You constantly wonder if you will have enough income, where your next customer will come from, or if your competition will undercut you. You ask yourself: what if I’m missing some crucial decision that will make everything blow up my face?
Becoming an entrepreneur comes with a huge list of fears that you often feel ill-equipped to tackle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your dreams. You just need a good growth strategy and some help.
There are so many factors involved in sustaining a business that it can become overwhelming. Before long, you get caught up in the details of just working IN the business day to day and forget to focus on working ON the business, which is the true path to success. If you do set aside time to work on business growth, you often don’t know where to start or where the best place would be to focus your efforts.
First things first
The best way to begin business growth is to first evaluate where you think the strongest and weakest areas are of your business.
It is best to undertake this analysis with a qualified professional adviser who can walk you through the process and offer an outside perspective that you will benefit greatly from. Then you can systematically work through the weakest areas first, making adjustments and decisions where necessary.
It is best not to try to change too many areas at once, as it can be hard to tell what has made the most impact when too many things are adjusted at the same time. Once the weakest 2 or 3 areas are tackled and producing positive results, then you can move up to the next 2 or 3 that you evaluated above the weakest ones, and so on, until you have evaluated all the possible growth areas of your business.
Typically, by the time you have worked your way all the way through to what you evaluated as your best areas, it will be time to revisit some of the other areas to make additional adjustments or new decisions. It is an ongoing process of growth, not just a one time project.
If you truly want your business to thrive, you will set aside regular time for continuous reevaluation of all areas to make sure that you are always innovating and making sure that no part of your business is left unattended.
So what are the areas that need to be evaluated? In my research and experience working with advising clients over the years, I have seen many different items come up, but they do tend to fall under 20 general topics that cover nearly every business situation that you come up against when it comes to business growth.
Ask yourself the questions below to find out where your weaknesses lie. More information about each topic will be published over the next several weeks, so keep checking back for in-depth details on your problem areas.
- Business Idea: Why did you start your own business? What is your vision for the company? Do you have a clear purpose and mission? Are you passionate about solving the problem your business idea was designed to fix?
- Product Portfolio: Do you sell a wide enough range of goods and/or services? Does your range of products need to be narrower? How do you add more value to your existing products? What is your process for product development?
- Revenue Model: Are the products you have generating income? What other models can you use to generate revenue? Is your pricing correct for your products? Are the payment and discount options you offer appropriate?
- Customer Portfolio: Who is your ideal customer? Are you spending your time on the right customers? Do you service a wide variety of customers or a narrow niche? Do your products translate well to different customer segments? Are you developing a pipeline of future customers?
- Market Position: How is your business unique in the market? Who is your biggest competition? How are you perceived against your competition and among your colleagues? What information about the market is important to your business? What changes in the market could help or hurt your business?
- Ownership & Advisers: Who has an ownership stake in the business? Are the management duties distributed evenly among the owners? How could additional owners/investors help or hurt your business? Who do you go to for support on important decisions?
- Employees: What is the cost vs benefit of hiring employees? What are the job descriptions of the positions in your business? What does the organizational chart of your business look like? Who is your ideal employee?
- Partnerships: What strategic business alliances could you offer or benefit from? Are you getting the best deals from your suppliers? Are there aspects of your business you could effectively outsource? What projects could you collaborate with others on?
- Business Processes: Are your key workflows documented? How could you improve the processes within your business? Is the customer’s experience consistent for every sale? Are productivity and efficiency demonstrated as strong values of your business?
- Legal Issues: Do you have all the necessary legal documents in place for your business? Are you in compliance with regulatory authorities? Does your business have specialized legal requirements for your industry? Are your contracts negotiated properly? Do you have intellectual property that needs to be properly protected?
- Networking: Do you regularly participate in networking events? How do you introduce your business to new people? Do you ask people in your network to refer others to your business? Do you have a plan to follow up with potential customers that you meet? What events could you plan to reach out to potential customers?
- Marketing: How do you advertise for your products? What is your return on investment for your marketing campaigns? What is your cost to acquire a new customer? How do you find out what your potential customers want?
- Sales: How many qualified leads does it take to get a sale? What does your sales funnel look like? How much time do you spend focusing on your sales process? What are the most common sales objections for your product and how do you overcome them?
- Media Communication: What types of free media coverage can you take advantage of? What is your social media presence? What other types of online presence do you have? Can you create content that will interest people in your products?
- Branding: What is the brand identity for your business? How do you create and maintain credibility for your brand? What have other brands done who are successful in your niche? Are there industry certifications that will improve perception of your brand?
- Financials: How are financial transactions tracked within your business? Do you understand your business financial statements? Do you have a budget? How is your cash flow managed? Are your taxes properly planned for?
- Funding: How do you acquire funding for larger or unexpected expenses? What is the cost vs benefit of financing a purchase? How is your relationship with your bank? Does your business have good credit? Do you have enough financial flexibility for the future?
- Production: What does your production/project process look like? How efficient is your production in time and materials? Is your inventory too high or too low for customer demand? What are the logistical difficulties you face? How is customer satisfaction measured?
- IT Systems: How does your current IT system help or hurt your business? What is the cost vs benefit of investing in upgraded IT systems? Are there industry specific systems that will perform better than generic systems? What processes could be streamlined using IT systems?
- Facilities: Are your facilities and equipment sufficient for the needs of your business? Is the location for your base of operations ideal for your business? What expansions would be necessary for your production to increase? What is the cost vs benefit of investing in upgraded facilities?
Three more questions
As you can see, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered in order to get a full picture of where your business can focus on growth.
Each of the areas mentioned should also be evaluated based on three other criteria:
- What have you learned about this area in the past?
- How are you maintaining control over this area now?
- What is your strategy in this area for the future?
Taking a look at the growth implications from a time-based standpoint can help ensure that you aren’t missing critical opportunities. We often forget, or fail to acknowledge, what we have been taught by the past. We assume internal controls will take care of themselves in the present. We take for granted that strategies we put in place will have the desired effect on the future.
In reality, we can’t be sure of any of these things, so we need to constantly be looking for growth opportunities and focus on continual, if incremental, improvement.
Feeling overwhelmed? You should be, improving a business is hard work. But you have to start somewhere.
There are hundreds of decisions to be made, and this list just scratches the surface of the real analysis that needs to take place in order to truly be a success. Focus on your top 2 or 3 weaknesses so you can start to see progress right away.
Remember to stay tuned for a deeper dive into each one of these areas along with examples of how to (or how NOT to) make it work. And as always, be sure to consult a trusted adviser to help you through this process much more efficiently.
What 2 focus areas does your business need the most work on? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook!