world.
8. $1 Million Is an Intimidating Number
Work toward $1 million a year in revenue backwards. If you want your business to earn $1 million a year, that means you must make $83,333 a month, or $20,833 a week, or $4,166 per business day. That is a lot of money to earn every business day, but what new products or services could you add now that could possibly earn that much within one to two years? Think in terms of leverage, developing systems and residual passive income streams. Every minute of time you spend should be seen as an investment.
9. Acquire Businesses
Who are your competitors? How are they doing business-wise? Are they about to retire? Most businesses sell for two to five times their annual earnings or profits, and many parties who are interested in selling end up simply closing shop after not finding an interested buyer. Many times, you may be able to pick up a business that, when combined with a business you already own, could pay for itself within 12-18 months. This is one of the most expensive but quickest ways of reaching $1 million a year in sales. (To examine the flip side argument, read 7 Steps To Selling Your Small Business.)
Many business owners find that it is only through listening to customers and/or trying to offer a dozen business services or products that they finally find one that really resonates with their target market and takes off in terms of sales. Each experiment that you try will teach you something about your business and customers. Many of the largest, most successful companies have market-tested thousands of products to develop their portfolios of one- to two-dozen existing product offerings. Hard work creates luck and if you experiment long enough, you will find something that sticks.
This list is not exhaustive, but it should help create some momentum and spur creative thinking on how to grow your business. While it is true that some of these tips may be applied more readily to some businesses than others, those that appear most foreign to your industry could be most valuable as it is less likely that one of your competitors has used them.
For further reading, see 10 Breakout Ideas For Small Businesses.