The ten most important things to know about business growth
When you start a business, the pressure is always on and there’s never enough time in the day. Finding clients, marketing the business, dealing with admin and operational issues – the list is never ending. However, when you have time to breathe and look up, how are you actually going to grow your business? How are you going to take yourself out of the day to day running of your company long enough to ensure you can create a sustainable business? After all, that’s what it’s all about. You don’t want to be here today but gone tomorrow.
Business growth expert Julia Payne, Co-Founder of Incisive Edge [solutions] leads you through creating your very own Business Builder Ladder – Your Route Map to Success
There are 4 essentials that every business needs (assuming you have a product or service to sell). These are the foundations of your business and it is essential that they are in place before you start to build the value and growth into your business that will take you into orbit.
Understand why your clients buy from you. What are their key buying criteria and why do they buy from you rather than your competitors? It is amazing the amount of companies that can’t answer this relatively simple question.
Who is your target market and where do your clients come from in terms of geography and sector? At the start of a business every single client is valuable and understandably, owners are not too fussy about where they come from. However, to create a sustainable business you need a targeted approach, as your database will form the backbone of your business. It will help you generate repeat sales, new custom through testimonials, word of mouth referrals etc. If you don’t adopt a focused approach towards the beginning of your business, you can waste a lot of money both selling and marketing to people who are really not that interested. More importantly, communicating with stone cold leads, can waste your valuable time.
There is a myriad of materials available on sales and you can spend (or waste) a lot of your time finding the best sales process for your company. No matter what the business, there are 3 key areas you need to focus on:
Build your sales funnel. It is highly unlikely that clients will buy from you on first contact. Research has shown that people need to see an advert at least 15 times before a product or brand starts to register with them. It is essential therefore, that you create a process for regular communication and have a range of products or services at different price points – from low to your higher end product. Don’t scare off potential clients with your top of the range product immediately, it may be a step too far. They don’t know your company, they don’t know your product and more importantly, they don’t know you. Build trust in the first instance. It may take slightly longer, but it will pay greater rewards.
Build your sales pipeline. It is crucial that you know what sales to expect over the course of your financial year. Too many companies operate a suck it and see policy, preferring not to exercise the discipline of creating their own sales pipeline. This is a recipe for disaster. Don’t do it. Even if you are just starting up, create a pipeline of potential targets and the revenue you can expect or hope for, each month. It will provide you with focus in your sales approach and how you market. It will also provide valuable information and statistics internally which you can build on year upon year.
Sales targets. Even if it is just you doing the selling in the business, set yourself sales targets for each month. Make sure they are realistic in the early days, but build on them as you progress. Don’t accept excuses from yourself or your team for not meeting them. Excuses will not pay the bills and at the end of the day, you are fooling no-one but yourself. The best sales people will set targets for everything; the amount of calls they have made, the face to face time they have spent with clients or leads and the amount of work closed. There is a reason they do this – because it works.
The best strategies are usually the simplest, so when setting your marketing strategy, make it achievable and ensure it fits within your budget. Here are 2 key tips:
i. Don’t stretch your budget too thinly. Whilst you will want to spread your message as far and wide as you can, it is better to concentrate on just one or two marketing channels and get real results. Set an objective, e.g. new leads, and then match your marketing to that objective.
ii. Ensure you monitor the results you achieve. Too many companies do not know whether their marketing is paying dividends. They set it up, leave it to run itself and then complain that it’s not working. Marketing needs your attention. Set it up, leave it to embed, monitor, then tweak. Marketing is a constant evolution. As your company grows, your marketing and the channels through which you market, need to match that growth.
4. Staff & Culture
You may think you can overlook this area if you’re just starting up. However, it is an important part of your future growth plans. Why? Well there are 2 key reasons:
A) In a difficult climate, clients have far more choice as to who they do business with. They want to work with companies they like, that create relationships and more importantly, have a similar value set to themselves. If you are the owner of their business, you will create the culture and the values. They will be reflective of you and your behaviour. Culture is not created overnight, so give careful thought to the type of company you want to be and how you wish to portray yourself externally. Not only will it form the basis to a sustainable business, it will create a strong platform on which to build. And why do you want to build that platform?
B) You want to build that platform because as you grow, you will need to recruit. More and more employees see the culture of the company as vital to their employment happiness and indeed, Gen Y see it as the component for applying to work for certain companies. You only need to look at surveys such as The Sunday Times Best Company to Work For. If you have an eye to the future, it is far better to create a culture from the outset and to ensure it’s the one you want.
So you have created the foundations of your business, but how can you really build value into your business and grow?
