Monday, February 17, 2014

So you've started your business - now it's time to grow it

growing your small business
Placing your customer at the heart of everything you do
So, you’ve overcome the first hurdle and succeeded in navigating your small business through the perilous start-up stage – Congratulations!! …

Now it’s time to start looking further ahead and think about the next challenge of how to grow your business. And here’s a chance to get some tips from someone who has advised and guided many small business owners with their business development strategies.

Natalie Chapman is the co-founder and MD at gemaker, based in Sydney Australia. Her business helps SME owners in the development and execution of global business strategy – advising them on matters ranging from IP protection through to licensing requirements, and grant and award submissions. She is the winner of a 2013 Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Natalie is a passionate and driven commercialisation and marketing professional with more than 15 years’ experience. 
I was delighted when Natalie agreed to share some of her experience with us.....

1. Natalie, what motivated you to start your own business?
I felt a burning desire to run my own company after building many businesses within a public research agency. I also wanted to be able to help businesses take new products and services to market from start to finish and to do that I had to really go through the growing pains of starting my own business. If I was going to have any credibility at all, then I needed to be able to walk the walk, rather than just talking the talk.

2. What were the biggest challenges you faced early on?
During start-up, it was building credibility and developing a sufficient critical mass of clients for running a sustainable business. This is a challenge that is common among new businesses – being seen as a viable option within your target market before your company has an established track record. And then being able to build capacity without necessarily having a steady stream of income.

And of course, there were the horrendously long hours required to build up from nothing, as well as the countless hats I’ve had to wear ……. You might go into business with the idea that you’ll be the CEO of a successful company, but in those very early days you’ll also have to be the finance guru, the HR person, the head of marketing and the administration assistant, all in one.
3. Natalie, from your experience, why is it some small business owners are more successful than others in growing their business?

I think this sort of attitude is a question of balancing your aspirations and expectations with a bit of realism. I know a couple who attended a two-day entrepreneurial course and then opened up a local restaurant which failed six months later. They were all fired up about the possibilities, but they had no experience in customer service or food handling. Having a dream is great, but making it happen requires an in-depth understanding of the sector you’re entering combined with a lot of hard work, not just a desire to make a quick buck.
I’ve also seen people form start-up companies that are based solely on the development of a new technology, rather than being built on a new technology that filled an identifiable customer need. If you haven’t identified your customer, you haven’t successfully identified a market – and no market equals no money, which equals no business.  

The people who succeed tend to have a long-term picture of business success – they’ve thought beyond their opening move. They’ve done their market research, they know there’s a buyer for the product they’re selling, and they’re willing to change their product, service, pricing or business model if the information coming back from their market tells them to.
A great example of this is Lollypotz, an award winning chocolate bouquet supplier. The Managing Director, Louise Curtis, is a multiple Telstra Business Women’s Award winner who has used her background in corporate hampers and significant reinvestment into the business to build the infrastructure and supply chain to grow Lollypotz exponentially.

Louise’s tenacity, her focus on product quality and exceptional customer service over the last five years has resulted in 27 franchises across Australia and New Zealand, as well as additional distribution centres opening in capital cities across Australia with more than 253,000 bouquets purchased in 2012. Louise will be expanding her business into the US in 2014!

4. From your experience, what are your key recommendations for business growth?
Hmm, there are many – but for the sake of some brevity, let me refer to three that I think are among the most critical ....

i)     Building strong relationships with your staff and customers.
Happy and loyal staff will go out of their way to help you grow the business, and will go the extra mile when the going gets tough. Customers who are happy with the service you provide become champions for your business, referring new customers and building your reputation via word of mouth.  

ii)   Solid market research
Every entrepreneur should start by asking themselves is there a need for my product/service? Never underestimate the value of good market research. Too many amazing products fail because businesses don’t seek enough customer input as part of their new product/service development and marketing. Market research should be ongoing and provide feedback into how to continuously improve the business.

iii)  Segmentation of the market for entry
The world is not your market. Even if your product/service is applicable to everyone (coffins or funeral plots, for example – after all, we’re all going to die one day!), don’t make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people. Instead, you should be aiming to target your most profitable prospective client base as effectively and economically as possible. Good market research will help you develop a profile of your ideal customer, from their age and gender to their professional background, their income bracket and purchasing power.

5. What final tips would you offer our readers - some of whom may be running a small business but feeling that they are struggling to fully commercialise and exploit all of the ideas they may have?
i)     Work out what your customer pain is and build a strategy to take it away, faster, more cheaply and more effectively than anyone else.

ii)   Know your weaknesses, and bring in the experts to fill the gaps in your own professional expertise. I contract or employ people who are the best of the best in their fields. It’s an investment in the future of the business. 

iii)  Fake it til you make it – exuding confidence is one of the keys to building your client base. 

iv)  Making mistakes is a given, but it’s how you recover from a mistake that counts. Get up, learn from it and keep moving.

v)   Build a network of like-minded business people to bounce ideas off and learn from.

vi)  Stay open to learning new things, to having your ideas challenged and to doing things differently.

vii) Take time out of working in the business to work on the business – plan for the future.

And the very final tip to entrepreneurs would be to trust your instincts. Go with your gut. By that, I don’t mean completely ignore the numbers – what I do mean is that if you’ve done all the analysis and it all seems to add up right – and yet never-the-less it still doesn’t feel quite right in the pit of your stomach - then walk away! And don't look back.

Thanks for your time Natalie - you've shared many great tips on growing a small business..... Let me add that running and growing a business can be tremendously satisfying and rewarding. But there will also be times of discouragement when it seems your plans just don't seem to be working out - and perhaps even times when you hang your head in despair and feel like giving up. This is when you will need to search within and re-connect with your inspiration that can give you the faith and drive to persevere.
Also, on this topic of business growth - readers might like to look at Marketing Tips for Small Business

About the author
Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a management training company in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist, experienced management coach and an engaging presenter, with a passion for helping people develop their full capabilities.