According to Keap’s recent study, Small Business Growth Trends, small business leaders are still seeing opportunity and feeling optimism despite economic challenges faced over the last few years. While 65% of small businesses surveyed report being profitable in 2022, more than 31% of businesses with five or more employees expect to grow soon.
Clearly, many small business leaders see reason for hope out there.
Regardless of the current size of your business, it's still best to plan and structure so that you’re ready for the future. When it comes to growing a small business, a little proactivity will pay off in the long run.
Here are 16 tips that can keep your small business on track with your growth plans:
1. Invest in systems
You’re a badass at this whole business ownership thing. We already know that. But if you’re trying to do everything on your own, you might be limiting yourself for potential growth.
A business powered by sales and marketing automation is one that can handle the multi-layered demands of expansion. A solid CRM can help you focus on the important parts of growth, like improving customer relationships and revolutionizing your entire customer lifecycle. Review your current operations to see what tasks are time-sucks and make it your goal to automate or outsource as much as possible, so you can remain focused on small business growth.
2. Improve your homepage
In addition to improving SEO and making signing up or purchasing easy, make sure your homepage looks as polished as possible.
Consider this: Only 1.62% of of ecommerce website visits result in a purchase. If your site is cluttered or hard to navigate, your potential customers will go elsewhere. If the web copy is bad or doesn’t show the value of your product, they’ll be turned off. Sometimes, a simple change can boost revenue tremendously.
But how do you know if a change will work? We suggest the combination of keyword optimization and A/B testing. This combination will allow you to find the messaging and experiences that resonate with your customers.
3. Focus on analytics
The big data analytics market reached $274.3 billion in worldwide revenue during 2022. Clearly, many companies, especially tech giants like Facebook and Amazon, realize the value of utilizing data — and you should too.
As author Chris Lynch said: “Big data is at the foundation of all of the megatrends that are happening today, from social to mobile to the cloud to gaming.”
The good news is that data can serve your small business too. While your small business can’t spend billions of dollars in data research (though some companies are), you can employ free or freemium tools to gain customer insights.
For instance, Google Analytics shows bounce rate, page visits, average time on site and how your audience is arriving at your website, which can show you where to focus your marketing efforts. Unbounce is another analytics tool worth considering, especially for figuring out how to optimize landing pages and increase conversions.
4. Make your content marketing shine
If you’re looking to drive more traffic to your website and become a thought leader in your industry, consider beefing up your blog. When you consider that 81 percent of shoppers conduct research online, good blog posts can bring your business a lot of value over time. Potential customers will naturally find your site once your blog has an established online presence, so make sure the bulk of the content is evergreen. These posts will only require periodic updating, bringing you better value for your investment.
With every blog post, add in pictures, links to other relevant blog posts, and information about your company. Interact with customers — and respond to their needs and questions. This will improve your brand image.
What’s most beneficial about social media and digital advertising is that you can leverage ratings and reviews. In fact, 93% of people online have made buying decisions based on an online review. If one customer says something positive, it will get the attention of people in their network as well, creating a word-of-mouth effect that could grow your business.
5. Make a plan to grow your business
From email marketing campaigns to optimizing your website for mobile to encouraging online reviews — there are many ways to grow your business. The key is first having a plan that you can execute. Unfortunately, nearly half of businesses are doing digital marketing with no clear strategy. Once you have an idea of what you want to do, don’t blindly stick to it.
As Matt Rissell, CEO of TSheets, says: “The best way to grow your small business is to never become complacent and always be testing. Identify your customers’ needs, test your hypothesis, iterate and test again.”
6. Focus on scalability
When money, time and expertise are in short supply, it can be tempting to go with the quick or cheap fix. Meanwhile investing in some basic solutions that don’t require a huge financial investment or learning curve can seem wise.
However, things are not always what they seem.
In many cases, that dream solution may be a stretch and have an intimidating learning curve. You don’t want to end up in a patchwork maze of multiple inexpensive and inefficient systems that only appear economical, as they’ll end up costing you time and money in the long run.
7. Always have a backup plan
When you're a small-but-mighty business team, you're usually able to pivot quickly when things do not go as expected. As your business grows and becomes more complex, however, these quick adjustments are more difficult. Have a plan in place for emergencies or unforeseen contingencies so that you can deal with the inevitable bumps in the road.
8. Take calculated risks
A small business expansion is not without risks. To make the right decisions it will sometimes be necessary to move outside your comfort zone. After all, guillemot chicks will plunge off of cliffs with unformed wings to meet the rest of their flock, risking almost certain death if their jump goes wrong.
We're not saying you should rely only on good luck. By focusing on the end goal and proactively identifying potential roadblocks, you’ll set yourself up for success, even when your next move feels like a risk.
A great place to start is Keap's Lifecycle Automation Assessment. It helps you identify the surest of things and calculated risks that could be growth opportunities for your business.
