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11 tips for growing a successful small business

How do you turn your successful small business into a successful medium or large business? It’s a big question and there isn’t one straightforward answer.

Rather, there are many answers, from making sure you have tough IT systems and dipping deeper into your web analytics to throwing a party for your people regularly. To feed your desire for growth or expansion, here are some tips to fuel your thinking.

1. Put robust systems in place

Behind every successful enterprise is an IT framework that’s holding everything together. If you rely on e-commerce, you should be working with a platform that will never (or hardly ever) let you down. If a CDP (customer data platform) is vital for marketing and repeat sales, make sure you’re working with a platform that drives a better customer experience. When your business is powered by great systems, which might well be cloud-based, you’ll be better prepared for the multi-layered demands of growth.

2. Dig into your analytics

Do you really understand how well your website is working? As a business owner with a website and social media pages, you can employ free or freemium tools to gain insights on your customers.

Find a trusted expert to give you the lowdown on your website traffic data and draw up a list of improvements to knock off, one at a time. As The Economist recently said, “the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.”

Google Analytics can show you bounce rate, pages visited, average time on site and where your visitors are coming from, which will shine a light on your marketing efforts. Unbounce is another analytics tool that can help if you need to optimise landing pages and increase conversions.

3. Make your home page work harder

The home page of your website is a powerful tool for converting interest into enquiries. If it’s light on content or hard to understand, you’re potentially losing sales leads every day. Tandberg, a video conference company that’s now part of Cisco, proved this contention by tweaking their home page copy and images, and including a strong call to action. Within a month they had increased enquiries from the page by 50%.

View your home page as ‘work in progress’. You should always be looking for ways to make it more effective and compelling. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about how your products or services could benefit your potential customers.

4. Blog your heart out

As a business owner, you need to get over being shy about your knowledge. All the great stuff that’s between your ears can be harnessed and turned into blogs. Not only will they attract more people to your website, especially if you base each blog around a long-tail keyword, but they’ll show visitors that you really know your stuff.

This same idea can apply to other employees with specialised knowledge. It’s likely they’ll feel great about having a presence on your website and it demonstrates the value of your team to would-be customers.

If you can’t write yourself or you barely have time to string two words together, build a relationship with a local copywriter. A brain dump over the phone or a chat over coffee every couple of weeks is all that it takes to get your blog going. Always put pictures or diagrams with your blog posts if you can. It makes them more readable.

Almost Eighty-seven percent of shoppers now begin their hunt in digital channels, so good blog posts can quickly raise your profile and bring a new stream of customers your way. Ideally posts should be evergreen, so that you don’t worry about them going out of date.

5. Build a strong company culture

Being a wonderful employer is always a better strategy that the opposite. When your employees feel appreciated and well-rewarded, they work harder to help you achieve your goals. Share your dreams with them and regularly celebrate successes, even if they’re small. Keeping your best people will always be cheaper than replacing them. According to a study, 71% of employees are searching for a new job. Try to make sure they’re not your people! If you’re looking for an employee benefits scheme that won’t cost a bundle, try a locally-based programme like n3.

5. Plan for growth

There’s an adage that goes ‘it you fail to plan, you plan to fail’, so don’t be one of those non-planners! Growth very rarely happens by accident; it happens because you make it happen. Online marketing has simplified the task of finding new customers. You can do simple things, like encouraging happy customers to leave online reviews on Trademe and Google. And you can do more complicated things, like getting automated email marketing up and running. If you really want to grow, come up with marketing ideas, try them out and measure the effect. Then make some improvements and go again.

6. Stop thinking small

When you need to replace something for your business, invest in new systems or buy new equipment, ensure the decision process considers the big plan. In other words, don’t go cheap and nasty. While it will certainly cost you more to buy a scalable or quality solution, it could save a lot of frustration (and money) in the long term. Start acting like a bigger business today, so that you don’t grow out of your assets tomorrow.

7. Think about disaster recovery

Small businesses seldom have a disaster recovery plan in place, so when things go wrong they’re looking at days of downtime (which is not compatible with growing and expanding your business). To prevent disasters from denting your business productivity, make a list of all the worst-case scenarios you can think of, from electricity failure to motherboard melt downs. Then come up with workable solutions for every one of these possibilities. You can involve your team in this process, because they’re bound to have some great ideas. If you’re a one-man-band kind of business, call on associates to help you solve disasters before they happen. It's also worth making sure you have the necessary level of business insurance.

8. Be a thoughtful risk taker

Risk is a natural part of business life, but you’re more likely to survive if you think hard about the risks you take. Maybe conflict of interest means you need to drop a long-term client to pick up a much bigger client in the same category. Before you make the move, be certain the bigger client won’t fizzle out after a couple of weeks. Or maybe you need to take out a bank loan to order extra stock, because demand is exceeding supply. Check that the increased demand isn’t just a blip before you borrow the money and hit ‘confirm’ on the order. By proactively identifying when it’s good to take a risk, you can decrease the chances of it coming back to bite you.

9. Stay focused on your core strengths

To quote another old adage, ‘stick to your knitting’, which means keep doing what you’re good at. If your business is going from strength to strength because of your specialist knowledge in a particular area, make that your platform for growth. Trying to grow by diversifying into business areas that you’re not so great at may not be successful, unless you’re prepared to invest time and money into training.

If you’ve never really thought about what your core strengths are, have a workshop session - with yourself, if you’re in business alone or with your team if you have employees. Consciously thinking about why your business is successful will help a plan for growth to naturally crystallise.

10. Be smart about money

If you use Xero, check in daily to reconcile income and outgo. As a business owner, you should always have your eye on the bottom line. Use reports to see how you’re doing compared to the same time last year, keep a close eye on slow payers (you are not their bank!) and remember the big expenses before they happen (prov tax, terminal tax, GST, stock payments etc).

If you have money sitting around in accounts that offer minimal interest, consider directing lump sums into term deposits. It’s quite normal to have an investment-type account linked to your business, so that money that’s not needed is earning something.

For more insight into the financial life of your business, you might find it beneficial to have a closer relationship with your accountant, who will have a deeper understanding of the numbers.

11. Get inspired by experts at Icehouse

Growing or expanding your small business won’t feel nearly so scary if you have a mentor or coach. The Icehouse makes it easy to find someone who’s right for your industry and ambitions. You’ll also find useful programmes and workshops through the Icehouse, as well as the possibility of business funding. If you’ve been working from home and want more contact with other entrepreneurs, check out co-working spaces in your city.