July 2, 2012 Posted by: Adrienne Graham
Are You Growing Your Business Yet? 5 Tips to Help You Grow
If you tuned in to my radio show on Friday, you would have heard my discussion with Pattie Simone of WomenCentric about growth strategies on any budget. Lots of small business owners are feeling the heat of the economy, but many are allowing themselves to wallow in it instead of getting creatively strategic.
Creatively strategic? What the heck is that?
Well, simply put, you have to improvise and be ready to shift on a moment’s notice. There’s a common misconception that you must be well funded in order to grow your company. As Pattie and I proved on the show, that simply isn’t true. Now I’m not going to lie to you. Money does help. However, if you wait on it to determine your next move for your business, you miss the boat and probably find yourself sinking fast.
Believe it or not, there are plenty of ways you can grow your business on any budget. Yes, any budget at all…including a zero budget. No, I’m not talking about stalking and spamming everyone in existence on social media. I swear I don’t know why these so-called fake gurus keep telling folks that their customers are all on Facebook. 900 million people using a platform does not translate into being your customers! What I’m talking about is taking a good look under the hood and not just a glance in the mirror. Sheer terror and fear of failure makes many small business owners desperate to try any potion, lotion or cocktail that they think will work. Instead, they should calm down, take a step back and deconstruct the business on paper and figure out where they are either bleeding money or not generating any at all.
Here are five tips that will help you grow your business. You’ll be surprised at how simple some of these tips are.
- Go virtual if possible.Many business owners, especially new CEOs, prefer that in person, face to face contact every day. For the life of me, I could never understand why. If you’ve done a good enough job in selecting the people you hire, and establishing the company culture, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not your team can deliver. If you’re a service business or even a technology business, going virtual makes perfect sense. Don’t be afraid to move back home or scale down to a Regus type office and only use the meeting space when you absolutely must meet face to face with a client. I got an office in 2011 and while it felt “official”, it was the biggest money suck of my life. I moved in right after the new year, but by the time the summer rolled around, I was barely there. My Assistant spent more time there than I did. I threw away so much money with that decision that it makes me sick some days. But I moved past it.
My home office is perfectly suited for my work. I can write out on my back deck while listening to nature. And if I need to meet people face to face, I give them three options: Skype or Google+ Hangout, I go to their office, or we meet at a mutual location.Now if you have a manufacturing or product based business, this might be tougher for you. But there are ways around it. I have some acquaintances who use dropship services and use another manufacturer. I know a few chefs who use a co-operative kitchen to prepare their foods. I also know a mechanic who decided to go mobile and invest in upgrading his van so he can bring the repair services to his clients. So there are different variations at going mobile. If you can’t go virtual, consider mobile or co-op arrangements. Either way, get rid of that expensive lease and save that money to put where you really need it.
- Learn to leverage technology. It’s no secret that I am a tech head. I love that technology has enabled me to run my business anywhere at any time. Examine what technologies (including cloud services, online fulfillment, web based platforms and apps) work for you and your team. I wrote a blog post not too long ago about my favorite business apps. You should be looking for programs in customer communication, team collaboration, sales planning, prepare payroll, conferencing, document storage, data management and recruiting. There are many cloud based services out there that keep me running and allow me to travel a lot lighter because I can access from my Android or iPad on the go.Also use social media but not how everyone is currently using it (which is a hot mess). It shouldn’t be used to blast or push message. it should be used as a communication and brand building tool, which the emphasis on communication. If used correctly, social media can help boost brand awareness and give you a larger reach into new customers you never could have reached without it. Plus it helps you save on the big advertising and marketing budgets. But again, it must be used the right way. So look at how you currently use it and STOP. Get help to understand how to leverage if necessary.
