For the past 4 weeks, we have been talking about business growth strategies. Prioritising your growth is one of the best ways to become a profitable business and to improve the chance of your business surviving in the long term. But how to grow when there is no money? Or when the money you have is strictly needed to keep your business alive? Or when you want to grow but you are still working to improve your business management skills to gain the expertise required for business growth?
In spite of any challenge you may be facing at this time, here are 15 tactics that you can use to grow your business with little or no money.
1. Be visible
If people do not know your small business exists, you cannot prosper. Make sure that whatever you are doing or selling, your name is on it so that people recognise your brand. This can be through your business cards, your marketing activities, a poster on your office wall, by being active in the community, and by reaching out to your potential customers.
2. Be active on social media
Being active on social media is a good way to be visible. It is also a good strategy to use if you want to grow your business but do not have money. Where do your customers mainly spend their time? Is it Facebook? Then be active on Facebook. Is it LinkedIn? Show your face there.
Note: this does not mean creating a page and doing nothing. If you decide to be active on Facebook, whether through a business page or your own page, make sure to “show your face” through regular posts, discounts, and updates about your business.
3. Claim your online presence
If I google your business name, will I find it on Google Maps or Google My Business? If not, this is a quick, easy and free way to increase the number of people learning about your business and increasing your sales. Also, don’t forget to check out any local online business directories in your city or country.
4. Build your reputation
There are many ways to do this. If you use Facebook, you can join business groups that are related to your line of work and establish yourself as a business leader through careful posting. Meaning you do not just promote your business, but you add value by answering questions, sharing knowledge etc. A good rule of thumb is to add value at least 5 times followed by 1 promotion.
You can also do this offline. For example, by always going above and beyond in your customer service. Or always providing a small gift for any child that enters your business. Or by joining the local business association and always having something of value to add during meetings.
5. Consistent business promotion
Sometimes I will see promotional flyers or discounts vouchers from a business where 1 time they look like A and the next time they look like B. To increase recognition of your brand and build trust with customers, make sure that your design is consistent.
Once you start promoting your small business, look for additional ways to do so. Do you use email? Put offers, promotions and news updates in your email signature, footer of letters or even on invoices. This is in addition to what you are – I hope! – already sharing on social media or through sms promotions. Do you need free, professional designs? Check out Canva. They have a Pro version, but the free version will give you more than enough possibilities to start.
6. Ask for referrals to grow your small business
Are you already asking your existing customers to bring you new customers? Never assume that your customers will share the word about your business. You need to incentivise them to do so. When you are asking your customers for referrals, you can use the following strategies to encourage them to do so:
- Offer a discount for them and the new customer if the new customer buys from you.
- Encourage them to share social media promotions.
- Create a contest where existing customers can win points if they bring new customers. They can use the points for discounts or to get certain products for free.
7. Use negative feedback to improve
Ask your customers for reviews. This can be on your website, ecommerce store or on social media. You can also use Surveymonkey to send out reviews through email. The free version will allow you to get up to 40 answers. If you get negative feedback, follow up calmly. Find out what caused the negative feedback and use that knowledge to improve your business. Don’t forget to get back to the customer and tell them how you handled their feedback. If you really want to be cool, offer them a discount code to give you one more try. If you really improved, there is a good chance that this action will turn that negative customer into one who will be singing your praises! 😊
Oh, and if they give you a positive review, don’t forget to tell them thank you!
8. Recapture former customers
This is a similar strategy to using the negative feedback. If you notice that certain customers are no longer coming to your business, try to find out why. Note: if you ask people face to face or through a 1-on-1 email, they may feel embarrassed and not answer you. Or give you excuses. If you have their email, it is better to send them a survey (which can be filled out anonymously).
If you get a negative response, follow the same strategy as for negative feedback. Understand the reason for the dissatisfaction, make improvements, tell your customer about the improvement and offer them a voucher or discount to come back to you.
If it is just that they have forgotten about you, maybe because you were not visible to them, use tactics 1 – 6 to increase your visibility for your customers.
