If it was easy, everyone would do it. Nowhere is that old axiom more true than in the world of business. Odds are no matter what kind of business you run, eventually you’ll reach a bottleneck, financially speaking. Funds get tight. Sales plateau. Your business is running, but it’s running in place.
The good news is that this state of affairs is almost always temporary. The bad news is that if your business doesn’t move forward, it risks falling behind.
The first instinct for some business owners is to hunker down, to batten the hatches and wait out the drought. They fear that trying to grow a business when the coffers are low is too risky. That makes sense, at first glance. However, the problem with this approach is that it’s reactive, not proactive. It’s never more important to make a move than when stasis is threatening to freeze your business in place.
Business is like muscle- if it’s not moving, not growing, it becomes atrophied. When your business is stuck, there’s really only one solution: to grow your way out.
Find A Way
So how can you get your business moving? When the wheels are spinning, getting the traction you need to go forward comes down to one thing: resourcefulness. No one, not even the best businessperson, can plan for all contingencies. No business model addresses every possible obstacle. No product sells itself through thick and thin. The difference between businesses that make it and those that don’t comes down to the ability to adapt.
The ability to innovate, to meet the challenges set by unpredictable market forces with creativity and finesse, is what sees a business through the rough patches and into its successful future. Every good business has within itself the keys to its own salvation, and every good businessperson needs to have the imagination necessary to find those keys- sometimes in places they wouldn’t normally look.
Grow Your Way Out (For Offline Businesses)
Growing a business when money is tight will require different strategies depending on the type of business. Growing an offline, brick-and-mortar terrestrial business is a somewhat different challenge from that of growing an online business. With offline business, the goal is to physically get people through a literal door. That means getting creative.
The best overall strategy is to utilize one of the best resources any business can have: the loyalty of its existing customers. Your business couldn’t have gotten far enough to have you contemplating growth strategies unless it was doing something right, right? Now it’s time to cash in on some of the goodwill that’s brought you this far. It’s time to establish (or ramp up, as the case may be) your referral program.
No matter what your business sells, your regular customers know other people who want the same thing. For instance, if you run a tutorial business like a yoga studio or cooking class, almost every customer of yours has a friend or acquaintance who enjoys the same pursuit. What they may not have is a reason to go beyond a casual recommendation (“You should try this place, I really like it!”) to an active referral action (“Come with me on Tuesday. I’ll pick you up!”).
Give them a reason. Don’t be afraid to make it a good one, either. The greater the reward, the greater the incentive to bring new business your way. Resist the temptation to be overly stingy, despite the tight funds. Why not offer a free month of service for every referral that signs up? At worst, the new member’s first month cancels out the loss of the referring customer’s monthly fee, and you break even. At best, you’ve parlayed a single monthly fee into years of payments from a new customer who can in turn bring in new business of their own!
Another key strategy to grow an offline business is to do so online. In fact, every 21st century business that doesn’t have a website is leaving money on the table. A strong web presence is essential for everything from restaurants to auto shops, if only because online searches are the first thing potential customers do when seeking a product or service.The negligible cost of hosting a website is well worth the business it will bring in. Especially considering the range of hosting and design services like SquareSpace available to help, maintaining a web presence is well worth the effort.
Use your website to establish your business as the best choice. Tailor it to your target audience. Build your online presence to climb the rankings of search engines like Google, guaranteeing a steady stream of potential business. Soon enough, the business you do on the web will lead to business in person- and it will barely have cost you a thing.
Lastly, to really bring in the foot traffic, encourage customers to visit in groups- the bigger the better. Much like a referral program, offering group rates incentivizes like-minded friends to hit your business en masse. The easiest method is to offer a sliding rate scale depending on the size of the group. The more people come in together, the less each of them pays. Not only does this work according to the standard bulk-sale logic, it grows your customer base exponentially and pays off indefinitely.
Grow Your Way Out (For Online Businesses)
For an online business, the key to growing your way out of a tight spot is outreach. Like the offline business, the online business needs traffic above all in order to expand, only in this case, it’s cyber-traffic.
First, produce content- lots of it. Sheer quantity of content draws people in, and keeps them coming back for the latest. If nothing else, it gives the enthusiast a way to explore their interest, repeatedly bringing them back to you for inspiration (and eventually for purchases). Adding new content on a regular basis extends the sales pitch by keeping the long-term conversation going. The more quality content a business website offers, the more eyeballs it attracts- so keep that shark swimming.
Another great strategy for growing an online business is to team up with another, related website. Cross-promotion between your website and other relevant sites makes their audience yours, and vice versa. If you sell books, reach out to literary websites. If you sell food, reach out to food blogs. The possibilities for symbiotic relationships are endless as long as what you’re offering has value to both audiences. If necessary, incentivize partnership by offering an affiliate commission or a percentage of sales from the other site’s referrals.
Lastly, offer innovative online products. Whatever you sell, supplement it with online products of your own design. Instructional products like eBooks, video tutorials, and printable infographics cost virtually nothing to produce, yet provide a value worth paying for. An eBook doesn’t have to be long, it simply has to contain valuable information from someone (that’s you) with expertise. A video tutorial requires nothing more than an iPhone and decent lighting. The return on investment for products like these is twofold: you make the sale of the product itself, but you also build the relationship and the reputation. The former is essentially a bonus; the latter is the key to getting out of a rut.
A stalled business is frustrating, to say the least. The drive to grow is a hard thing to see denied, even temporarily. However, when money is tight, it can be an opportunity. It can foster creativity and lead to innovation. If necessity is the mother of invention, a financial tight spot can be one of the best opportunities a business will have to dig deep and discover the new strategies and approaches that will set it apart from the competition.
In your search for answers, look everywhere. Look to other markets and see how even unrelated businesses stimulate growth; you may be able to pioneer a version of it specific to your business. Look to your customer base and try to identify a need that no one else is addressing.
Above all, look inward. Look to the creative spark that turns business into an art, and turns sales into whole new outlooks.
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