Business planning is the process of determining your objectives, strategies, and projected actions to promote your business’s development within a given time frame. The following tips can be implemented into your planning to help grow your business and reach short term and long-term goals.
1. Build a Sales Funnel
A sales funnel is essential to build your business. It’s a route that captures potential customers and moves them from awareness through to the ultimate goal – a sale. If you diagram a sales funnel, it looks just like its name. It’s a roadmap showing the customer journey.
Those entering the top of the funnel represent the largest number - potential customers or clients. The bottom of the funnel, customers who purchase, are the smallest number. There are 6 stages of a sales funnel:
Creating a sales funnel is one of the most important things a small business owner can do to spark business growth. Unfortunately, this strategy is often overlooked. Once you have established a sales funnel, it’s crucial that you track data to get a handle on what’s working and what’s not.
Additionally, you’ll want your customer service to be on point. You don’t want to drive away potential customers by treating them poorly or not addressing issues swiftly.
2. Utilize a Customer Management System (CMS)
Customer management systems and applications (also known as CRM, or Customer Relationship Management) are used to capture, research, and analyze customer behavior, purchasing preferences, and demographics. Even the smallest businesses need some kind of customer management system.
If you have a successful customer management system in place, your bottom line can strengthen, your costs can lower, and you’ll build stronger customer loyalty. With a large selection of CMS vendors and products on the market, selecting the right one can seem overwhelming.
Visit software review site Capterra for user product reviews of the top CMS systems: Customer Management Software.
3. Perform a Competitive Analysis
Do you know who your competitors are in your marketplace? You need to have a firm grasp of the competition to stay ahead of the game. Performing a competitive analysis helps you discover details you need to move forward and is an important part of any sales and marketing plan, no matter how small your business.
A competitive analysis should include:
- Competitor product summaries
- Competitor strengths and weaknesses
- The strategies used by each competitor to achieve their objectives
- The overall market outlook
Going through the steps of a competitive analysis helps you discover the strategy used by similar businesses and if it’s working. The BigCommerce blog has a step-by-step guide here: How to Perform a Competitive Analysis in 2019. Once you’ve looked at your competitive analysis, stay updated. Set up a Google Alert for your competitors as well as for industry terms that could impact your business.
4. Put a Customer Loyalty Program in Place
Loyalty programs are simple and they work. People love to be rewarded and giving loyal customers an incentive for buying your products or services is a win-win. The more customers spend with you, the more they get back. There are several types of programs with varying degrees of difficulty to implement. Types of loyalty programs include:
- A good old-fashioned punch card is a simple and cost-effective solution. Customers bring the card and for every X number of punches, they earn a reward.
- Check in rewards offer special deals or freebies for a check in through platforms like Foursquare or Swarm.
- When a customer signs up for your email outreach, they earn a discount or a deal that’s exclusive to your email audience.
- The point program is the most common as it’s the simplest one. It’s used widely by credit card issuers and airlines. Basically, point rewards are given based on each dollar you spend—for example, one point per dollar. Points can typically be redeemed for merchandise or other deals.
5. Identify New Opportunities
Don’t get stuck in a rut. Identify opportunities that can lead to growth and increased revenue. There are 4 solid ways to identify opportunities:
- Listen to potential clients and previous leads. Focus on their wants, challenges, and frustrations with your product, service, or overall industry.
- Survey current customers. What’s working and what isn’t? You can use a simple online tool like Survey Monkey to get the answers you need. If you have a bricks and mortar location, you can simply ask in person.
- Review your competitive analysis and look for new strategies to promote your business or new products and service you can introduce.
- Look at industry trends and insights. What’s new and unique in your marketplace?
6. Create an Email List
Gabriel Gagner, Head of Direct Marketing for SmartBiz Loans, has insight into the importance of reaching your target market and the effectiveness of this strategy.
He says, “a targeted list to attract new customers really comes down to understanding your existing customers. Find out what they read, where they shop, where they eat, what they drive. Lists can target by more than demographics (marital status, income level, gender, etc.), they can also target by interest, behavior, and stage of life. You can purchase lists that will give you potential customers in your area that are pet owners with young children who like the outdoors or beer lovers that own their own homes and drive new cars. The trick is to find an audience that looks like your current customer base.”
He also cautions business owners to not get discouraged if there’s not a huge response the first time you send an email.
“Most people will need to be mailed 3 or more times before they are ready to respond, especially if they are not familiar with your product.” Note that your email must have a compelling subject line and offer valuable information to your current and potential customers.
7. Utilize Social Media
Have you established a social media presence on platforms where you current and potential customers are active? If you’ve been neglecting your social media channels, give them a refresh with good images and up-to-date product and pricing information. Start regularly posting fresh content. If you need help getting started, take a look at our article for actionable steps you can take: How to Quickly Master Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses.
Social media strategy can be cost effective. In fact, SmartBiz Loans has spoken with many of our customers who are successfully driving sales without breaking the bank. RoShamBo Baby, makers of kid-friendly sunglasses, has a Facebook page targeting parents with over 40,000 loyal followers. The creators of the Infinity Strap yoga prop report that Instagram drives 80% of the sales completely organically, without any paid advertising.