5. Systems & Processes
This is all about your existing and future systems. If you have just started your business, begin with the basics such as setting up a filing system on your computer that you can actually follow. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but the amount of time people waste searching for vital documents is ridiculous. Automate as much as you possibly can in every field of your business, but make a diary note to review at least every quarter.
For those that have been in business for slightly longer the key to successful systems is to monitor, it is not to set and forget. Look at the systems you are currently using. Are they helping your business to become more efficient? Are they achieving the results they set out to achieve? If not, it is time to review and change. List out all your existing systems; detail the objectives they are supposed to meet and the results. If they prove inadequate for your purpose, make the necessary changes. Then ensure you write up the systems in a handbook or process guide. This will prove exceptionally helpful when it comes to your next review period and also when recruiting staff, as it can form the basis for an induction process. Above all, do not set up any more systems until you are happy with the ones you already have.
At the start of your business, you will probably only have one or two products to sell. However, as you grow, so will your product or service range. When you can see this growth happening, it is important to create a product framework. This is a framework which enables you to make decisions about the products you develop and the process by which they are developed.
Too many companies just allow their product range to evolve, either on a whim of someone within the business, because they think it will be a good idea, or because they think there is a client need. This is the wrong approach. You need facts and figures to support your decision making – you need a framework. Once you have this, you can use one of 6 key product development strategies to decide your new range and go to market strategy.
Remember though, products should be developed in an incremental way. It’s about getting the most out of your existing product range and then slowly evolving that product or range to create a new product. Do not be tempted to stray too far from your core product. Your clients will know for your company for what you currently sell and could be scared off by something completely disparate or random.
7. Channels to Market
This is quite simply about how many routes or avenues your business has, through which you can sell your products. Many companies just focus on one or two channels. Whilst that is one approach, it is perhaps not the most strategic approach to take. Just think about it, who can sell your products; existing clients, suppliers, distributors, businesses with a complementary, non-competitive offering? The key is to list all potential channels, prioritise and focus. This approach requires time and effort and it should form an essential stream of your sales and marketing strategies. Employed correctly it can reap huge long-term rewards.
This one single area is vital to the success of your business. In fact, absolutely critical.
No one business can be all things to all people. As much as you want to show potential clients how many things you can do, it is essential to find your niche. Your business needs to be known for one thing. If you give your client base too many options to think about, they won’t associate your company with that crucial product or service and possibly, they simply won’t remember you at all.
Let me give you an example. Why do people buy a Volvo? They buy it because it is associated with safety. Volvo = Safety. That is the company’s position in the market.
When your clients think about your company, what is the one thing they think about? If you don’t know it is probably because you are not positioned properly. If you are not positioned properly, then what is distinguishing your business from similar businesses? Why would people remember your business in particular? The truth is, they probably won’t.
The bottom line is, that if you don’t position your company, the market will position for you and it will lump you in with every other company that does the same as you. What is the benefit of that?
If you have a strong position within your chosen market, to derive maximum benefit you need to have a strong brand to accompany it. Look at the Virgin group of companies and their brand, - globally recognisable. In fact, as an aside, Virgin encompasses everything we have been talking about including, a strong culture with values led by Sir Richard, numerous channels to market, a very clear position in each of their respective markets and a scalable business model, which we will come to in a moment.
Brand can be created from the outset. It starts with the basics such as your logo. Does it stand out, does it represent what you stand for, does it cement your position in the market place? Going one step further, does it represent the values which your company stand for and the culture of your business? Yet another step, how is your brand perceived by your customers? Does your customer service live up to your brand promise?
Your brand should permeate everything you do and everything your customers or clients experience. If there is disparity between what you promise and your delivery, your client base will become confused which could result in attrition and loss of sales. It certainly will not result in the growth you are looking for.
10. Scalable Business Model
It’s been a long journey to get here, but to create the ultimate growth business you need to create a scalable business model. What exactly does that mean? In all honesty, there is reams of information written on this subject, most of it so complex and convoluted it becomes too difficult to understand.
The simple reality is this. Building a scalable business model is about doing a job once and getting paid for it over and over again. To do this, it is important to streamline a business. A company that needs heroic efforts to sustain it is simply not scalable. A company that is reliant on one or two people is simply not scalable. Scalability is not just about getting bigger in terms of size or geography; it’s about building an intelligent business model that allows you to generate your revenue automatically.
Author Julia Payne is co-founder of Incisive Edge [solutions] www.incisive-edge.com, leaders in creating sustainable competitive advantage for business. Contact them on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0800 433 4044