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So you’ve set up your business, and survived the initial stages of building a customer base. It is the end of year two and you are generating enough sales to feel comfortable. With a third of businesses crumbling by now, you should feel triumphant. You have pushed your company towards success and avoided the pitfalls of failure experienced by so many embryonic firms.
But here’s the thing: while you know you are doing ok, you are still not experiencing the dizzying heights of growth that you want to achieve. Well, don’t be hard on yourself– these are the early years and there’s a long way to go. What you should be doing, though, if reaching those dizzying heights is in fact your goal, is to ask yourself if indications are there that you are heading towards those bigger things.
There are indeed telltale signs, and in this article we look at five key ones. Are any or all of these familiar? Is this you? If so, you may be on your way to entrepreneurial greatness.
1. Referrals, referrals and more referrals
Referrals are one of the keys to success. They are endorsements of you, your brand and your product from your target customer, partners and colleagues. Getting a steady stream of referrals proves you are doing something right, that there is trust and happiness with what you are doing. This tells people your network is growing organically.
Word-of-mouth referrals are worth their weight in gold because to tell someone –whether a friend or perhaps even a stranger– that a product is good, is essentially investing your own reputation in your recommendation. People do not do it lightly.
In fact, research shows that while 83% of people are willing to make a referral after a good experience, only 29% actually take the effort to do so.
This means that if you are getting them –and getting them regularly– you must be really impressing people with your products and services.
Businesses usually fail when the product is just not needed enough, not different enough and not engaging enough to inspire a loyal and growing customer base. So if you find clients or customers are coming to you via their peers, then that “magic sparkle” of brilliance is all around your brand.
2. You don’t always have to be there
A business is your baby, something that you have seeded from nothing to become a successful enterprise. However, for a company to truly grow, the business needs to be able to function without you at times. It has to have a strong operational structure so that it will flourish without reliance on any one thing, whether that is a person or anything else in the makeup of the company.
For when the business grows to a certain size, it will become near impossible for you to understand the intricacies of every area of the company. You will put in the structure and people as a foundation and, as a result, it will be able to take care of itself when it needs to.
The bottom line: if you are able to step away for a week at a time –or even longer– and things still more or less move along ok, then it is a very positive sign that you have a strong foundation in place and your company may be destined for big things.
3. Your marketing works
Without doubt, effective marketing is a key pillar to any growth. However, a common mistake is for new businesses to ignore marketing, seeing it as an unnecessary expense rather than an income generator. This is naïve. You cannot wait for consumers simply to discover you.
So if you are a marketer by nature and have set up your company with the “marketing mindset” from day one, then the chances are you are on your way to building something big. That’s because you instinctively know that marketing is the voice of your business and the way you reach and draw people in. You understand that your marketing strategy has to be intelligent in content, positioning and timing if it is to be heard above the noise from competitors– especially if you are working in a crowded market (which just about all of us are).
4. The press knock at your door
Now, of course, you can do the whole public relations drive and that should fall under the marketing umbrella. But is the top media in your space coming to you and writing about your business, asking you for your opinion on the industry– without you chasing them? If journalists are approaching you, then that is a definite sign you are being perceived as the authority on your subject area. It means you have become a “thought leader” at the top of your game.
The press is usually swamped with press releases, interview suggestions and story proposals. Often, these are too promotional and go ignored. But offer an industry view beyond the promotion of your own product and you may well make it into the contacts book of the top hacks.
The media will be interested in you if the firm is growing and has something unique in the market. If you find yourself receiving phone calls for quotes, interview requests, or offers to write opinion pieces related to your industry, then this is a great omen for future success.
5. You can’t stop thinking about ways to improve your offering and overall service
The unrelenting pursuit of excellence must be instinctual and all-consuming. It shows you believe in your offering and you only want to improve it further for your customer base. Evolution should exist within the business space too. All titans of industry seek out new and improved ways to do things.
So if you find yourself constantly thinking about improving your offering, your processes, your customer service, and so on, take it as a sign that you are likely on your way to building a business that will just keep getting bigger and bigger.
Indeed, every company should be in a virtuous circle between customer feedback and product improvements, and so the entrepreneur that gets complacent here is not much of a builder. This is a never-ending task, and if you as an owner instinctively know this, then you have the tools for greatness.
Keep calm and carry on
Every entrepreneur wonders at some stage if there is a ceiling to success. It is natural to ponder whether your firm can upgrade further and go from small time to big time. And while there is no crystal ball that will reveal your entrepreneurial future, if you recognize much of the best practices above and instinctively connect to them, then I’d wager you have the foundations for building something special.
Just keep at it, because this is a long road. And try not to get too wound up in the process. Business can be incredibly stressful, and you must try hard not to let it overwhelm you. Find your balance and keep your mind on today –the here and now– and at least one eye glancing once in a while towards the future as you look forward to whatever comes.