8 ways to help you grow your small business
From customer loyalty programmes to cultivating your PR and online presence, get practical tips for kick-starting business growth.
Let's face it. Growing your business is hard. When you're starting out, you have to wear a lot of hats. You're the sales team. The accountant. The head of marketing. The IT department. The one who makes the tea. With so much to do, you can forget you're the chief strategist, too. But if you want to get ahead, you can't spend all your time working for your business. You also have to work on your business.
We spoke to Director of Domestic Angels, Samantha Acton, for her thoughts on how you can supercharge scaling:
1. Do your research, find what makes you different
Get to know your customers, competition and marketplace. Whether you're selling nationwide or globally, market research doesn't have to cost a fortune. The internet makes it easy to find what customers think. Search on social media to find out what people are saying about you and your competitors. For deeper insight, check out online reports, industry reviews and magazine articles. Or consider talking to a business mentor.
2. Establish an online presence
Even if you aren't an online business, the web is the first place customers go to find out about what you do. We've previously written about the right way to set up an online shop.
You could write a blog to promote your business, including content on related topics that might interest your customers. You can then share these posts on social media or send them out as a newsletter.
“Love them or hate them, websites and social media platforms are your shop windows which need regular input and updates to keep them relevant and engaging,” Samantha says.
If you don't have enough time to tweet around the clock, schedule social media posts with Buffer or Hootsuite. The most important thing to remember about social media is to be consistent, so that people remember your brand.
3. Ask customers for feedback to get to know them better
“Customer feedback will always help to improve products or services and there is always a method of capturing this information,” Samantha explains. Create a profile for your business on Google, Yelp and TrustPilot to encourage reviews.
If you're worried about complaints, create a dedicated customer help email address, so they can contact you privately. If you get negative feedback, don't be afraid to ask for more information about the complaint or ask about wider issues the customer may have experienced.
Remember: if you can resolve their problem, you'll also be resolving the problem for other customers who have experienced it too but didn't have the time or energy to complain.
4. Go cash free to save money
Banks can charge thousands to process cash payments every year. Which is a serious expense for some SMEs. Especially when cash has gone from making up six out of 10 payments to just three in 10 years. And two-thirds of UK adults now use contactless. It's no surprise then that many SMEs are going cash free. The number of people going cashless is only likely to increase and businesses need to be prepared.
“Cash free is definitely the future,” Samantha says. “Banks charge more for cash and cheque deposits plus it costs us time as business owners to make the deposit, which is further hindered by the reducing amount of banks and post offices which are accessible.”
You can make it easy for your customers to pay you using a contactless card, or even their mobile phone. Simple mobile payment options like iZettle and Square speed up sales, without the faff of having to give change. For service-based businesses, encouraging your clients to set up standing orders can save time and money.
5. Use PR alongside advertising
A Nielsen study concluded that press relations (PR) is almost 90% more effective than advertising. So if you're looking to reach new customers or get your name out there a little more, getting an endorsement from a journalist is a great place to start.
“PR is a powerful tool for underpinning and developing your business reputation,” Samantha explains. “The overriding customer process is 'know', 'like', 'trust' and then 'buy'. PR goes a long way in addressing the first 3 steps of this process and is therefore of huge importance if repeat business and customer loyalty are key to your success.”
Supply review samples of your product or service to magazines or websites your customers might like. If you've got a big announcement about your business, give some reporters a call, or email them links to your latest blog posts. Reporters are often busy, so might not reply right away. After a few days, give them a call back or send a polite reminder to jog their memory. Or, to reach a different audience, you might want to work with social media influencers.
6. Create an email list
An incredible 59% of consumers say that marketing emails influence their purchase decisions. The easiest way to gather customer email addresses is to add a prominent sign-up box to your website.
“Don't let GDPR put you off” Samantha insists, “an email list is vital so that you can communicate with your prospective and existing customers. You cannot always be certain when and how often a prospect will buy from you, keeping them connected to you may just mean they buy from you rather than someone else.”
Encourage them to join with the promise of interesting blog content, special offers or a prize. One shortcut is to buy lists of people's email addresses online. But it's questionable if this is really worth it. Many of the contacts will not be interested in your business, others will be frustrated by the unsolicited inbox invasion. This might discourage them from buying from you in the future.
7. Create a customer loyalty program
Not all of your efforts should be focused on finding new customers. Existing customers are an important revenue stream. And a loyalty program is one way to keep those people coming back more regularly, for years.
This can be as simple as a coffee shop rewarding shoppers with a free drink after every 10 purchases. Or offering them a discount for referring your services to a friend. However, the most effective way to incentivise an existing customer is to personalise loyalty rewards as much as possible. “Remembering birthdays, key life events and going that extra mile works wonders,” Samantha says.
8. Use customer personas to identify new opportunities
A customer persona or avatar is a fictional, generalised representation of your ideal shopper. “Creating an avatar for your ideal customer(s) is a great way of revealing new opportunities and strengthening your communications with your audience,” Samantha explains. “Whether you prefer to create your avatars using pictures or words, identifying their values, struggles, and aspirations, will give you valuable insights, allowing you to learn more about your customers, strengthening that all important connection.”
A deeper understanding of what potential customers may want can help better tailor your marketing to their interests, or even change what products or services you choose to offer. You might even find a niche that no one else is filling yet. A persona helps you better distinguish your business from the competition and connect more meaningfully with your target market.
When your business takes off, you'll still need insurance that keeps up with your world. Find out how to insure your small business, here.