Hooked on growth: Nine ways to expand your business now

Photo: Marco Raaphorst

Starting a business takes a lot of research, time and money. You probably read a bunch of books, talked to other business owners and listened to some advisors. You obviously invested a lot of your own time and energy into forming your startup.

But now you’ve survived the startup stage and can’t stop thinking of how to get bigger and better. You want to grow. But how do you do that?

Well, here are nine ways that you can take your business to the next level.

Open a new location

Physical expansion isn’t always the best growth answer, but I listed it first because it’s normally the first thing we think of when it comes to growing your business. You can expand to another store with careful research. Here’s some advice:

  • Are you maintaining a profit and are actually growing steadily for the past five years?
  • Starbucks has expanded rapidly (Hans Dinkelberg photo)

    Are there indications that your business will be around in the next decade due to trends?

  • Do you have a well established administrative systems to handle the additional move and opening?
  • Are you going to prepare a business plan for the new location?
  • Where is the money going to come from?

When it comes to opening a new location, study the successes and failures of companies like Starbucks, Walgreens and Cracker Barrel. Starbucks expanded rapidly over the last decade but ended up closing hundreds of them in the last few years. Walgreens wants one on every corner…how have they managed to do it without closing any or losing money? And Cracker Barrel has been slow and steady, carefully selecting their locations.

License your product

Licensing is a low-cost growth way to expand…but it’s also extremely effective, particularly if you have a service product or branded product.

You’ll get money up front and royalties from continued sales of your software or service, which will  naturally increase your profits with little harm to your bottom line. This approach also minimizes your risk and is one of the lowest cost forms of expanding your business.

You will need to find a licensing partner, however, so research companies like yours and then contact a lawyer to help you minimize your risk of losing control of your product.

Franchise your business

The nice thing about franchising is that you can control how the business operates within your region, but give that responsibility to those who are not in your region. You might decide to go to the next state, and franchising allows you to keep the business local for you, cutting down on travel expenses.

Plus, people tend to have a more productive and profitable business when they are invested in their work. A franchise accomplishes that because your franchisees actually own the business.

But the same sort of approach applies as to finding a new location. You should seek steady growth and be in a position of established bottom-line profits before looking to franchise.

If you’re thinking of franchising, join the International Franchise Association to get your feet wet. Also talk to a lawyer who specializes in franchising.

Diversify

Another way to expand your business is simply to diversify. This is an excellent growth strategy that allows you to create multiple streams of income, often filling voids created by the season or other market fluctuations.

Here are several ideas for diversifying your product or service line:

  • Sell complementary products or services
  • Teach adult education or other types of classes
  • Import or export yours or others’ products
  • Become a paid speaker or columnist

Form a partnership

Photo: Zach Taylor

If you’ve been in business and are getting successful, it’s probable that you’ve met a lot of people in similar business like yours. Well, one of the quickest ways to grow your business is to form partnerships with these other business leaders.

Look for people in your industry that have a complementary product or service. Then agree to promote your products or services to each other’s customer and client lists.

By the way, shelling out commissions shouldn’t scare you…but encourage you, because those commissions are incentives for your partners to sell your product.

Target other markets

If your current market is working for you, why not start to look at others? You can target a whole wide field of markets like electronic and foreign rights, entrepreneurship programs, speaking events and software offerings. These other markets are bound to create multiple revenue streams.

For ideas and inspiration, just look where your customers are spending all of their time. Look at how they are using your current product. Is there a way they are using it that you didn’t anticipate? Can you turn that into a new benefit that will appeal to a new market of users?

Don’t leave any stone unturned. Look at different demographics—elderly, seniors, adults, teens and children. Find markets that need your product and service and give it to them.

Win a government contract

One of the best ways for a small business to survive is to have the government as a client. The U.S. government is the largest buyer of goods and services in the world.

Check with your local SBA and SBDC offices as well as the Service Corps of Retired Executives and your local, regional or state Economic Development Agency. They can tell you what kind of contracts are available for a business like yours.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the SBA also have a Business Matchmaking Program designed to match entrepreneurs with buyers.

Be warned: requesting a proposal takes a lot of time and research. You need to be willing to do the dirty work. It may seem like a lot of work at first, but it will be generally worth it in the long run because once you’ve jumped through the hoops and win a bid, you’re generally not subject to the level of external competition of the outside marketplaces.

