For many businesses, the biggest obstacle to growth isn’t poor sales, financing or tough competition. It’s often the business itself!
So, if you find yourself operationally ill prepared to grow, what can you do about it? Here are some strategies that can help you break through some of the common barriers.
1. Watch the indicators for growth
Before you embark on any growth strategy, step back and take a look at some key business indicators to help you decide whether you are actually ready for growth. Are you successful in a current market and want to open a new location? Are you about to clinch a big sales deal? Is your sales pipeline full? Is product development success opening the door to new opportunities? Study your pipeline, conversion rates and market trends in dashboard form every day.
2. Watch the competition, but always think big picture
Underpinning any growth strategy should be a deep knowledge of where you stand against your competition. A simple SWOT analysis, reviewed quarterly, can help you determine where you fit in relation to your competitors and areas of opportunity to exploit your strengths and their weaknesses. Likewise, it will give you a good view of any threats to your growth and guide you towards developing a plan to fix or compensate for these.
Then take a look at your market—your potential customers. Do some market analysis to find out how your customers view your business and what they see in the competition that would make them buy from them instead of you.
Look for ways to differentiate yourself. How does your competition position itself in the marketplace relative to your business? How does your business, product or service contrast with theirs? Why would a customer buy from you and not them?
3. Always be recruiting talent
Setting the stage for growth has to involve superstar employees. Even if you can’t afford to right now—keep looking for talent and bring them on part-time or on a contract or hourly basis. Another option that can help guide your growth is to work with an organization like SCORE. SCORE provides free business mentoring services and can partner you with someone with business management experience to help you steer your business on a path to growth.
4. Constantly assess risk
Look ahead—what variables could occur that might compromise your growth plans? These could be supply chain issues, hiring and training problems, competitive activity, cash flow or patent infringements. Include these in your SWOT analysis, and develop a plan to prevent or manage any issues.
5. The bottom line
If there’s a common thread here, it’s the importance of being prepared. Never embark on a growth strategy without a plan. It doesn’t have to be encyclopedic, but it should contain the key elements discussed above. Break your plan down into chunks—have one strategic plan that contains your market findings and helps inform where you are and where you want to be. Then assemble smaller plans. For example, have a day-to-day operations plan, a hiring plan and a marketing plan, each of which lays out the tactics for using your business resources to accomplish your strategy.
Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a write, and marketing communications consultant who writes for U.S. Small Business Administration’s blog, where this article first appeared. Follow her on Twitter: @caronbeesley