Starting a business is exciting, exhilarating and exhausting, but once you hit the ground running there’s no feeling like it. Especially once you start achieving success.
Now, let’s fast forward a few years. Business is good, or maybe not as good as you’d hoped, and your numbers are plateauing. First, don’t panic. Growing revenue and acquiring new customers are some of the hardest things to do as a small to medium business.
Whether you’ve just started, or have reached a point where your business is steady but at risk of stagnating, here are eight ways to take your business to the next level.
Change is good, but innovation is better. In this rapidly changing world innovation is vital to making sure your business remains relevant, efficient and profitable.
But what is ‘innovation’ anyway? Innovation means coming up with new ways of doing things. In a business sense it generally refers to changing or updating processes, products, services and ideas to help you adapt and grow in the marketplace.
You don’t have to be inventor or revolutionary to be a good innovator – you just have to be committed to making innovative thinking and problem solving a part of your culture so that your business can constantly change and adapt to new markets.
According to business.gov.au there are six key steps toward innovation for any business:
- Conduct an analysis of the trends in the market environment, your customers’ wants and needs and your competitors.
- Consult with customers and employees for ideas on improving processes, products and services both internally and externally. Find out more about connecting with customers for ideas.
- Seek advice. Use available resources such as business advisors, grants and assistance to drive innovation in your business. This may include seeking Intellectual Property (IP) protection to commercialise your ideas. Learn more about local collaboration and international collaboration with researchers.
- Be open to new ideas and adaptive to change.
- Develop a strategic, responsive plan, which promotes innovation as a key business process across the entire business. Learn about creating an innovative business culture and developing a strategy for innovation (see business.gov.au for more).
- Train and empower your employees to think innovatively from the top down.
These days, most businesses could not survive without technology. Can you remember a time before email? The internet? Cloud-based accounting and management systems? Business technology not only improves communication in the workplace, it can be used in manufacturing, improving customer care, transportation and human resource management
From simplifying and streamlining communication between you and your customer to better managing business data and record keeping, the right technology can help level the playing field between small and large businesses by helping smaller companies compete.
Technology affects the culture, efficiency and relationships of a business and has important effects on business operations. No matter the size of your business, technology has both tangible and intangible benefits that will help you make money and produce better results for your customers.
According to Brad Turville, of BJT Financial, managing cashflow is pivotal to success, and it deserves plenty of attention and respect.
Says Turville, “Revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, but cashflow is king.”
Payments coming in and out of your business happen in different cycles, but it is possible to take control and not leave yourself exposed to running out of cash.
“Most businesses that go under are actually profitable. The problem is that due to poor financial management, they run out of cash and are forced to wind the business up,” says Turville.
One simple trick is to use 5 separate bank accounts to manage cash.
As Turville explains, “This idea comes from a book titled Profit First by Mike Michalwicz. One account is the “main account” which receives all the income and four separate bucket accounts: profit, owners pay, tax and operating expenses. I recommend twice monthly, say on the 15th and the 30th, you review the GROSS income that has been received into the main account and apportion it using set %’s into the four bucket accounts.”
Turville also recommends having an annual cashflow forecast in place so that you’re not flying blind.
“I recommend all our business clients undertake cashflow planning as the cornerstone of good financial management. It goes a long way to taking the anxiety out of your finances and helping you feel in control of your company’s ongoing financial wellbeing,” he says.
As a business grows, its reporting needs change and become more sophisticated. Basic accountant reports generated at the end of the year may not be suitable for a growing business, and they won’t be useful or appropriate decision making tools. What’s required are reports better designed to provide a full picture of your businesses’ performance, strengths and weaknesses.
Turville says that the ideal reports are generally formatted to show the management team the important numbers, charts and metrics they require to get a quick snapshot of the business, what’s going good, what’s going bad, and make decisions to best direct the business.
According to Turville, management reports should include revenue, forecasted sales, stock holdings or billable hours, accounts payable and receivable and profit.
“I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had a board meeting with a client and pointed out where they are spending excessive amounts, where their cash is leaking and how to fix it, that their gross profit has nose-dived, that they are performing really well in an area they are totally ignoring, that their tax exposure this year is forecast double versus last year, the list goes on,” he says.
HR may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about growing your business, but its significance can’t be overstated. A good HR department / person not only chooses the right people for the right posts, they also cultivate the healthy organisational atmosphere of the company and help to maintain and direct every living resource of the company.
Where the role of Human Resources used to primarily be service, these days it’s much more strategic. HR can use data analytics to ask and answer strategic questions about the future of your organisation, giving you important information on outsourcing, cost management etc. that can help control costs and direct growth.
Ensuring your HR department knows where the business is heading is also vital in ensuring they do the best job possible when recruiting and training employees. In the past, most companies used to hire and train their employees according to what skills were needed in that moment, but the far more economical, practical and future-proof approach is to ensure HR have a good anticipation about future growth so they can invest time and training on existing employees beforehand to ensure your workforce is as prepared as possible for any changes.
