Congratulations, you’re the owner of a successful South African startup! Maybe you’re a neighborhood florist. Or you’ve got a small home bakery. Maybe you provide local handyman services. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back for overcoming all your entrepreneurship challenges to get this far. It can be tough getting a new business off the ground and you should be proud of your achievements.
But if you’re dreaming bigger, and you want to turn your small business into something with a little more scale, read on. We’ve got some tips and ideas for how to grow your business and take it to the next level.
1. Take a moment to step back
Before you embark on any expansion plans, take a moment to reflect on your business journey thus far. What has worked for your business? What hasn’t? Who have been your best customers? How have you reached them? How do you keep them coming back?
By reflecting on questions like these, you help isolate some of the keys to your business success thus far. This is an important exercise and one that will guide you in the months ahead.
Of course, you do not have to run your business the same way in which you always have. In fact, growing your business may mean you need to start looking at creating new products, investigating new ways of doing business, and taking a new approach when it comes to going to market. However, by reminding yourself of your business’s key strengths, you lay a solid foundation for yourself. And you remind yourself of why your customers love what you do – something you can hopefully leverage as you take things forward.
2. Understand the differences between small and large businesses
Large businesses are not merely smaller businesses scaled up. If you had to do everything that you do now, but at 20 or 50 times the volume, with greater time pressure, things would likely stop working quite quickly.
That’s why it’s important for every entrepreneur to understand some of the key differences between small and large businesses – how they operate, how they function, and how they speak to and connect with their customers. Take a look at these amazing female South African entrepreneurs working hard to grow their businesses.
Think about any small corner shop. It’s a business with a small to medium number of customers, it offers a limited range of items for sale, and the owner likely knows many of the customers personally. Now compare that to a large supermarket chain, for example. There are many goods for sale, a large number of customers, and the feeling is far less “personal” than in the smaller shop. In addition, to keep the supermarket running, a large number of invisible processes such as warehousing, cold-chains, stock-taking and pricing changes go on all the time.
Consider your business as it stands now, then imagine what your business would look like if it had to grow. How would you manage orders? Would you be comfortable hiring extra staff? Would you need to automate processes that are currently manual? Do you have the right technology to allow you to scale?
By understanding the implications of growing your business, you help chart a way forward, and imagine what possibilities exist.
3. Get comfortable establishing a brand ‘identity’
What do all superbrands have in common? A strong identity. Think of any major corporation and its logo (and company slogan) probably spring to mind very quickly.
Brand identity is an important part of all large companies. In an ideal world, your customers would think of your company name the minute they thought of what they need.
However, crafting a strong company identity takes time. But there are a few practical steps you can put in place in the short term to get the ball rolling in the right direction to go from Spaza to super brand.
One idea is to consult with a professional graphic designer or other company that specialises in crafting strong brand identities. These professionals can present you with a number of options for logos, letterheads and corporate stationery to help get your company noticed and create the impression you seek.
4. Connect and market in the right way
Every company is different. Some talk directly to end customers. Others deal with businesses. Which is why every marketing plan for a growing company is unique.
Perhaps you’re a consumer-facing beauty business. If you want to get the word out about your company and grow it in the process, think about who you should be talking to. On one hand, you might think about online or physical advertising that can find its way directly to your customers. On the other, you may also think about strategic partnerships with other businesses in adjacent industries (such as hairdressing) that can help you with referrals.
If you’re looking to market online, proceed with caution. While paid ads may be the go-to marketing route for established companies, it can be expensive and may not always give you the results you’d like to see. Instead, think of ways you can connect directly with your target customers – in person, at trade shows, by handing out flyers, or calling companies it makes sense to partner with. Often, starting small is the wisest move you can make.
5. Get to grips with the competition
It’s a jungle out there! While growing a business on its own can be tough enough, you also have to deal with your competitors. But rather than ignoring them, you’ll need to get a good understanding of who they are and what they do if you hope to differentiate yourself and grow your customer base.
You can start off by visiting a competitor’s website or maybe reading a few reviews of the company online. What do they focus on? What do their customers appreciate them for? What are they not getting right?
In addition to helping you define your offering more clearly, understanding what your competitors offer can help you improve your offering and allow you to learn from their mistakes.
Better yet, by understanding the competitive landscape and analysing more experienced players, you can get some ideas for what works in the market. Do competitors run seasonal sales? How do they approach marketing? Do they have any company partnerships? What is their company tone of voice – formal, or informal? By checking our what works and what doesn’t, you can chart a course forward.
6. Diversify or consolidate?
When you’re thinking about growing your business, you might start thinking about diversifying your offering, or perhaps reaching different people. What complementary products or services or information can you offer in your business? Where else can you add value in an exchange?
On the other hand, know that diversification is not always the right strategy for every business. Trying to do too much too soon is not a strategy for success. If you feel like you need to be all things to all clients, maybe diversifying isn’t the best strategy right now. Sometimes, it’s good to simply build on the magic if you have something that works really well.
For many companies, finding a niche and then continually innovating around that niche is the best path to success.
7. Get a professional website
If you haven’t already, invest a little money to set up a professional looking website. If you’re tech savvy, there are a number of ways to build a website yourself for free. On the other hand, you can always employ someone to do it for you.
Having a great-looking website is important for just about every business these days and it may send a red flag to prospective customers who don’t find your presence on the web. A website is a great place to showcase your products, services and successes. You can also include something about yourself if you’d like to connect more personally with your clients.
Better yet, if your website is optimised for search engines, over time, it can help generate business when people find you online. Just be advised that this can take some time, so don’t rely on it to generate all your leads right from day one. Instead, use other methods to direct your customers to your website – by using flyers, referrals, business cards or any other means. Discovering that you’ve got a great website, hopefully where you’ve posted some great reviews of your business, is a great asset.
8. Get your books in order
As your orders and customers start ramping up, you’ll need a quick and effective way to keep track of it all. Manual processes can slow down any expanding business and you don’t want to have to do with too much admin when growing your new company. To make sure your finances are always in tip top shape, consider getting hold of a smart business cloud accounting and bookkeeping solution such as QuickBooks. It’s the best way to take your business from spaza to superbrand, while making sure you’re always in control.
Discover more free Small Business Resources at the Intuit QuickBooks Resource Centre to help grow your business in South Africa today.