How to Grow Your Business — Even When You Have No Idea What You're Doing Truly loving your business and thriving off of what you do is the single most valuable key to business success.
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Starting a business, let alone growing one, is not for the faint of heart. It takes time, patience and a lot of humility. In 10 years of owning my own business, our growing pains have had their own growing pains, but at this point, I can safely say they have transformed into gains.
I've learned the hard way that expansion is a necessary step in growth, but doing so in a manner that doesn't feel like two steps back for every one step forward has been the most challenging part for me. Growth should be an exciting process that couples a thoughtful approach with some creative bootstrapping and an unwavering "go get 'em" attitude.
Sometimes growth proceeds only one slow step at a time, but that one step may be critical to the future of your business, so dedicate yourself to making each advancement as "right" as it can be, followed by another and then another. This will likely take some fine-tuning and adjusting. You couldn't learn the ropes of first grade until you'd mastered kindergarten (yes, as a mom of five, parenting analogies consistently make their way into my writing!), and the same philosophy applies to business.
Here's how to identify focused steps to take to grow your business.
1. Careful planning and strategic decision-making
The importance of careful planning and strategic decision-making cannot be overestimated but is often overlooked when you're running full steam ahead toward business growth. The last thing business owners need is wasted time on unnecessary work that could've easily been avoided with a little thoughtful preparation. Speaking from my own experience at the helm of R Public Relations, I decided to embrace one instrumental but utterly simple expansion strategy: finding my firm's service niche area and sticking with it.
The truth is, my firm and my team can do more than we actually do, but we had to start saying no to services we didn't really want to focus on so that business growth would be in the right direction. Mine is a PR company, and yet at one point, I had more content writers and editors on staff than publicists. So I had to shift that imbalance, stay hyperfocused on our service niche and then use that very service to promote ourselves, brag about ourselves and show our potential clients how good we are at shouting the good news from the rooftops.
2. Finding your client base
Just like I had to narrow my circle of employees and contractors to those who would most directly contribute to business growth goals, I had to zero in on the client base I wanted to feed my business by offering products and services that would most appeal to them. This step involves understanding your customers' needs and wants — both current and future — and conducting market research to determine them. You don't have to have a degree in data analysis; you just need to be a good listener when speaking to your clients. If you ask and show genuine interest, they'll tell you exactly what they want from you that will keep them on your roster and, in turn, keep your business growing.
3. Setting pricing and service offerings
I'm frequently asked, "How much should I charge for so-and-so?" You can't stay in business if you don't get paid appropriately for what you deliver, but just expanding your menu of offerings to bring in more revenue isn't always (or even usually) the best route to growth. Diversification and specialization can make all the difference, so when you're reassessing your service line, make tweaks where needed and, in some cases, eliminate some services altogether.
In my firm's case, we took inventory of all the feedback we received from our clients, and guess what we found out? We were providing not only more than they were asking for but much more than they were paying for! Not good.
When we raised our prices to keep in line with costs, client demands rose in kind. I ended up with a burnt-out staff and clients with unclear expectations until I eventually realized that the trick was to scale back on extraneous services without disrupting client satisfaction. In other words, we stopped overdelivering and instead set definite and finite targets that could track both client growth and our own. We defined and set a value for our services so that we could price them properly and better manage client expectations.
4. Understanding your market landscape
This step could just as easily be labeled "stalking your competitors," and there's no shame in that. In fact, you can learn a lot from scoping out what the competition is doing and then figuring out ways to do it better or differently or with more personalization. When I was just starting out in the hospitality market, there was a "cool kid" on campus, and we wanted to be cooler. So we'd pitch to the same clients and often win — maybe based on price or our extreme commitment or a combination of both; but the point is, we learned how and what to pitch precisely by following the lead of our competition and then putting our spin on their moves.
Continually assessing where you can stand out in your market and how you can actualize your exceptionality keeps your current clients from jumping ship and attracts new clients to the buzz you've created around yourself. And you can achieve this with a small team and a small budget. When I had limited amounts of both, I prioritized deepening my relationships with my clients through active listening and customization. In the process, I gained valuable insights into market preferences that allowed my firm to tailor strategies to current market trends, strengthen existing client bonds and foster new ones.
5. Being passionate about what you do
Clichéd as it sounds, truly loving your business — thriving off what you do — is the single most valuable key to business success. Clients want to work with you when you're enthusiastic, energized and fun. When your passion for what you do is visible, it becomes a viable path to growth because people want to join you on that path, follow you on that path and share in the rewards that come from an enjoyable journey to a set destination.
I'll keep walking that path, recruiting fellow travelers wherever and whenever I can, because we're all aiming for the same thing: successful, blossoming businesses that stand the test of time and evolve with an ever-evolving marketplace.