Beyond the sweat equity and brain power that goes into turning an idea into a startup, there is the challenge of determining the best way to grow your business. Along the way, I've learned that there are ten steps for business growth that are easier to achieve, thanks to some free, or low-cost, tools now available
1. Create a growth roadmap: When starting out, all I could think about at first was just getting the business started and its potential. Once the pieces were in place, what was needed was a plan with specific goals in order to frame the anticipated growth. This meant deciding on what other markets to enter or if there was a need to add more product lines and when to do so. Strategic planning processes helped me to visualize the goals, connect the dots, and map out the growth design. There are many types of free software solutions, templates, and apps available - from SWOT and PESTLE templates to more detailed software packages that offer all the steps you need to get to that strategic framework, including the providing of objectives, strategic pillars, goal detail, key performance indicators and more. Two solutions to consider are Cascade and Strategy Blocks, which offer free versions of how to plan and many suggestions of possible directions and more complex solutions for deeper strategic planning.
2. Construct and manage a brand image: I started in the age of personal and company branding where others were developing a personal brand with attributes that defined who they were as business people and what they believed. I started with creating my own personal blog and building out my own domain name and then doing the same for my company brand, aligning the values and principles for additional impact. For me, this included becoming a thought leader in my area of expertise and sharing this knowledge across various publications and conferences, furthering my personal brand and linking it to my company's brand. Various tools to create and manage a brand image include BrandYourself, Hootsuite, Namyz and Social Mention.
3. Influence others rather than sell to them: Another way to grow is to create a band of believers, brand loyalists, and influencers that share your content. Today's consumers want to make their own decisions and get information rather than be forced to deal with a "car salesman" approach. If any person, nowadays, suspect you are selling or pushing, they will not stick around. Instead, you have to offer something to help them with a problem they are struggling with, or that they can help someone else with, or that they hear about from a trusted source. Not only is this tactic free, but you also have someone doing the heavy lifting for you. This is an incredible result-oriented step that you can use early on and it has worked extraordinarily well for me. Since many influencers are on social media, you can connect with them through tools like FollowerWonk, Buzzsumo, Topsy and PeerIndex.
4. Invest in and nurture talent: The talent you choose to onboard can be the engines of growth for your company, but you need to make sure you select the right team. Of course, investing in and nurturing talent may not be free, but there are some free or low-cost resources available that connect you to the talent you need. Making the right choices about hiring can then minimize turnover and excessive resources spent on training. Solutions like Toptal, The Blur Group, Guru, iFreelance and more are proving ways that you can find a world of temporary, outsource, freelance or permanent talent to power your growth strategy
5. Get to know your audience: No company succeeds by thinking they know everything their customers want, or by telling the customers what they want. It has really helped me to take the time to study my audience, including existing customers and also including many I think may be potential customers - that I will need to grow my business. When I learned what individuals were struggling with, what they enjoyed, and how they responded to specific information, it shaped what I could then provide by way of products or services. By fulfilling a true need, business growth resulted. Thanks to today's Big Data framework, there are numerous customer and consumer intelligence helps, such as Ask Your Target Market, GutCheck, and Survey Monkey.
6. Add efficient processes: Wearing many hats at the start of a business may work, but if you want to grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to wear each hat well. You will be spread too thin. Putting efficient processes in place early on so that I could do more as I grew rather than become bombarded and slow was a key. There are tools to handle every process found within an organization - from time tracking like Yast and project management from Trello to meetings courtesy of HipChat and email inbox management from Sanebox. While some of these have minimal fees versus being completely free, they are still pretty cool and useful.
7. Manage cash flow: Staying on top of cash flow helps ensure there is a constant amount of resources necessary for scaling up a business. I did not want to continually seek funding every time I reached that next stage in the company's development, so I sought to get revenue flowing and hold it steady. When you get to this point it is beneficial to leverage an online invoicing system like Invoiceable or Hiveage, because it provides a process for ongoing billing and payment management.
8. Ask for help: In starting and building a business, there have been times where I felt like I wasn't sure what I was doing. What has made it better is turning to seasoned professionals for advice and guidance. I was excited that it was growing but nervous about how to would handle it all. Having a mentor or using a consultant is a great solution. I reached out to those who had invested in my company and sought further help from those within industry organizations and online networking sites like LinkedIn.
9. Communicate clearly and often: To help my team understand how we would grow and their role in it, I used clear and frequent communication as a vital step in the process. Knowing what to do and receiving direction from me , and having the team be able to give feedback enabled them to do what it took to stimulate company growth. Since many team members are scattered around the world, I needed to find online tools to maintain contact and encourage dialogue. Skype has proven invaluable for quick and informal communications on various projects while other tools like Wrike offer a more collaborative work environment. Vyew gives me an online meeting place for more involved communications among a larger number of my staff.
10. Market strategically and socially: I got started in Internet Marketing because I recognized its ability to deepen the strategic nature of marketing and add that social dimension. This step increases traction and complements many of the above steps. There are numerous free tools; such as Wix for a beautiful website, WordPress for blog creation, Twitter and Facebook for social media marketing and Likealyzer for social media analysis.
All these steps have helped me to personally create and manage business growth and deliver the greatest return in terms of customers, revenues, and brand enhancement. While you will find specific tools more valuable than others, you can benefit from this stepwise approach to company expansion within a limited amount of available resources.