Unless you are quite happy just ticking over, it is likely that you will be looking for ways to develop and grow your business. These 10 steps can set you off in the right direction
- Review your business plan - Regular assessment of your business plan enables you to measure your progress and test your development strategy. Are you achieving your goals? Are you using your strengths to make the most of your opportunities? Reconsider where you want to be this time next year and decide how you'll get there. If you have employees, involve them. Set new objectives and growth strategies, if necessary.
- Refresh your offer - Are your products/services still as attractive as they were? How could you enhance them? Perhaps your competitors are leaving you behind. Conduct fresh market research. It doesn't have to be expensive or complex. Simply chatting to customers can reveal much valuable information. It might also be time to reassess your prices. Maybe you could even put them up.
- Maintain healthy cash flow - Solid finances underpin healthy growth, so examine your cash flow projections for the year ahead. Are there any potential problems that could hinder your ambitions or threaten your survival. You need measures in place to cope with any likely cash flow problems. If you haven't done any cash flow projections – why?
- Earn more from existing sales - Try to sell more to existing customers: it's cheaper and easier than selling to new ones. Could you extend your product range or sell bundled goods. Your customers buy from you because they recognise the value you provide, so the hard work is already done. Ask them how your business could better meet their needs. Add value to the relationship. Always try to 'upsell' – but subtly is advised.
- Target new customers - Sounds obvious, right? But too many businesses rely too heavily on a few loyal customers, which is dangerous. The more punters, the less the risk. Each year, some of your customers will drop off. Think about which new customers you should target and how. Set monthly new sales targets and track your progress. Learn which marketing methods work and those that don't. Tactics such as introductory offers can help to attract new customers, but ensuring they remain loyal is a massive challenge.
- Open up new channels - Most businesses focus on one or two sales channels, but using others could make all the difference. You could start selling online, if you're not already. Figures from the Centre of Retail Research and Retailmenot showed that UK consumers spent £44.97bn online in 2014 – a year-on-year growth of 15.8%. Using online methods could enable you to reach consumers in other areas of the UK or start selling to overseas customers. Maybe you could turn your business into a franchise or licence your products to other businesses.
- Promote yourself online - Even if you can't sell online, you can still market your business online. Make sure your website represents your business effectively. If not, think about getting a new one done. Social media marketing is one of the best ways to promote many businesses. Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites could help you to attract, engage with and retain customers.
- Reinvigorate your outlook - Even the most committed business owner can become jaded. Step back and pause for thought. Try to build new relationships with people who can refresh your thinking and maybe even provide new commercial opportunities. Online and offline networks are a great way to meet new people and share knowledge, but you've got to give to get.
- Bring in new people - Times are tough, so your business might not be able to recruit. But if you can, bringing in new faces could breathe new life into your firm. Pick the right people and they can bring fresh ideas which could make yours a much more efficient and profitable business.
- Consider external know-how and investment - Taking a business onto the next level can be impossible if you lack experience, knowledge or money. A mentor might be able to help. A consultant might be able to manage a particular business requirement (eg marketing). Much will depend on the nature of your business, its potential and your willingness to relinquish control and ownership, but often attracting external investment, for example, from a business angel or private equity investor, could be the best way forward.
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