9. Invest in staff and culture
Remember when you added that first person to your team? Whether they were an employee, intern, contractor or freelancer, it quickly became clear that having the right people in place set you up for expansion and eventual success.
That also applies to your next big growth jump. Remember that any significant expansion will come with an adjustment period for new staff and require devotion and effort from everyone, but establishing a strong culture makes the whole process a lot easier.
10. Forecast for intentional growth
Sometimes business growth takes you by surprise, sales suddenly and inexplicably increase, or an unexpected opportunity falls into your lap.
In these cases, you'll find yourself scrambling in a stressful game of catch-up. But expansion can be carefully considered and planned for. By taking a slow-and-steady approach and planning ahead for each step along the road, you’ll set your business up for successful proactive growth, instead of a stressful reactive response to an immediate need.
11. Stay focused on your core strengths
What is the one thing you bring to the table that others do not? Keep your focus on that. If you make the most amazing widgets on the planet, then do just that.
We’re sure there are many things you should/could/would do in a perfect world (where time was unlimited and sleep was not required), but what you need to do is keep making your widgets better and better and better. Hire or purchase other solutions, staff and expertise to take care of the rest.
12. Be financially savvy
Even the most successful business needs to watch the bottom line. Always leave extra padding in your budget for things that you overlooked or didn't account for in your expansion.
Even small things can derail your budget. Keep your eyes on the bigger picture and the bottom line. Ensure your investments make sense for your dreams and your bank account, and always overestimate the projected costs to ensure you don’t end up in a tight spot later on. This is crucial to keeping your income stable.
13. Don’t forget the value of annual strategic planning
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” - Benjamin Franklin
Strategic planning is the link between a great idea and true success and growth. More of a philosophy of operation than a one-time event, it requires ongoing attention to detail and time investment.
Not sure where to start? No sweat — we’ve got you covered.
Step 1: Identify the vision (purpose, mission, and core values) of your business
Business naturally breeds chaos, but your role as a leader is to set the vision to breed confidence. Your vision is the foundation of your strategic planning. At Keap we use this equation to define vision: Vision = Purpose + Mission + Core Values.
Once you define your vision, you need to create a purpose statement. Your purpose statement is “why” your company exists and is your northstar. At Keap, our purpose is “to help small businesses succeed.”
Next, comes your mission statement. It’s what you’re going to accomplish in the next three to five years and is in support of your purpose. Keap uses the acronym BHAG [Big Hairy Audacious Goal], a term coined by Jim Collins.
In order to be successful in attaining your vision and mission, you must also know your core values. They are “how” you get the work done and represent the core beliefs of your organization. Keap has seven core values that guide our culture:
- We genuinely care
- We own it
- We learn always
- We build trust
- We check ego
- We dream big
- We win together
Congrats! You now have a vision with a three-to-five-year mission and core values that guide your culture.
Step 2: Analyze past results to create context for future annual (or quarterly) priorities
After completing step one, you’ve effectively visualized the future for your team. Now it's time to co-create plans that align. Before we jump into planning mode (Step 3), however, it is crucial to reflect on the business’s past accomplishments, lessons learned, strengths, weaknesses and upcoming trends in the marketplace.
Why? Strategy is nothing more than how you leverage, capitalize and exploit available resources and core competencies to create a sustainable competitive advantage. In order to effectively begin strategy planning, your team must be in alignment with what resources and core competencies the business possesses and which are priorities to pursue.
- Accomplishments - What have you accomplished since your last planning? When you reflect on all your accomplishments, you can take confidence in what’s to come. Positive energy from this will set the tone for the rest of your planning.
- Lessons Learned - What lessons have you learned as a company? There is power in articulating lessons you’ve learned so you don’t have to learn them again.
- Strengths [Internal] - What is the company good at?
- Weaknesses [Internal] - What are the areas for improvement? Don’t think good vs bad but instead working vs not working.
- Opportunities [External] - What’s happening around you that you could take advantage of?
- Threats [External] - What’s happening around you that you may want to guard against?
- Strategic Issues - What are the most important issues to focus on that will move the needle? Take the information from the previous questions and use the following format to identify your business’ top-three-to-five strategic issues. Then ask, “How do we achieve X outcome, given Y situation or obstacle?” Example: “How do we improve our lead generation, given our low marketing budget and no clear owner?”
Step 3: Convert strategic issues into annual [or quarterly] priorities and assign owners
Now that you have your top three to five strategic issues in question formats, it’s time to convert each issue into an annual [or quarterly] priority statement and assign an owner.
Example: “Build out content marketing machine using partners to grow our marketable list to X# of email subscribers (owner’s name).”
Finally, establish a meeting rhythm to check in with priority owners on progress and challenges.
14. Focus on your branding
One of the biggest struggles small businesses face is maintaining the image that they can stay afloat, demonstrating growth and supporting that image with actual results. Having a brand that represents this is crucial for any to cement trust in their investors and customers alike.
