You worked your tail off to start your own business. You don't want growth to plateau after you've tasted a little bit of success. To make matters worse, there's an increasing amount of uncertainty looming on the horizon, thanks to external factors like political upheaval and industry shake-ups.
Will it be possible to grow your business during these times of uncertainty? Entrepreneurs can give themselves the best shot at fueling growth while managing uncertainty if they follow seven steps that keep both goals in mind.
1. Prepare for multiple outcomes.
Unfortunately, there isn't a crystal ball to help you predict the future because there are certain factors that are completely out of your control. This could be anything from illness to a natural disaster to a changing political system.
Instead of trying to guess what's going to happen next, place as many small bets as you can on multiple outcomes that are within your control. This can include how your customers perceive your brand, how you motivate your employees and where you can expand into untapped markets. When it comes to your products or services specifically, focus on the improvements you think the market will demand, and experiment with pricing and new marketing strategies.
Will you strike out? Sometimes. But you aren't going to hit a home run unless you swing.
2. Refine your business plan.
Take a moment to revisit your business plan. This allows you to adjust your strategies to your business's current situation so you can update your value proposition.Start by talking to your customers, researching your competitors and conducting a SWOT analysis. Once you do, update your business plan so it can guide you on the right path to achieving your goals and avoiding potholes along the path.
3. Recognize opportunity to grow.
According to the Maryland Small Business Development Center's Carey Wilson, when planning for business growth, there needs to be "a constant reassessment of all operational aspects of the business."
What are the signals telling you it's time for your business to grow? Two signals to watch for
regarding customers are: Do you have regular customers and are they asking you to grow? Having regulars shows demand for your offerings. When your regulars ask for more -- say, hosting services in addition to web design -- they've shown you the direction where you're likely to succeed.
There are business signals, too. If you have steady -- and steadily increasing -- profits, you're in a good financial spot to expand. (Calculate this by taking your business's gross income and subtracting its expenditures.) If your industry as a whole is experiencing the same thing, that's a trend indicating that growth is on the horizon for the entire segment.
4. Get quality control in order.
When you're juggling both uncertainty and growth, it's easy to lose sight of quality control. Because quality control is one of the most vital components of your business, you need to take a step back and get this under control before going any further.
While this will vary from business to business, there are a few things you can do to create consistent quality in your products or services. First, train your staff. Define what "high-quality" means in terms of your company and its offerings, and supply them with the information and equipment to do their jobs well. Periodically bring the team together to assess processes and identify room for improvement -- those who are managing the day-to-day work likely have lots of suggestions for tweaks and upgrades.
Put some hard numbers to your QC by gauging customer satisfaction using a Net Promoter Score. You can also send surveys to a representative group of customers every six months or year to get personal feedback from those on the other side of your transactions.
5. Know your numbers.
When you're dealing with uncertainty and growth, it's incredibly important that you have a firm grasp of key financial numbers and other KPIs so you can make the appropriate changes quickly. While not extensive, you should know the number of leads you have, their conversion rates, the number of transactions your team handles within a specific timeframe and the average size of those transactions. Also, sit down with your sales team daily. This will help you pinpoint the ideal balance between "leading" and "lagging" indicators.
Financially speaking, keep tabs on your expenditures, cash flow projections, profit margins and tax estimates. This reduces the number of surprise costs your business may incur. It will also help you control both costs and debts.
6. Diversify your products and services.
Let's say you operate a winery or a shoe company producing one type of product. How can you
create sustainable growth when you regularly encounter new competitors, changing customer
behaviors, market saturation or industry disruptions?
Whether you provide a product or service, it's time to think about how you can develop additional offerings to complement what you're currently selling. What target segments are you and your competitors currently neglecting? What operating model would best serve these customers while driving profit? Would you invest in an upsell strategy or introduce a second product line?
Asking these questions of yourself, your team and your customers could help you identify an additional product or service to develop and test. Staying true to your brand's message while meeting other customer needs can result in a win-win for the market.
7. Regain control of your time.
What does time management have to do with handling uncertainty and growth? Evaluating how you and your team spend your time helps you stay focused on the tasks that can actually grow your business. For example, if you spend all of your time writing content, when will you market your business or follow up with leads?
What's more, tracking your time keeps you in control. It's like weeding your garden; if you don't stay on top of the weeds, they'll eventually consume your entire garden. If time management has never been your forte, regain your valuable time by batching related tasks. When we switch back and forth, we use different parts of brains. By reducing how often our brain switches gears, we can work faster.
And, of course, entrepreneurs should automate and delegate as much as possible. For repetitive tasks, like scheduling social media posts or recurring billing, use automation so you're not spending time on these tasks manually. Delegate other tasks, like creating content or handling customer service, to your employees or outsource them so you can focus on more important tasks that will grow your business.
Managing uncertainty while striving for expansion is difficult, but it isn't impossible. By taking steps that keep both goals in mind, entrepreneurs can help their businesses -- and their employees -- grow.