- Build REAL relationship. Yes, the dreaded “N” word. Networking is at the core of everything you do for your business. Nobody can build a business without interacting and engaging. I’m not saying to rush out and make a thousand new friends. On the contrary, the smaller your inner circle, the better. Focus on building real relationships with people who can get things done. Not people who say they can, but people who actually deliver and don’t need to brag on it. Often, small business owners are not sure how their network can help them. They assume that the more people they meet, the better their odds are at landing new clients. But the opposite is true. The more focused you are in finding the rightpeople to connect with, the better your chances are of success.So start getting in touch with people in your network and categorize them into three columns- Rain Makers, Passive Leads, and Negligible. Rain makers is self explanatory. Passive leads are people who have the ability to turn into great resources later on that you still want to keep in touch with. And negligible, well, they have no intention of getting to know or help you so cut them now.
- Create “creative compensation” models.OK hold on. I don’t mean cheap labor or interns. When you’re a startup and your company looks promising, you may luck out and find people who will believe in the company and want to work with you at a deferred compensation or for a stake or investment in your company. It’s hard in this economy with so many people out of work to find the few willing to take a chance. After all, they have bills to pay too. If you have thoroughly thought out your business, written a plan, lined up as many resources as you can, and practice lean operating principles, you may get a few willing participants. Be specific in your agreement and set milestones that must be met in order to continue the arrangements. Don’t be afraid to stipulate penalties for failure to perform. The last thing you want is someone coming in, under performing, then walking away with options to your company simply because you didn’t protect yourself.For existing company owners, don’t be afraid to barter for in-kind services. I don’t mean “I’ll trade you this old television set if you give me $5,000 worth of legal advice”. It has to be fair and equitable. Understand what the other person is offering and how you can give something of equal value in return. Get everything in writing and make sure you’re giving (and receiving) invoices with a breakdown of how the time was allocated, and write “comped” at the bottom of the invoice. This keeps things even and above board. You can also structure a fair but lucrative commission structure for your sales people. Look at their performance history when crafting the commission plan. If they are a high performance sales person, sweeten the pot by giving a little higher commission.
- Optimize your current services & products before adding new ones.It’s tempting to jump in and create a new product you think people will need. But that gamble doesn’t always pay off. It’s best to take a step back and analyze what you’ve currently got. Ask customers for feedback and suggestions on ways to improve or change each service or product. Listen to their feedback and adjust accordingly. Perhaps you’re a chef who prepares wonderful meals, but the client would like to see nutritional values, start providing that. If you’re a recruiter, consider going the extra mie and providing free salary comps to clients so they understand the value of the people they’re getting. I can go on but you get the idea.Get rid of any products or services that bring in little to no revenue. Some may argue that as long as it doesn’t require much work from you, you should opt to leave it in. I say no. It’s taking up valuable space where truly exceptional products and services should reside. Dump the duds! If after going over your other products and services you come up with additional ones that will generate revenue, add them. By the same token, experiment by focusing on a smaller number of core products or services. McDonald’s made the hamburger their focal point for years. And over time, they built on it. Take that approach of trying your core moneymakers for a while and see how it goes. Then build from there.
As you can see, many of these things you can do free or for low cost. It doesn’t always take a boatload of money to make your business run profitably. It takes creative thinking, ingenuity, listening skills, and commitment. Don’t keep your growth strategies to yourself. Get your team on board and make sure they are always aware of the plan. You need them on board to help you execute. Remember, if you’re not shifting you’re not growing.
Til next time,
Teaching you to grow in ANY economy…and I mean that!
Check out my new book No, You Can’t Pick My Brain. Or if you can’t wait, get it on Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook.
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Adrienne Graham is the Founder & CEO of Empower Me! Corporation (www.empowerme.org). She is a strategist that helps people grow their career, business or network in any economy. She is the voice behind Views from the Top Radio Show, and the creative visionary behind Empower Me! Institute and Empower Me! Magazine. Her writing and shows focus on Career Management, Networking Strategies, Entrepreneurial Success and Small Business Management. You can also find her causing a ruckus on Forbes.com.