With a combined effort of effective relationship management, networking, strategic design and marketing, it’s possible to create a cost-effective strategy to create and sustain this image.
The importance of customers shouldn’t need to be stated. However, it’s important to consider how you manage your customer lists and utilize your contacts like a well-established organization from day one.
Customer relationship management strategies should be in place before you start to build your database. Spreadsheets are not an adequate and scalable measure to store your customer data because once you get past double digits, your data is less accessible and safe.
There are many CRM platforms out there and most have inexpensive options when starting out. When selecting the right one for you, make sure you consider scaling up in the future. A solid, reliable, CRM system will help you not only serve your customers, but also manage future marketing initiatives and help with retention and growth.
If you don’t think like a business with thousands of customers when you have only a few, chances are you’ll never achieve that success.
As a small business, it’s important to use those in your ecosystem to develop bonds and get your name out there. It’s not about giving away your trade secrets to your competitors, but having a positive impression among those who exist within your market. Burning bridges is never wise, especially early on, because what you can learn from others in your spheres of influence is immeasurable.
Do your research and be a presence at industry events in your area. Attending these and becoming a familiar face will help build a profile for your organization within your market. Building a digital profile can help with networking online. LinkedIn is great for connecting with business leaders and is a good platform to have in place for further down the line when you may be interested in hiring. Don’t underestimate the power of using yourself, the business owner/representative as a sound PR technique.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of design, let’s consider what it facilitates: communication. As Neil Robinson, an in-house designer at Mason Frank International, says: “By keeping a visual consistency throughout your communication, you’re adding brand authority and strong identity. Business strategy must align with brand strategy.”
A consistency within communication can be achieved through creating a brand style guide and sticking to it. If you don’t have the skill set to create a strong visual brand, invest in hiring some talent to make your vision come to life.
For any growing organization, a strong logo is a crucial starting point. This can be applied across your website, email signature, letterhead and anywhere you have a presence. Remember to keep it consistent throughout and use a uniform color palette.
Your marketing approach is infinitely more complex than can be described here. But one thing that’s crucial for sustained growth is positioning your small business as a market leader before it actually achieves this status. One simple and cost-effective technique is to employ thought leadership.
Thought leadership practices are an effective method of promoting business. This involves becoming a trusted source of information for your field of expertise, whatever that may be. This practice will take time but ultimately can result in large audiences organically stumbling across you and your business through blogs, white papers, interviews and more.
Thought leadership is often considered an exercise for businesses far into their maturity. That being said, the sooner you begin the practice, the more your knowledge can extend your reach. In many ways, thought leadership is a form of PR that’s beneficial to you as much as those affected.
15. Avoid these growth-hacking techniques
It’s become popular to think of rapid growth as the most important metric of a business’s success. This gave rise to the growth hacker — a marketing professional whose sole aim is business growth.
When a single metric is used to represent success, incentives and behaviors can become distorted. For most businesses, growing as fast as possible isn’t the optimal strategy. Excessively rapid growth can kill a business if revenues don’t scale in line with resource consumption — a common cause of failed startups. If growth is a company’s major — or only — measure of success, other metrics, like profitability and customer satisfaction, can suffer and damage the reputation of a sustainable business.
The drive to grow at all costs manifests itself in various ways, but here are a couple of growth-hacking behaviors to avoid that may drive growth in the short-term but can result in long-term costs.
Pillaging users’ contacts
When the average user installs an application and allows it to access their contacts so it can “suggest connections,” she doesn’t expect to get angry emails from her friends complaining that the company behind the app is spamming them. Still, this is a common growth hacking technique.
Companies that put growth first hunger for email addresses, and there’s no richer source of email addresses than the contacts of users who have already shown an interest.
But if a new user gives a company privileged access to contacts, does it seem right that the company abuse that trust? Is it likely to cultivate loyalty? LinkedIn and other companies have lost high-profile and expensive lawsuits related to this issue, so we would argue against it.
The black-hat SEO industry has fallen out of favor in the last few years, so many professionals who made a living trying to trick search engines have had to rebrand. They did so by trying to fit it under the label of growth hacking, albeit with an unchanged bag of old SEO tricks.
Trying to trick Google and other search engines with link schemes, paid links, misleading information architecture and spam isn’t a good idea. You’ll be penalized sooner or later.
How? Google’s algorithm is always changing and improving — and we’ll put our money on them in an SEO game of chess.
16. Trust yourself
All the advice in the world is no substitute for your finely-honed instincts. This is your small business. These are your dreams. And there will be times where opportunities come along that fall outside of your plans and projections.
If you’ve set yourself up for success with strategic planning, scalable systems and a solid bottom line, you’ll be in a position to listen to your gut and make that leap of faith in a way that feels secure and sensible — not risky and rash.
Plus, if you want help from other entrepreneurial minds who’ve made this same journey before, take a look at Keap. With Keap’s Free Trial, you can experiment with a small business CRM and automation platform built for teams like yours.