Business owners have different ideas about business growth. You need to decide what is business growth, as far as you are concerned. Is it growing your customer base? Is it expanding your product range? Is it higher revenue? Is it higher profits? Is it a bigger share of the market? Is it hiring more people? Is it selling in more countries?
Before putting together your formal business growth plan, here are some strategies to consider for expanding your business.
When you’re running a business, it’s hard enough to keep up with everything that’s happening day to day, let alone put multiple strategies for growth into action, monitor their success or otherwise, and adapt accordingly.
A business growth plan will force you to look ahead. It is an outline for where you see your company, usually with a timeline over the next year or two, and goals for each quarter. At the end of each quarter you can see which you have met and which you haven’t.
The key reasons a business growth plan is important are: to monitor your market share and penetration (which must increase or you’ll end up making losses rather than profits); to help you recoup any early losses your company made; to minimize future risks; to give investors an outline of future growth; and to show concrete revenue plans.
As mentioned above, it’s up to you how you measure your business growth. But depending on the level of your ambition and what you want to achieve, here are some things to think about, to help you get where you want to be.
If you can pinpoint what made your current customers buy your product, you can decide what marketing strategies are working for you and what may not in the future.
It’s also vital to find out your customer pain points and challenges, so you can improve your products and processes, to increase loyalty and attract new customers.
You could do this kind of customer research by email, an online questionnaire or even some telemarketing. You can also get feedback from user reviews and by engaging with customers on social media.
And of course, tools such as Google or Adobe Analytics can help you focus your marketing efforts by giving you useful data about how your customers arrive at your website, which pages are most popular, what are the dwell times, and so on. That way, you can optimize your site accordingly.
Make sure you offer the best service you possibly can (your customer research will probably show you ways to improve it). And if a customer feels let down by your service, turn the situation around by offering a discount, for example.
Exceed expectations and you’ll find your reputation grows, through word of mouth and on social media, bringing in new customers.
Did you know it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one1? Some say even more. So losing customers – and having to replace them – will damage your bottom line and hinder your growth.
On the other hand, if you can keep your existing customers coming back to you, they’ll end up spending more with you. A customer loyalty program, which rewards your customers for spending with you, will help. Probably the best way to execute this is via email marketing – one-to-one communications are very powerful when building customer loyalty.
You could also consider introducing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, to store data about your existing and potential customers and help you identify sales opportunities.
Improving customer retention is one of the most cost-effective ways to grow your business.
Why not use your competitors to your advantage? Competitor research can be extremely useful as part of business growth planning. Look at what your competitors are doing, what works for them, and what doesn’t. Look at what their customers are saying about them in reviews, and draw insights from that.
Ronald Frasier, a successful business growth strategist, recommends using Similar Web and AdBeat platforms to research competitor sales funnels and uncover their online strategies2.
If you’re at an early stage in your business, you might be tempted to copy your competitors as a quick way to grow your business. However, to keep growing long term, you will have to define your brand against theirs.
The digital world offers huge marketing opportunities and one of the most cost-effective ways to grow your business is by reaching new customers on social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and so on.
Create a presence for your business and make sure you post content regularly on those platforms whose users match the profile of your target market. You might even consider some influencer marketing – you can find out more about influencer marketing here.
As well as marketing your business and building a relationship with your customers, some platforms now enable customers to buy products directly without leaving the app – giving you another new way to sell!
Interacting with customers on social media is also a great opportunity to research and get unfiltered, honest feedback. One thing to remember though: whatever you post on social media, keep it consistent with your brand.
For more about marketing your brand, check out our article, the six key principles of marketing.
Attending networking events can raise your business’s profile, make your brand more visible, and often lead to new customers. By networking with people in your own industry, you can also get new insights on how to grow your business, hear about emerging trends, and build long lasting professional relationships. Once you’re feeling confident, you could even offer to speak at one, raising your profile even further.
And don’t forget to build your network on social media business networking sites, chiefly LinkedIn.
Partnering with another business can help you reach new customers and is a great way to grow your business. A good example of such a partnership is Starbucks coffee shops becoming integrated into retail stores, such as Target in the USA. While Starbucks gets to sell to more customers, the retailer has the customer in-store for longer, making them more likely to buy.
Your customer research may well reveal a customer need or desire for a new product, or a new variation on a product you already offer. By offering new or different products, you can attract new customers. Consider products at different price points, too, in case price is a barrier.
Another option might be to find new ways of selling products or services you already offer, for example, bundling together some that are part of the same range.
If you’re not already selling your products cross-border, exporting them is a sure way to grow your business. And if you’re already doing so, why not think about new countries to sell to?
Of course, you could look at opening new bricks-and-mortar sales outlets abroad but, at least to start with, consider creating a country-specific webstore. Check out our article on how to grow business online.
And when it comes to shipping your goods to a new market, rapid, reliable logistics are essential. At DHL we can ensure it all happens smoothly.
There is no substitute for hard data when deciding what is working and what isn’t. So it’s good to set forecasts and targets in a business growth plan and measure against them.
For example, what are your customer retention levels before and six months after your customer loyalty program has kicked in? If the program isn’t meeting your targets, how could you refine it, so it does?
Keep monitoring and keep updating and adapting, until you find exactly what works.
Corporate and social responsibility (CSR) is a huge issue for every business right now. Many people will only work with, work for, or buy from businesses that practice good CSR. That means making changes to become a greener business, producing sustainable products and giving back to your local community.
On the other hand, if you publicize the fact that you insist on a logistics partner who uses electric vehicles for delivery, for example, or you’ve changed to sustainable packaging, or your employees are volunteering and cleaning up the local green spaces, this will all help build your brand – and create goodwill amongst current and potential customers.
There are many factors that can affect your business growth, but according to business.com3, these are the three key elements:
If you search online, you’ll find many different experts offering different views on how to write a business growth plan and what to include in it. However, here are some of the key points that most agree upon.
Set your goals according to your idea of how to measure business growth.
That could be growing your customer base, expanding your product range, bringing in more revenue, achieving higher profits, taking a bigger share of the market, hiring more people or – most likely – a combination of several of these.
Some experts encourage you to start with long-term goals (eg. 10 years), and then work backwards to decide your five-year, three-year, two-year and one-year goals. Others limit a business growth plan to one or two years. In the end, it’s up to you to decide how far you want to look ahead.
If your goal is to increase revenue, for example, what are your best ways of achieving this? They might be adding to your sales team through a recruitment campaign, or increasing your website traffic through a marketing campaign, or increasing customer retention through a customer loyalty program. Think about the tactics and tools at your disposal.
Once you’ve set your goals, and planned how to achieve them, work out some key metrics to measure your success.
Try to keep them clear, simple and quantifiable. For example, if you’re thinking long term, ‘Increase our customer base by x% within 10 years’, or shorter term, ‘Increase revenue by x% in two years’ or ‘Expand into x new countries within a year’.
Add metrics to the smaller action items too. That might be, for example, ‘Run a recruitment campaign that brings in x new staff members’ or ‘Run a customer loyalty program that increases retention by x%.
Once you’ve defined your goals, decided on a timeline, and added some metrics, you need to check whether they are all practical. Do some research within your industry and among your current and potential customers.
This will help you justify your goals to yourself, adjust them if necessary, and ensure a realistic timeline to achieve them.
Again, you’ll need to do some research to find out how much your business growth plan will cost to execute. Then you’ll need to either secure some capital investment or set aside an internal budget.
You may have chosen your preferred ways of measuring business growth, but it still makes sense to get a more rounded view. When checking your progress, consider the following six measures:
With a DHL Express Business Account, you'll have advice from the international experts on growing your SME.