9. Control your costs
Even if your business is growing fast, you will not see profits unless you control your costs. Pay close attention to your operational expenses. If you decrease them, you can increase your cash flow and your profitability. Try the following steps:
- Review all your costs and see if it is possible to reduce them. Maybe have tiered contracts with your suppliers or ask them to give you additional discounts.
- Review your products or services and drop those that are losing money or bringing in very low profits.
- If you hold stock, evaluate your stock and try to get rid of any old stock, if necessary by selling it at a lower price.
Note: your customers and employees are key drivers of business growth. When you cut costs, be careful that it does not negatively impact customer service or staff satisfaction.
10. Diversify your products
Adding new products or services that are related to what you are already selling is a good way to increase profits. Look for products (or services) that can also be used as up-sells. Meaning that you can package them with existing products and use them to encourage your customers to buy more from you.
For example, if you are a photographer, consider adding picture frames as a new product. It can be sold separately, but you can also offer a package – picture + frame – at a discount.
When adding new products or services, don’t forget to do your market research and also make sure that the new product (or service) is profitable!
11. Work smarter & faster
I have already talked about the basics of business growth. Making sure that your business is profitable, that you are retaining customers, and that your business is not leaking money. There are also other areas that you can work on to set your business up for success.
- Learn how to work faster. Learn skills like Excel or Word to help you work faster.
- Find out redundancies in your business. What tasks are you carrying out that repeat every month (or day or week) and take up a lot of your time? For example, if you send monthly newsletters to your customers, do you type in each and every email address? (Or copy and paste all the email addresses from a Word document or Outlook address book)? Use the free version of Mailchimp to automate this task. Do you write proposals for clients? Create a Word template with standard design, layout and text that can be edited with client specific information. Stop wasting time and start focusing on the things that bring money.
- Simplify your business. Learn how to use data for business management. Use that data to determine which products are not profitable or hard to sell. Get rid of them.
12. Delegate small business activities to grow
Even if you do not have employees, this is for you. What are the driving factors for profit in your business? Is it the marketing? Your 1-on-1 meetings with potential customers? Managing costs by negotiating well?
Study your business and find out what is bringing in money. Focus your time and energy on doing more of what brings money and start delegating the other stuff.
13. Meet new people
Okay, so COVID-19 is making this strategy challenging, but if not, meeting new people is a great way to increase the size of your business network and the number of people who know about your business. But it is not just meeting new people. You should be able to show them how what you are doing might be of benefit to them. This does not equal selling!
It means that, in any situation, you are able to explain what problem your business solves. Suppose you and your competitor both run a car repair business. The two of you are at a meeting and a stranger asks each of you, “What do you do?”. What is your response?
Maybe your competitor says: “Oh, I run a car repair service in so and so part of town.” And you say, “My business is to make sure that everybody who has problems with their car is serviced within 24 hours and will not have to return for the same repair for at least 2 weeks”. (Obviously, if you are stating something like this, it has to be true.) Imagine now if that stranger is one day looking for a car repair service or if somebody asks them to recommend a good car repair service. Which business will they remember?
14. Help people to grow your small business
Helping other people is another great way to build your reputation and to spread awareness about your brand name. This does not mean giving money. You can donate your time, you can share your knowledge for free, or you can link people to opportunities. For example, if you see a business opportunity that you cannot use, share it with somebody in your business network who may be able to make use of it.
Helping people with no money changing hands creates goodwill. That goodwill will come back to you because people will remember you. True, not everybody will do this, but it will still serve to build your network and reputation. And this, in time, will help your business grow.
15. Attend business events
This strategy is also currently challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But business events will come back. Make sure you are prepared to take advantage of the opportunity when they do.
Obviously, you can use the business event to meet new people. See tactic 13. It is also a great way to showcase your products or share your expertise. If big business players attend, try to find something that will benefit the both of you. Too often, people will step up to bigger business owners and just ask them for something. Distinguish yourself by being able to offer something that will also benefit the other business.
Is there a part of the market that they cannot reach but you can? Offer a partnership to sell or distribute each other’s products. Propose a trial period first, to prove that you are serious and capable of doing what you promise. And if they say yes, put as much effort as possible into making it a success.
Yes, it may be additional workload for you at the beginning, but it can also bring you knowledge about business management, access to bigger customers and networks, and other business opportunities.