Growing a small business is not easy. You have to manage day-to-day operations and constantly search for new ways to grow. And while you may find some useful ideas, others can turn into a dumpster fire of time and money. To save you from that, here are 10 practical tips for growing your small business, from strategic planning and optimizing your sales funnel, to leveraging social media, and more.
1. Begin With Strategic Planning
If you want to grow your small business, you need a plan. During the day-to-day grind of running a business, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. A plan is essentially a map that keeps you moving forward on the right road. Don’t rush through planning.
Take time to expand on the following when making your small business growth plan:
- Resources (networks, money, employees, information)
- Time (Hours in a day/week you/your team can dedicate)
- Competitive analysis (What are others doing? Unclosed gaps in the market?)
- Possible effectiveness (What’s worked? What hasn’t? Why? Why not?)
- Trends (Evergreen, seasonal or time-based [quarterly, annually, etc.])
2. Build an Optimized Sales Funnel
A sales funnel encompasses every part of your prospective customer’s journey, from their first impression, to becoming a lead, making a purchase, and, eventually, a loyal customer. Once you understand the sales funnel, optimize each step. This will lead to more loyal customers who buy more, increasing your sales.
Here are a few ways to streamline and optimize your sales funnel:
- Add an FAQ page to reduce repetitive requests to customer support
- Use consistent on-brand design to increase trust throughout the funnel
- Create a loyalty program; offer exclusive content
- Upsell add-on or premium products to increase your average order size
- Attract more customers by testing your marketing outreach through social media advertising, PR, etc.
3. Build Loyalty Through Email
Did you know it costs more to acquire new customers than to recapture existing ones? So, to grow your business, you need to be able to both convert new customers and retain them. And email is the fastest, easiest way to build loyalty and retain customers, because the entire process can be automated.
Here are five emails you can create and automate in an afternoon:
- Welcome emails to greet customers and introduce your brand
- Abandoned-cart emails (69.6% of all online carts are abandoned)
- Order confirmation and shipping confirmation emails
- Post-purchase emails (e.g. a thank-you note or letter from the founder)
- Upsell and retention emails (e.g., cross-sells, testimonial requests, promotional offers, etc.)
4. Establish a Consistent Online Presence
Customers don’t like receiving mixed messages or inconsistent information about a business. Whether it’s on your website, your social media pages, or PPC ads, you need to ensure all the information about your business is consistent. Here are some elements that need to be the same across the web at every touchpoint:
- Business name
- Contact information
- Your value proposition
- Description of business
- Social media pages
- Rating and review sites
- Google My Business and other business directory listings
5. Leverage Social Media to Expand Your Reach
Businesses that use social media properly experience increased trust, perceived usefulness and intention to buy from consumers, according to research published in the International Journal of Marketing Research. Billions of people use social media, which makes it a great way to reach a large audience and acquire customers for little to no cost. Here is a list of social media platforms you can use to grow your business:
But managing multiple social media accounts by yourself can be time consuming. Make the process easier by using a social media management platform. This allows you to create and schedule content in bulk, or respond to comments en masse across most social media channels. There are several social media media management tools you can use to grow your business. Check out their free and paid options to find the one that works best for your business. The top platforms include:
- Hootsuite is one of the most robust and well-known social media management tools. It allows you to monitor and manage many social networking accounts at once (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest) including even a WordPress blog. Hootsuite’s mobile apps let you manage your accounts on the go. You can get free reports on important metrics like engagement, popular posts, geographical information and more sent daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. Plans start at $29.99 a month.
- Buffer is one of the simplest social media management tools, and it is loved by many small business owners for its easy-to-use interface. It comes with graphic creation tools that allow you to create clean visuals for posts. Like Hootsuite, Buffer also offers scheduling, content recommendations and reporting and analytics functions, however, Hootsuite’s analytics are much more robust. Plans start at just $15 a month.
- Sprout Social was one of the first social media management tools to hit the market. It’s unique and useful because it can integrate with your CRM (e.g., Salesforce, HubSpot), and your customer service team via Zendesk, and offers many other popular integrations. One of the best features is its “Bots” section. You can use it to make chatbots and automate repetitive conversational tasks (like responses to common questions via your FAQ). Like Hootsuite, Sprout Social offers robust reporting. They offer a 30-day trial, no credit required. Plans start at $99 per user per month, and you can add up to five social media profiles to start.
