At a recent trade show sponsored by the Idaho Business League, Aaron Ellsworth, a SCORE counselor and an owner, founder and manager of several successful small businesses, presented a workshop on Tips for Growing and Sustaining Your Business. Here are some key tips.
Research to grow on
Growing your business starts with research, and the questions to be asked include: what is the industry or product category; what is the size; can you build something to fit the product niche or will you need multiples; is there value in having multiple buckets and what are the trends up, down or seasonal; and what is the cost of doing business in that niche.
Your research needs to include the channels of getting to market, be they direct sales to the customer, the use of distributors/wholesalers or wholesale direct to the retailer. Observation is a powerful factor, so go to where your product is sold. Look at how it is displayed and observe how the reps and the customers respond. Observe the other noncompeting products in the mix and see which can teach you something. If possible, engage the customers.
You need to know what your competitors are offering. Examining their web-site is a first step, then evaluate every other place that their items are advertised or sold. Speak with your suppliers and your competitors suppliers. Use your network contacts to probe. Who has a competitive advantage? If it isnt you, determine how you can do it better to shift the advantage to your business. Check the prices charged by your competitors.
Depending on your industry and channel you will need to decide which marketing medium is best for you; be it Internet marketing, including social media, traditional marketing or other mediums.
Cultivate people resources; be they associations, advisors or business reps. Find noncompeting, complementary products that are sold next to, or complementing your competitor. Figure out how those noncompeting companies are successful. Make friends in the industry. Generally, business folks like to discuss the solutions and successes they have developed.
Product life cycles
The typical life cycles of businesses include introduction, growth and maturity. At that point a peak is reached, and businesses either decline or are able to implement an extension strategy. That strategy may include product improvement, new products or extended and new markets.
A starting point is an understanding of your products are they Stars, Cash Cows, Dogs or something else? Moving forward requires research, networking, perhaps partnering, user testing. The goal is to differentiate, and without differentiation your pricing will suffer and a downhill slide will begin.
Always keep your eyes on keeping the business profitable. Stay out of debt and focus on doing your best for your customers. Be open to considering an acquisition. Remember the motto of the Boy Scouts, Be prepared.
C. Norman Beckert, Idaho district director of SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, contributed to this article. firstname.lastname@example.org