According to Price Waterhouse Coopers, 73%* of all people cite customer experience as an important factor in their purchasing decisions, only falling behind price and product quality.
In fact, customers are willing to spend more and share more information with companies they believe provide good customer experiences – and they’re more loyal to these companies.
So how can you ensure you are providing the best customer experience possible?
Some things never go out of style. Customers still want speed and convenience and they expect helpful and friendly employees. The Price Waterhouse Coopers survey indicated that more than 70% of customers find these basic customer services non-negotiable. That’s not to say they don’t like unique and cutting-edge experiences or interesting design and cool technology – they do. But they don’t put these things ahead of good old-fashioned service.
Customers are smarter than ever, and expect more than ever before. Even if you’re providing good experiences for your customers they are comparing you to ‘superstars’ like Amazon and Apple, who keep raising the bar in terms of customer experience. Your competition is no longer just your direct competition – it’s everyone who provides great customer experiences.
Personalisation can make good customer experience great. The right data can help you track what your customers like and dislike, allowing you to make more relevant suggestions to them so you can add value for a better customer experience. The right system can help provide a great experience – without being creepy or intrusive.
Strike a balance between digital and human. Data, AI, chatbots and social customer care are all becoming non-negotiables these days – and they can free up good people from mundane task so they can provide more high level customer support. BUT the best companies know there must be a balance between digital and human. Because, sometimes, all your customers want is to talk to a person.
* Source: https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/consulting/library/consumer-intelligence-series/future-of-customer-experience.html?WT.mc_id=CT11-PL1000-DM2-TR2-LS4-ND30-TTA5-CN_FutureofCXIEO-14&eq=infeditorial_hyken
Marketing and Sales
Many organisations incorrectly see marketing as an expense rather than the department that can help grow a company to the next level. But marketing is vital to building a company’s image, introducing new products, feeding the sales funnel, promoting loyalty and helping you stand out from your competitors.
On a base level, marketing attracts customers and educates them about your product or service.
Sure, you need to have a good product or service but if people don’t know about them then how can you generate sales?
SMEs need to create fresh and inviting content to draw customers in and lead them to a purchase. Marketing helps sales and sales help your business – what more could you ask for?
And marketing is not as expensive as you might think. Modern marketing is less expensive than ever before. Social media platforms, digital advertising and email campaigns have made reaching out to consumers much more affordable and helped to level the playing field for small to medium businesses versus bigger rivals. It also allows you to maintain long-lasting and ever-present relationships with your audience, which promotes loyalty and can help your business flourish.
Marketing is an important strategy to ensure your business is always growing. While your current customers should always be your main priority, marketing efforts can help you expand this base. Little efforts like social media posts and email campaigns can not only engage existing consumers but spread the word to new potential customers. In essence, marketing secures your business’s future through new and old customer engagement.
Having sales teams out on the road is good for business, and the importance of building relationships with a prospective or existing customer cannot be overstated. It’s face time – particularly over a meal or drink - that breeds familiarity, promotes understanding, builds trust and ultimately closes the deal.
Some larger businesses may also need to visit or spend time in overseas offices, and whilst services like Skype and Zoom have made keeping in touch over long distances easier than ever before, there is sometimes no replacement for meeting in person.
However, it’s important to spend your business travel budgets wisely, and be held accountable for spend to prove the investment worthwhile.
A good Travel Management Company can help you manage corporate travel budgets while also providing duty of care and travel support.
The right Travel Management Company should boast:
- No fine print or hidden fees.
- Around the clock support.
- Advanced reporting and analysis of your travel program spend.
- Help to create your personalised corporate travel policy
- Duty of care support in the event of an emergency.
- Negotiated air, hotel, and car rental contracts.
- All traveller itineraries, profiles, and documents.
More than that, however, a good Travel Management Company will work with you to become a trusted partner in your business, helping you manage not just your travel but your business growth.
More Top Tips to Grow
Turville offers these final top ideas to consider if growth is on your mind:
- Lead Gen: increase your leads and you’ll increase revenue
- Retention: dial up your customer service to ensure clients don’t look elsewhere
- Conversion Rate: track your leads and turn prospects into customers
- Volume: offer more products or services, and sell them more often
- Pricing: can you increase your pricing? When was the last time you did?
- Cost Of Sales: are there areas you can negotiate a better deal?
- Operating Expenses: where can you make savings in your overheads or fixed costs?
Good to Grow
Growing a business can have many challenges, but it can be equally exhilarating and rewarding. Business intelligence is essential, and finding the time to prioritise the best growth strategies for you should be top of your list.
The ideas outlined in this article are by no means an exhaustive list, as there are also many other factors to consider such as leadership, KPIs, training, commercial acumen and so on. But possibly the most important advice for any growing business is to surround yourself with good advisors and experts in business strategy. Do that, and you’ll be good to grow.