Merge or acquire a new business

Sometimes the best time to acquire a new business is during an economic downturn. If you can weather the storm, locking down on survival mode and focusing on servicing clients, then you can wait for the opportunity to jolt your business again. This could be when a competitor defaults and ends up on the auction block.

But integration is not easy. It can be intense and exhausting, but here are the three keys of success to focus on:

  • Retaining customers: You must be prepared to do what it takes to retain customers on both sides of the business, yours and the new one you just bought. This might mean meeting with as many as you can…no matter if they are all over the globe.
  • Retain staff: An acquisition can also be hard on the staff in your business, so do whatever it takes to keep them happy. On the other hand, evaluate the best and the brightest in the company you just bought and retain them, too.
  • Integrate technology: Whenever considering a merger, one of the main things you need to evaluate is if your tech systems are compatible. If not, it may not be a good merger.

Finally, a successful merger occurs when you can focus on the new company, bringing attention to a product that may have been neglected, jumpstarting sales that were dying.

Go global

You can go global by buying an international company. However, you can also go global by preparing your product or service for global markets.

That means you need to do lots of homework and target markets that you think you can integrate into with the least resistance. Knowing people who have done business in these markets is a bonus. Obviously countless trips to the target market is required, but once you make the jump you may tap into a huge market with little competition.

You will need to find a distributor who can carry your product and sell it in that foreign market. To do this just check your city or state for a foreign company with a U.S. representative.

Another good place to look is for foreign chambers of commerce in the U.S., trade groups and branches of American chambers of commerce in foreign countries.

Conclusion

Whether you are going to open up a new store down the street or sell your product through a foreign distributor on the other side of the world, expanding your business should be done only when you have steady bottom line profits and the future of growth looks positive. If it doesn’t, hold off until the future improves.

What other ways can you suggest to expand your business?

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions.

More from Neil Patel on GeekWireSeven signs that you might just be an entrepreneur Eleven things every entrepreneur should know about innovation… 17 things I wish I’d known when starting my first business

  • Greg Gillespie

    Hi Neil,

    All solid advice, thanks for an horizon expanding article.

    To answer your question, another way of expanding is just letting people know you are at that stage.

    One example that worked well for me was attending a national conference. I was able to meet my target partners and things took off from there.

    It did help getting a guest spot on the podium, which I did by winning an seo contest. I spent 4 furious days, some money and all my determination to be #1. I did it and it paid off.

    I realized the value in that guess spot and that has helped me to expand my business 600% in the past year.

    Another way is just by joining this conversation ; )

    Greg

  • http://www.puzzazz.com Roy Leban

    One of the most important points in this article is easy to miss: “But now you’ve survived the startup stage ….” And Neil ends with “… expanding your business should be done only when you have steady bottom line profits and the future of growth looks positive.”

    THIS ADVICE IS FOR ESTABLISHED, PROFITABLE COMPANIES. If your company is one of those, one or more of these ideas is probably worth looking at. But, if your company is a startup, every single point is a bad idea:

    Open a new location — so now you can lose money at two locations.

    License your product — you can switch to a licensing model, but it’s hard for a startup to both sell your own products and license them.

    Franchise your business — it’s way too early, unless you have something amazingly unique and your entire business is franchising.

    Diversify — DO ONE THING, or fail at doing two or more.

    Form a partnership — not always a bad idea, but partnerships are extremely dangerous for startups. They consume a lot of time and can cost more than they gain you. Only pursue partnerships that are very strategic. Be careful.

    Target other markets — DO ONE THING.

    Win a government contract — By the time you win it, you will be out of business. You can’t grow your company on money from the future.

    Merge or acquire — defocusing and expensive, even if it’s an all-stock merger.

    Go global — these days, there’s no reason not to sell e-goods globally, but if it means spending money on translators, foreign distributors, etc., you will not win.

    In summary, if you’ve got a startup, don’t put the cart before the horse. Growing your startup is mostly about executing on your established plan and getting to profitability.

    • Greg Gillespie

      All good points. It is true, the first step needs to be accomplished well before any of these expansion strategies are ready for you.

  • http://rmctech.net/ Ryan Critchett

    Good tips – though I was looking for more local growth strategies, this gives one a lot to think about.