So you’re trading now and surviving – but where are you really heading in terms of direction?
Structured growth is a vital component of the ongoing success and development of any business and having a growth strategy is an absolute ‘must’ for survival. A plant doesn’t grow on its own, neither will your business: you need to execute your growth plans by firstly planting a seed. Plant it too close to the surface and it’ll fail to take root, but plant it too deep and it’ll fail to surface. Carefully planted roots drive plant growth. And that’s no different for your business.
So what do you need to do to plant a seed that’ll become strong and healthy, with structured roots and branches that grow strategically over the course of time?
Growing your business
If your business is trading you should now be scoping out growth plans with a view to keeping apathy at bay, as well as focusing on sustained growth. Whether it’s a product or service industry you operate in, you need to consider whether to trade (or continue to trade) internationally or domestically - or perhaps both?
But whatever direction you’re headed in, make sure that your target market sits within in that particular geographic location and ensure you’ve carried out the necessary research to back that up.
There are a number of different ways you can grown your business, expanding your roots and brand simultaneously, and we’ve outlined a few below. Be mindful that the list shown isn’t exhaustive and that there are a plethora of other business opportunities out there.
We’ve simply chosen to highlight some of the easier methods and quick wins over how you can get in front of your target audience, wherever they are:
Trade shows are a great way of exposing your business. An organised exhibition or trade fair is ideal when it comes to meeting prospective customers and keeping an eye on the activities of your business rivals.
Plan your day(s) in intricate detail before you arrive and make sure you bring with you the right business or product literature, a host of promotional items that’ll attract traffic to your stand and a stack of business cards. Have your 60 second pitch perfected, and an abundance of energy and positive attitude that will help you get through the day, as well as a commitment to follow up with any potential customers afterwards.
When you’re there, network like your life depends on it – in many ways your business life does. Take advantage of everyone you engage with by seeing them as a potential customer that you can either pitch to on the day, or follow up after the event is over.
Many of the costs associated with trade shows and other business exhibitions may be tax deductible too. Check with your accountant to get an understanding of what you can and can’t offset against tax and make your trade show efforts a win-win solution.
Direct Mail is where you build up - usually over a period of time - a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM), which is a database of email addresses that allow you to engage in direct mailing activities - after customer permission has been obtained. With this information you can start to construct a series of email marketing campaigns that you can use to attract new customers, reinforce your brand and products and for one-off promotions or specific product targeting.
Email targeting (or direct marketing) is a great way to promote your brand too. But be mindful that there are a number of regulations involved, which include creating an ‘unsubscribe’ option at the foot of your email, so that customers can ‘opt out’ of receiving these direct emails at any point. If you are in any doubts concerning the regulations, check out the law around marketing and advertising and make sure you stay on the right side of it.
Many email automation platforms are completely free, providing you stay within certain ‘free’ limits that usually apply to the amount of subscribers you can have and the amount of emails you can send each month. If you go beyond the complimentary limits, generally a small subscription fee tends to apply, which you’ll have to pay before you can successfully send any further email campaigns. Having said that, if you’re outside of the free limits it means you're growing your CRM database, which can only be a good thing!
Comparing direct mail tactics with the cost of traditional marketing and the cost of print media, direct mail activities are a normally a more cost-effective method of promoting your message to a wide variety of audiences, provided you use carefully targeted audience demographics.
Try to create a catchy ‘subject line’ whenever you send out a marketing email campaign as this encourages your recipients to take more of an interest in your communication, which is exactly what you want.
Aim to create dynamic content in the body of the email and be sure to signal a clear ‘Call to Action’ that spells out the next steps, such as: ‘Get in touch’ or ‘Click here’ or ‘Buy Now while Stocks Last!’. Place a hyperlink behind any Call to Action that will take the customer to either your company’s website or to perhaps a nominated email address where they can place an order. If you’ve got their interest, you now need to convert that interest into a sale.
Monitor the MI (management information) by analysing your figures. Start with the volume of recipients that have opened your email, right through to the number of recipients that have shown sufficient interest to click directly through to your website.
And if that’s not enough consider experimenting with A/B testing!
A/B testing is where two direct email campaigns (both offering the same value proposition) are sent out at the same time. Each email campaign contains a different subject line and sometimes different content and visuals too. The aim of A/B testing is to compare the success of one campaign with the other. Then analyse and understand the rationale for why one campaign outperformed the other.
