Staying Ahead: tips to maintain – and grow – your business

in General, Your Business

As we begin a new year, virtually all small business owners can agree on one important point: while it can be difficult to get things started smoothly and successfully, it’s at least as challenging to sustain growth. There’s no one ideal way to generate a consistently booming customer base; because every business is different, it will likely take some creative thought, time and perhaps even a mid-course correction or two to get where you want to be. Here are several considerations that can help you get more solidly into growth mode:

Identify – and really get to know – your customer base

Even before you opened your doors, you knew (at least in theory) who your target audience would be…after all, isn’t that the core of your business plan? But now that you actually have everyday customers, you need to determine their real-world wants and needs…and understand that those can continually be subject to change.

Encourage your clientele to provide honest input – and yes, even the feedback that’s hard to hear. Create a way for customers to give online reviews and take surveys or simply make a point of talking to them one-on-one. If there are negatives (and there often might be), use them as a springboard to update or completely change products or services, if necessary. This allows a growing small business to keep up with current market trends and demand.

Know what the competition is doing

In addition to your customers, it’s important to be aware of your competitors’ activities. Be particularly attuned to how your competition positions themselves and whether there are significant differences from yours in how they are representing their products or services. Understanding the marketplace in which you compete may help you find the edge you need to grow even more quickly.

This does not, however, mean that you should adopt a “me too” strategy or fail to seek differentiation. In fact, knowing how others are positioning their business might be the opening you need to discover your own unique selling proposition.

Focus on service

“Take care of your customers and they’ll take care of you.” If that isn’t an old adage, it should be! As a business grows, the added activity can have a negative impact on the service you provide. It’s inevitable – every business will occasionally lose customers, but if it’s because you are too busy to provide them with the great service they deserve, that growth curve can change direction rapidly.

Here’s something else to remember: the results of above-average customer service extend far beyond the face-to-face contact. When you treat people well, they’re much more likely to come back, let their friends and family know about you and provide positive reviews that will bring still others to your door.

Build your best team with new hires…

Increasing your sales and customer base means growing your team – after all, you have to be sure you can meet the growing demand. And just as you need to be attentive to providing exceptional customer service, you need to be equally – if not even more – focused on the quality of the people that join your team.

Building the “best” may mean moving out of your comfort zone. Seeking out diverse voices can provide unique perspectives that challenge your own – and that’s a good thing. It can be harmful to have a staff full of people exactly like you, and potentially lead to poor internal culture and self-serving decisions. Having employees with a wide range of experience, background and skills bring new ideas to the table and broaden appeal to a wider group of consumers.

…and with skill development

While you look to add new employees, though, don’t forget to focus on your current staff’s professional development, as well. Give them opportunities to lead and collaborate, help them set goals and, if applicable, provide opportunities for them to attend seminars and training. That can build loyalty and result in a better-prepared team.

A happy, positive-thinking workforce makes retaining people much easier – and their word of mouth can certainly improve the quality of job candidates you’ll have as you grow your business.

Leverage social media

Even if you’re not an experienced social media user, don’t be too quick to write it off. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that many current – and potential – customers would be interested in what you have to share. From Facebook to LinkedIn and a myriad of platforms in between, there are sites that can be a springboard to growing your customer base.

You don’t need to post every day; the most important thing is to provide material on a consistent basis your followers and customers can come to expect. At that point, you have created a community that actively engages with your followers (here’s where the surveys and reviews come in), and lets you read comments, answer messages and build a social brand.

Once you’re comfortable with your online presence, you can branch out and experiment with social ads. It’s easier than you think and an inexpensive way to test promotions, gauge the interest of a new customer base or even run a full-fledged digital campaign.

Be a pillar of your community

Chances are, your small business receives a lot of support from people in the local community – that, in itself, is why giving back and being socially responsible should be second nature. How do you demonstrate community awareness? Sponsor or donate to local nonprofits, provide free products or services for initiatives you care about or host community events.

Socially responsible business practices are just as critical. Look for ways to reduce, renew and recycle to lessen your environmental impact. Providing employees ample paid time to volunteer locally, or purchasing when possible from local firms can also have a positive impact.

The neighborhood was likely a significant factor in deciding where you would locate your business. Being a positive force in your community is not only a way to say “thank you”, but a way to build business through your efforts.

Measure and track regularly

From the day you open your doors, measuring and tracking will be critical to long-term success. Often, product or procedural adjustments need to be made.  Without tracking and being able to objectively evaluate changes against previous benchmarks, your growth plans can easily turn into costly ventures that sink your business.

Don’t be afraid to radically alter – or even terminate – projects if the results aren’t trending the way you want. By using metrics, you can fine-tune or completely reshape things, so long as you continue to track progress and compare.

When you have found what works, don’t stop the processes that got you there. Things are always subject to change, and by objectively knowing where you stand, you will be ready to stay ahead of the curve and make the next necessary adjustments.

Never stop seeking opportunities

You saw an opportunity…and then started your business. Now, your willingness to keep searching for new possibilities will help you thrive. Every business has up and down cycles. Those who succeed are usually the ones who are unafraid to step out of their comfort zone and try new and different things to make their business stronger. Remember, though, to track and measure regularly to make sure your next move is the right one.

It’s not easy to keep a business going strong – in fact, it takes a lot of effort each day. Trying some – or all – of these tips can help you develop your own strategies to stay ahead of the pack. And remember: for everything from interest-bearing business deposit accounts to SBA or commercial real estate lending, First Internet Bank can help you imagine more in the coming year!