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Growing your business - checklist

Once your business is up and running, it's essential not to rest on your laurels. Successful business owners are always looking at ways to grow their business and maximize their profits. We've put together a guide and checklist to help you identify ways to get the most out of your business.

1. Grow your sales

  • Contact your best customers to buy more

One of the easiest ways to increase sales is to sell more to your existing customers. For example, you could try contacting every customer and offering a complementary product or service that they might need now. You could also try to determine when customers may have run out of product or need to re-order from you and contact them just before this happens.

  • Commence a contact nurturing program

Can you make more effective use of your database of customers and clients by maintaining regular contact through newsletters (physical or email), phone calls, personal visits, or attendance at conferences and trade shows? Do you advise them of special offers or tell them about any products and services they have not previously bought?

  • Develop a social media campaign

If you're not already on social media, now's the time to start. It's one of the most important marketing tools you can use and one of the cheapest (and often free).

  • Run webinars/demonstrations

By doing this, you're positioning yourself as an expert in your industry, which creates brand awareness and customer trust. It's also a great way to network among industry peers and meet potential customers.

  • Attend and exhibit at trade shows

These are important for the same reasons you'd run webinars and demonstrations, but trade shows also offer the chance to get your product to new customers and increase word-of-mouth advertising, as well as adding more to your customer database.

  • Cross-sell complementary products/services

Learn the fine art of cross-selling, which is suggesting to customers that whatever they're buying from you would be of more value if they purchased a complementary item. For example, if you're selling business attire for men, and someone buys a shirt from you, you've got an opportunity to cross-sell by encouraging them to purchase a tie as well.

2. Grow by developing new products/services

  • Research new ideas, and see if you can update current products

You're looking to identify any new products or services that a) complement those already existing and b) your customers have indicated they'd be interested in buying them from you. Any new product needs to complement what you already sell, not be a substitute. Otherwise, there is no growth in sales.

  • Check financial feasibility

It's essential to make sure there's a demand and that you can actually create the product. Diversifying into new products is a medium to high-risk growth strategy because new products and services cost time and money to source or develop.

  • Develop prototypes

You won't be able to market a new product if you don't have an example to show your customers. So invest some time and money in research and development so that your prototype makes a good impression and accurately represents what you'll be selling.

  • Test with customers

From friends and family to more formal focus groups, it's important to test your product in your target market and record and analyze the results. You'll be able to determine if the demand exists and if there are changes you could make to the product before taking it to market.

  • Protect intellectual property

The last thing you want is your brilliant idea and all the work that went into creating it nixed at the last minute because someone else beat you to the patenting, copywriting, and trademarking. Equally, you don't want to be stealing someone else's idea, so protect your IP and make sure you're not breaching anyone else's.

3. Grow by improving profits

  • Improve efficiencies

Technology's great here – there are many ways you can use it to make your processes more efficient. So review all your systems and look for ways they can be improved. The better the system, the more efficient and productive it will be. Look at your customer base. Do you have habitually late or non-paying customers? It might be time to ditch them.

  • Increase output, especially of those products that are selling well

Invest more time and money in manufacturing products that are selling well and consider increasing the time and money you spend promoting them.

  • Increase prices

Increasing prices widens your margins and raises the cash you might need for business growth. You should always be seeking to increase your prices over time to improve your profit margins and keep up with inflation. Make sure you communicate to your customers the reasons for the price increase. It's important to convince your target market that your products or services are worth the additional cost, so think about ways to justify a price increase and focus on the benefits.

  • Streamline debt collection so there's more cash coming in

Make sure you're always paid on time. If your customers owe you money, the faster you can obtain it using effective collection tactics, the better. Ideally, you want to reduce the chance of bad debts and pressure on your business's cash flow.

4. Grow your capability

  • Assess your capacity to handle expected growth

This is especially important if you need additional equipment or space. Capacity building is about working on your business's ability to do more internally – such as speeding up production or improving your systems and processes.

  • Conduct a human resource audit to identify if you need additional staff with different skills

It's worth investing in additional staff if they have the specialized knowledge and experience you need. Consider this as an option to upskilling existing staff, especially if the training involved would be too time-consuming or demanding.

  • Retrain current staff if your business's growth requires new skills

If you believe that your current staff would benefit from retraining instead of taking on new staff who already have those skills, it's a good idea to explore what training options are available. It's important to discuss retraining with your staff to ensure they'll be able to fit it into their schedules.

  • Review your technology

You're looking to determine if you need to upgrade internal systems or software. You need to ensure that the systems you must administer for your business and its sales can handle the expected growth.

  • Conduct an inventory process audit

The idea is to solve any potential bottlenecks that increased growth might cause. It's also a good way to get rid of anything in the inventory that's not needed – a great excuse for a sale.

5. Grow by updating your business model

  • Investigate if franchising your business is an option

This is a big step, but shifting to a franchise business model can generate serious growth if you can justify the demand.

  • Develop a strategic alliance to gain shared advantages

Consider entering a strategic alliance with successful distributors or complementary businesses, as you may be able to expand your business's reach and win new customers in a more cost-effective manner.

  • Open an offshore branch to get a foothold in an export market

Not only are you expanding your business overseas, but an offshore branch is an excellent advantage if you decide to start exporting.

  • Purchase a competitor

Not only will you expand your customer database, but you'll also get access to their staff and suppliers. The odds are that your competitor has unique strengths your business can benefit from. You'll be able to open up to new and diverse markets as you add more value for your customers. And, because you already know the industry, acquiring a competing business should be a safe investment if everything checks out once due diligence is complete.

6. Grow staff expertise

  • Investigate training courses your staff can attend

As your business grows, so should your staff expertise. If you're developing new products and/or services, it's important that your employees are well trained in how to use them. Aside from in-house training, look at educational institutes and their courses to determine if any of them complement your business.

  • Run in-house seminars on new technologies

If you've installed new software that your staff will need to use daily, make sure they're up to speed by training them in-house. You might want to get a specialist on the new software to conduct the training, or if you're an expert, you can do it yourself. This applies to any new technology you're introducing to your business.

  • Incentivize staff to sell more

If your employees are motivated to maximize their sales, your profit margin will be greater. There are all kinds of perks you can introduce to encourage your staff to increase their sales, such as bonuses, staff discounts, the chance to attend overseas conferences and the use of a company vehicle.

7. Grow your cash reserves

  • Free up internal cash

You're looking to avoid seeking a loan or outside investment here. Reduce the number of withdrawals you're making, or look at leasing equipment only when needed instead of buying it. You'll be better off if you can achieve growth without borrowing to do it.

  • Weigh up the risks versus rewards to assess whether you need a loan

It could be that there's no other option than to borrow money to finance your business growth, but you should carefully consider whether it's worth it in the long run.

  • Set up a crowdfunding venture

Not only is this a great way to raise funds, but you can grow your customer database and get people who are interested in your offerings to provide capital.

  • Angel investors or venture capital

If you can get either of these onboard, you can take advantage of tapping into their external expertise and using their money to grow your business and increase your cash reserves.

  • Take advantage of government or regional grants

Too often, businesses aren't aware of what support is available to aid growth.

8. Grow your IP assets

  • Grow new markets by exporting

If your product is doing well locally, it's a good idea to determine if there's a demand for it overseas. Exporting is a great way to maximize your profits and bring in new customers.

  • Maintain your competitive edge by conducting regular R&D

Successful businesses don't rest on their laurels. You should always be on the lookout for ways to add to or improve your product or service, which is where continuous research and development is important. And remember, always protect your IP if you do come up with something new.

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