A/B testing can be an extremely useful tool if direct mailing is to form a part of your overall marketing and growth strategy.
Asking for business referrals may seem like a particularly bold thing to do, but if you’re running a business you can’t afford to be backwards in coming forwards. It may take a bit of confidence asking outright, but as you’re self-employed, business won’t come to you - you have to go to it – so you really can’t be afraid to ask. If your customers are as enamoured with your work as you think, they shouldn’t mind you asking.
It’s hard to say how many times you should make contact with whoever you’ve been referred to, but try to get a balance of reaching them without overly annoying them.
Also be mindful that the referrer (your existing customer) may not have had the chance to let their friends and family (or whoever they’ve referred you to) know that you’ll be getting in touch. So try to get the referrer to touch base in advance, so that your call does not come completely out of the blue. Cold calls are really hard to get right and are not always appreciated, so think about your approach in advance.
Among the powerful referral tools are customer testimonials. Don't be afraid to ask (and get it in writing) what your customers' views are on your product or service and whether they'll allow you to use their testimony online or perhaps on your stationary items. If you're good, you're good. Don't be afraid to brag about it!
This is an area we touched on in ‘Starting a business’ with our ‘Getting off the ground’ feature, so we won’t elaborate on it too much. What we will do, though, is stress the importance of having a digital presence, whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, your company website, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or YouTube – it’s your call.
Twitter is one of the most prevalent business communication tools around. But if you’ve a product that’s remotely complicated and needs a more hands-on approach, YouTube and a series of ‘how to’ guides may go down a storm.
Facebook has developed significantly over the years with intelligent algorithms that now allow you to pay for sponsored ad campaigns, and access to customers that show product or service relevancy that’s based on insight and online behaviour analysis. Facebook also allows you to target specific postcodes and geographic locations, breaking down into some seriously detailed targeting, so that your ad campaign gets in front of your desired audience.
It really is worth investing in your company’s digital presence, but if you have any doubts over your level of understanding, capabilities and available resources (and you can afford it), consider outsourcing this to a Digital Agency or other marketing professional. They’ll be able to study the key search terms that are relevant to your business sector and tailor an approach, as well as work to a budget, that suits you.
If you’re on a static website (and by that we mean a website where you can shop around, but not physically make a purchase) and want to benefit from online sales, consider changing your website’s platform or buying some sort of ‘plug-in’ that’ll enhance your website’s core functionality. This will enable it to work as an Ecommerce sales platform instead (a plug-in is a piece of software that creates extra capabilities). It’s not that hard to do, the difficulty lies in keeping the website organised from behind the scenes and carrying out day-to-day tasks like:
- Updating your website’s stock inventory
- Changing your offers and promotions so that they’re current and up to date
- Designing relevant banners and creatives that’ll showcase your OVP (online value position)
- Working to continually change your website’s look and feel to keep it fresh and appealing
- Keeping on top of customer queries, complaints and general communications
- Staying on top of orders and handling all logistics professionally (postage, packaging and materials)
- Ensuring your service delivery is as impeccable as it can be, otherwise you’ll be hit with poor reviews that, once in the public domain, will never disappear
Treat your website with the same level of care you would if you had a retail shop on a busy high street. It’s your shop window and speaks volumes about your credibility as a going concern.
Have an idea of where you want to go geographically as one of your key business objectives. If you want to go international, start to research what you need to do to get there. Think about why you’re going there too, because if there’s no market or proven demand for your product or service in that particular area, is it really worth the investment?
Research the cost of distribution to your chosen geographical location(s), as well as the cost of any items(s) that customers may want to return, and consider who will pick up those costs. Think hard about your market entry strategy and decide what methods you'll use to bring your product(s) to those new markets and whether the costs and resources involved actually warrant product distribution there. You'll also need to consider the complexity of establishing and managing new contracts in those territories.
Branching out might seem like a good idea at the time, but if the cost and complexity of getting your goods and services to a new region is higher than your profit margin, then you’ll need to reconsider. However, there are a lot of mentoring programmes about, where seasoned exporters will give you advice on how to avoid the pitfalls.
Lastly, give some thought to how you’ll accept the different types of currencies, and whether your online (and offline) card payment system will allow you to accept the currency that’s related to your chosen location. And if it does, what’s the cost?
There's an awful lot to consider when it comes to growth, direction and market development, which is why continuous evaluation and knowing exactly where you are on the growth curve are such important factors when it comes to growing your business.