- Iconosquare is used by Ikea, H&M and other big brands. It helps you learn what to post based on engagement and when the best times to post are. It also lets you schedule posts in advance, and respond to comments and messages on the go via their mobile app. You can download or get emailed daily, weekly, monthly or yearly XLS or PDF exports of your analytics, each packed with analytics and key performance indicators of your accounts. Another useful feature: You can use it to compare your follower growth, reach and engagement across 100 industries using their Benchmark tool. Plans start at $29.99 and they offer a 14-day free trial, no credit card required.
Although a social media presence takes time to build, it’s an excellent way to grow a small business. You can engage with customers, promote testimonials, publicity and products, or even create a community around your brand.
6. Monitor Competitors to Gain an Edge
By watching your competitors, you can gauge how you’re positioned relative to them and use that information to make future business decisions. You can learn what’s working for them on their social media channels, keep an eye on their ads, new product introductions, personnel moves and more. You can also spot gaps (and opportunities) in the market by monitoring their social comments and reviews.
7. Empower Your Employees to Go the Extra Mile
Part of growing a small business involves delegating to your team and empowering them to give their best effort. Empowered employees will multiply your growth faster than virtually anything else because they will:
- Go above and beyond
- Work more efficiently and productively
- Communicate effectively
- Deliver high-quality work
- Maintain a positive attitude
Here are a few ways you can empower your employees today:
- Ask for their input
- Give them more responsibility
- Be clear about your strategic plan, goals and gaps
- Establish an open channel of communication (e.g., Slack)
- Pay for them to attend conferences, webinars, etc. to increase their industry knowledge
- Provide growth opportunities
8. Identify New Opportunities
If you want to grow your small business, you should constantly be on the lookout for expansion ideas. Here are three ways to find business opportunities:
- What are competitors doing that you could do too? What can you emulate or do better? How can your business fill the void left by your competitors?
- Are you listening to what consumers say about you? What do your reviews, or competitors’ reviews say? What feedback is your customer support getting? Can you address those concerns with a new or improved product?
- What industry insights are available? Check out what leaders and top publications in your industry have to say. Are there new technological advances or opportunities you can take advantage of?
9. Leverage Online Resources
There’s nothing more frustrating for a small business owner than knowing what to do but lacking the resources to do it. Thankfully, you don’t have to know everything or have a bottomless bank account to get expert help. Leverage online contractors to help you get critical work done right. Here is a list of sites to find online resources:
- Fiverr is the largest freelance marketplace for digital services, from graphics and design, video and animation, music and audio, programming, writing, research and much more, all starting at just $5. All purchases have a $2 service fee if under $40, or a 5% service fee on purchases over $40. You can also purchase add-ons to customize your projects further. Fiverr is great if you already know what you need, have a short-term or one-off project, and don’t wait to sift through resumes. They offer different classifications of sellers too (e.g., “new seller,” “level one seller,” “level two seller,” “top sellers,” and “Pro sellers.”)
- Upwork has been around for over 20 years, and millions of big and small business owners post jobs on Upwork annually. Freelancers on Upwork offer over 5,000 skills across more than 70 categories of work. Upwork is great for large fixed-price projects as well as hourly ones. They offer a Work Diary to manage contracts and verify you’re paying only for hours billed. To save you time, you aren’t responsible for reporting payments on a 1099. You can also use Upwork Payroll to shift the work of withholding, taxes and providing a W-2 to your workers. Upwork is great for more long-term projects where you need to find a specialized candidate to handle work for you.
- Freelancer, like Fiverr and Upwork, allows you to post your job requests for free. Unlike Fiverr and Upwork, you can allow freelancers to bid on your project, and then sort those bids by lowest rate, best quote, or by best value based on past reviews and prices. Bidders often respond in real-time, and there is no upfront payment required, although some freelancers may request a deposit or payment, either upfront or per project milestones met. Support is available 24/7 and all payments are encrypted.
10. Reputation Management
All these tips to grow your business will be for naught if you don’t manage your reputation. It’s priceless. Negative reviews can damage your bottom line and keep you from growing. You should reply to all reviews (both positive and negative) if you can, using templates to streamline the process. You can also manage your reputation by monitoring your brand name on Google (sign up for Google Alerts), typing in your contact information in search engines, forums, and following all the major review platforms. Those include:
Our Two Cents
Growing a business is hard. But with proper planning, smart resource allocation, and a team, whether in-house or outsourced, the sky’s the limit for how much your business can grow. Not only can you scale your business, but you can save yourself a lot of time and money in the process.
Start with the simplest changes. If you’re on social media already, consider a social media management tool to free up your time to tackle the other tips listed here. If you’ve been flying blind this whole time, spend an afternoon putting your plan together so you can work smarter going forward.