Is your company growing as fast as it should?
Over the years, you’ve built a reasonably profitable business; but lately, sales and profits have either increased only slightly or have remained flat. You know your business has far greater potential, but you’re not quite sure how to make it happen. To get that process going, here are 10 tips that will help you expand your business to those levels you’d hoped to achieve.
Extend your market, and your marketing
Is there a pool of prospective customers out there that isn’t aware of your highly specialized business? There are a number of ways to reach them; one of the newest and most effective ways to communicate is through social media.
Where does a prospect go to find basic information about your business? You may have relied on conventional media to satisfy marketing and advertising goals, including an ad in the Yellow Pages, local papers or industry directories. Realistically, these platforms don’t work as well as they used to, at least with certain groups of customers. More and more, today’s customer goes to the Internet to find an address, phone number or other important information about a business.
You probably already have a website for this purpose. However, social media can be used not only to complement your website, but to help build a dedicated and loyal customer base. Better yet, using social media doesn’t cost anything, except the time of you or a staff member. Even more important, social media help build permanent relationships and loyalty through two-way contact with prospects and customers. Traditional marketing communicates in one direction—outward. Social media provide a means for having a dialogue, a more effective and profitable marketing technique if used wisely.
You may not be aware of it, but chances are you already have an online reputation. Whatever condition it’s in now, getting involved in social media is one way to strengthen it. But be vigilant; users can post negative comments as well as positive, and your social media strategy should include ways to turn those questionable comments into favorable reviews.
At first, with a dozen or more social media platforms up and running, getting started may seem overwhelming. Generally, however, one or more of the big three (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) is all you need to start putting social media to work to help explode your business.
If you don’t know much about social media, it’s likely that someone in your organization does. If not, it’s worth it to hire someone, even on a temporary basis, to set up your program and teach you how to monitor it and measure results.
Ask for referrals
One of the easiest ways to expand your business costs you nothing but a little time. It’s easy to assume that satisfied customers are letting the world know what a great job you did for them, but it’s an unfortunate fact that complaints get aired more often than compliments. If you want your fair share of that gold mine of referrals, you’re going to have to go after it.
Asking for referrals is easy. After every completed job, first make sure that your customer is completely satisfied. Then ask if he or she knows anyone else who would be interested in your services, and if you can use that person as a reference for future customers. The answer is usually “yes.”
Set specific goals
In order to succeed, your goals for exploding your business should be specific. Statements such as “reduce payroll” or “improve profit” accomplish nothing in themselves. That may be your mission, but it is not your goal.
Specific goals include concrete and measurable criteria. For example, a goal to reduce payroll ratio should specify a target amount, such as reducing the ratio from 9.8 percent to 9.5 percent. A goal should also have a deadline, or deadlines. By setting a specific date for an accomplishment, such as Dec. 31, 2016, you generate a sense of urgency that helps keep this goal on the front burner.
The goals you set should be realistic and attainable. Avoid goals that are set too high to be realistic, but set them high enough to make the effort worthwhile. If it isn’t feasible, move on.
Keep goals measureable
You can’t manage it if you can’t measure it. When you’re able to measure your progress against tangible criteria, you’ll know if you’re on track to meet your target dates. By knowing where you stand at any point, you’ll know what needs to be done to keep you on track. If the goals you’ve set are measurable, you should be able to answer these questions: who, what, where, when, why and how.
Learn from your competition
Never think that you know it all. Study your top competitors to identify what they do best, and take the opportunities to learn from them. It’s rare that there won’t be at least one program or idea of theirs that you can adapt in your own business.
It’s too easy to internalize all your management efforts. When you do that, you short-change your business by ignoring the accomplishments of others that are also successful, perhaps for different reasons. Keeping a close eye on your competition is an important way to keep them from grabbing all those new prospects.
Trust your people
No one knows the intricacies of a particular job better than the person who’s doing that job every day. Most employees are eager to make a positive contribution; it’s vital to establish a culture that encourages them to offer suggestions for improvements. If you don’t already have one, consider installing a suggestion box, and start a program that will reward employees with cash or other means of recognition.
Perhaps most important, take advantage of every opportunity to recognize and thank your workers.
Keep your best employees
U.S. companies spend millions of dollars every year in pursuit of new talent in sales, marketing and technical skills. It’s usually more profitable to focus on ways to hang onto the best performers you already have. Money will always be an essential ingredient in employee satisfaction, but independent studies consistently show that other factors—such as increasing responsibilities and recognition for a job well done—can be as important, or even more important, in keeping employees motivated.
Concentrating on customer satisfaction is an essential management philosophy, but it’s important to remember that a high level of customer satisfaction is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve without a high level of employee satisfaction.
What about poor performers?
Retaining valuable employees should always be a priority; failing to take action on an unproductive or disruptive employee can be a costly mistake. Keeping a problem worker around to create more trouble makes a bad situation worse, and it’s unfair to other employees.
A single problem employee in a facility with dozens of employees can represent a serious threat to productivity and profits; in a smaller operation it can be completely disruptive, resulting in added stress on other employees who may have to take on more work, and causing dissension among those who can’t understand why this employee is still on the payroll. Once you identify a disruptive or unproductive employee, and the behavior seems unlikely to change despite your best efforts, it’s time to terminate the relationship.
Get a government contract
One good way to explode your business is by signing a government contract. It may mean buying more equipment or hiring and training more employees, but it can also mean long-term business. The process can be complicated, but the law requires that a certain percentage of all federal contract dollars be awarded to small businesses, so the opportunity is always there.
For help in applying for a government contract, work with your local Small Business Administration (SBA) and Small Business Development Center.
Contain your costs
Keep in mind that exploding your business means keeping a close eye on your bottom line. Keep operating costs under constant scrutiny. Paring payroll ratios and finding ways to reduce overhead costs are easy to spot, if not always easy to accomplish, but there are other methods. Reducing your tax bill by keeping a sharp eye on the critical difference between before-tax dollars and after-tax dollars, for example, can go a long way toward reducing costs. Meet with your accountant regularly to make sure you’re getting all the tax breaks you’ve earned.
Of all of these 10 steps, it’s often the “setting realistic and measurable goals” that stops progress before it really begins. This is one good way to get your employees more involved in your business—ask them for their ideas. But don’t stop there. Do your research before you set your goals—and before you make extensive changes to your operations—and create a business plan that lays out each step you need to take for successful growth.
William J. Lynott is a business writer based in Rydal, Pa.