Steve Brown, the owner of Fun Bowl, a 7-acre family entertainment center, says, “Marketing today is really less costly than what I was spending on print,” he says. “In fact, 98% of what we do is social media. If I want to do something on Friday night, we can blast out an announcement for $500 and cover it. We can reach more people quickly, it’s amazing.”
8. Form Partnerships
Forming relationships with other small businesses can make a big difference. An example is a hair salon partnering with a jewelry company and displaying their products in a prominent area. In return, the jewelry company could include a one-sheet about the salon with every purchase or offer customers a discount. The benefits of a small business partnership include:
- Reaching new audiences quickly
- Building a stronger reputation
- Increase word of mouth
- Gaining more insight into alternative markets
Can your business be easily replicated? If so, franchising may be one of the best ways to rapidly expand and increase your profitability. For example, SmartBiz customer Instinct Dog Behavior & Training LLC has a very successful business in New York City. They are building out a franchise program to expand their brand and reach. The first step to franchising is to hire an attorney that has related experience. For additional steps and expert insight, review Want To Franchise Your Small Business? 8 Tips to Get Started.
10. International Expansion
Entrepreneur lists these benefits to selling internationally in their article How to Take Your Company Global:
- You can extend the sales life of existing products and services by finding new markets to sell them in.
- You can reduce your dependence on the markets you have developed in the United States.
- If your business is plagued by destabilizing fluctuations in your markets due to seasonal changes or demand cycles, you can even out your sales by tapping markets with different or even countercyclical fluctuations.
- You can exploit corporate technology and know-how.
- Finally, by entering the global marketplace, you'll learn how to compete against foreign companies-and even take the battle to them on their own ground.
Taking a small business global can be a complex and daunting. Make sure you have a legal professional on hand to guide you through the process.
11. Ask for Referrals
It’s a fact: referrals are the most effective and inexpensive way to generate new business. However, if you’re not a born salesman, asking for referrals can feel awkward. The best way to ask for a referral for new business is to be direct and to-the-point. Keep in mind the saying, “The worst they can say is no.”
Our blog has an article to help you implement a referral program here: 10 Ideas to Get More Customer Referrals.
12. Get to Know Your Customers
Through multiple customer touch points like surveys, events, social media, and customer service, you can build meaningful relationships that can translate to more sales and therefore growth. These routes can help you obtain valuable customer information with which you can modify your products or services to serve your existing customers. Plus, retention is far less expensive than acquisition, so targeting your existing customer base frees more revenue for additional growth initiatives.
Attending networking events is an easy way to meet other small business owners looking for inter-business partnerships. It’s also a great way to find other professionals whom you might want to recruit once adding another team member becomes vital for expansion. In both cases, the old adage that it’s all about whom you know holds true – personal connections can do wonders for your business growth.
14. Give Back to Your Community
Giving back is the right thing to do and is often quite fulfilling, and on a purely business level, it makes for great PR. That’s because potential customers are often more likely to buy from a company that clearly cares about its community. Fundraisers, volunteer shifts at local soup kitchens, and other highly visible and meaningful events both empower your neighborhood and elevate your reputation.
15. Emphasize Corporate Social Responsibility
You can give back to more than just your community. If your operations have positive ethical impacts on the whole world, you can improve the lives of all people. And just as with community involvement, corporate social responsibility can create long-term bonds with consumers. Diverting a certain portion of all your sales to nonprofit donations is a great way to achieve this goal.
16. Find What Works and Change What Doesn’t
Sales and marketing are necessary to grow your business, but they can backfire if they wind up reaching consumers unlikely to buy your products. That’s why you should regularly audit and analyze all your growth strategies to see how well they’re working. Don’t be afraid to change your approach in whatever way seems best for connecting with your target market.
17. Prioritize Professional Development
Professional development involves obtaining formal credentials related to your work, perhaps marketing certifications or special licenses. It also means going to conferences where you’ll learn and network. The more you know (and the more people you know), the more value your company brings to the table. Presenting this unique value is a great way to attract new customers.
18. Acquire or Merge With Other Businesses
When you join forces with or acquire another business, you forge a low-barrier path into that company’s markets. As such, your customer base grows substantially. In fact, mergers and acquisitions may be the single most obvious path toward rapid growth. Learn more about how to make them happen via the SmartBiz Loans guide to preparing for a merger.
19. Set Up Systems
Although jack-of-all-trades entrepreneurs are admirably versatile, nobody can truly go it alone in small business. Systems can help you handle all your needs, be they software platforms or the regular delegation of certain tasks to third-party firms. The more tasks you offload from your plate, the more you can focus directly on growth initiatives.
20. Use a to-do list
A short to-do list of key tips for how to grow a small business can help you stay on track. This list should include the following tips:
- Determine your growth goals.
- Collect and analyze growth data.
- Factor in seasonal variables.
- Decide on a growth strategy.
- Forecast your budget and working capital.
- Stay on top of your accounts payable and receivable.
- Establish a quality control system.
21. Take out small business loans
Sometimes, you just can’t fund that exciting growth initiative without extra money. An SBA loan is a great way to get that much-needed cash fast and see your short-term action result in long-term growth. You can use these loans to consolidate your debts, purchase commercial real estate, or obtain working capital. Learn more about how SBA loans make for successful businesses, then contact SmartBiz Loans for even more information. With the right loan, growth isn’t just feasible – it’s likely.