How to grow your business when the sun is shining

Stephen Archer, Business Analyst and Director of Spring Partnerships shares his top tips for how entrepreneurs can grow their business this year.

Ignore all accepted wisdoms and assumptions about your business, the market, competitors and customers. Accepting the status quo, the paradigms and ‘the way things are done around here’ is the start of the rot that kills mature companies. Don’t be a casualty.

Speak to every customer you can and find out what they would like from you in terms of service and products. Only a deep understanding of their needs and expectations will allow you to provide true value and traction with customers. Don’t assume that you know – there will always be a significant surprise.

Dig into service levels of your business and add 25% to the quality and standards given. That’s always assuming that you are measuring standards today of course. If not start now, define the levels now and the aspired to levels with firm metrics. Change and growth will follow.

Be your own customer – ‘mystery shop’ yourself to understand how your customers are treated and how their experience could be improved. To find out how you actually respond to customers will be an eye opener – unless you don’t care …I guarantee that you will make changes as a result of doing this.

Understand at how customers want to trade with you. Frequently? By phone? On line? In today’s world this is a shifting picture, more and more want to go online for their supplies – in the business and consumer world. But be careful of going headlong down this path because online can mean ‘dead – line’ to the customer who feels disembodied and disconnected by the internet. Make other forms of contact, (mail and phone) easy to access.

Increase the value of what you offer by adding zero cost elements to the service given. Yes, they DO exist. Adding value will come quite naturally from better understanding the customers’ needs. But innovation in service can be quite inexpensive or free. It’s about how you do things as much as what you do.

Look at how you can increase online business. Online can be a great way to service smaller customers who are more expensive to serve through conventional channels and service methods. In turn this can allow you to serve customers who would not approach you because they see themselves as small buyers. Medium to large companies are growing by adding small customer service models – make this the mainstay of your business if you are an SME.

Join LinkedIn, links in the site and industry groups. This is free but gives you great connections in your industry and puts you in a peer community – this in turn helps you attract talent and communicate innovation to those looking into the industry from the outside.

Embrace Twitter. Social media will allow new audiences to access stories from even quite small businesses and allow businesses to punch above their weight and communicate brand values in an instant manner.
Maximise your team’s customer focus – top to bottom of the organisation, inside out. Most businesses suffer from a degree of customer myopia, or are blinkered to customers and painfully few businesses even have marketing people visiting customers. How can such behaviour have become the norm. Bring customers into your business and take your people out to meet them. It’s amazing what a difference it will make.

Train everyone in commercial excellence – maximum sales/quality/profit delivery. This is about doing the right thing for the customers and the business at the same time. So many view the two as mutually exclusive – madness! Being commercially proficient and profitable is all about getting everything right for all stakeholders – internal and external.

Examine very closely what your competitors do to perform well. Sounds obvious but remember the Chinese proverb about be close to your friends but closer to your enemies…Learn from your competitors and you can stay ahead of the game.

Examine why competitors fail – there are as a many lessons in failure as there are in success. Most rejoice in the slips of competitors but the lessons to be learned are far more important. It’s possible that their failure is a foretaste of a risk relating to your business. Whatever the truth – make sure that the lessons are learned and applied – fast.

Steal ideas from other industries. The world is full of gold nuggets.

Look at how to retain existing customers better. What is the churn rate? Why is the rate as it is? Is it a market norm if so what can be done to change this? What would make customers more willing to be loyal? Keeping customers is always cheaper than finding new ones.

Look at customers you have lost and work out how to recover them. There is always a customer churn rate but don’t accept that customers cannot be brought back. They can and the cost of sales to make this happen can be very low.

Create an internal demand for innovation ideas. The growing company is a restless one. Create a culture of pushing each other to perform, to evolve and develop. Everyone in a company should see themselves as supplier and customer to others. If done without blame then this is a really healthy dynamic and will create innovation.

Give your team the freedom to create a winning culture to lead is to empower. It’s the whole team that will make it happen. Let them use their expertise and insight to the full and let them create and drive improvements. Only the free culture with supportive leadership will enable change and growth.

Lead with a culture of accountability. People have roles, job descriptions and even a place in an organisation where they feel at home. They also have responsibility but with accountability there will never be the full delivery and ownership of every step that is needed to grow a business. There is some courage needed – but nothing unnatural.

Go to point 1 and go round again and again…