There are only three things certain in life: death, taxes and business owners desperately looking for shortcuts to growth, finding nothing and usually ending up depressed, deluded or, at the very least, downright disappointed.
The fact of the matter is: business growth doesn’t come easy.
Success is a cocktail mixed of equal parts skill, knowledge, passion and patience.
With that said, we now live in a world where we demand everything fast: from entertainment and food to sports, social recognition and even dating. If it isn’t speedy, our brains aren’t interested.
So, while also keeping an eye on your business’ long-term strategy, are there any sneaky shortcuts you can take to grow and improve the way your business runs in the short-term?
Below are 8 of the best things you can do right now if you want to grow and improve your business, fast.
Since the Ancient Greeks introduced the world to Stoicism, self-reflection has been one of the cornerstones of growth and improvement.
For one reason or another though, most businesses just sort of trundle along from the day they start, never really stopping to put their finger to their chin in an overly-philosophical way, look to the clouds and ask: “how are we doing?”
It’s also true that the fastest way to strengthen any offering is to do exactly that.
Any self-assessment you do (the most common usually being an audit) has to be a real, honest, warts-and-all type exercise.
The more brutal, the better. Even if you make yourself cry a little, it will be worth it in the end.
The perfect place to start is time: which tasks in the business take up the most time? Figure that out and then ask, “Does a better way to complete them exist?”
Technology moves so fast these days that the answer is more than likely a resounding yes.
Anything that’s generally frustrating, boring or lengthy should be put under a microscope and questioned.
If you’re completely honest with yourself, you probably already know the answers; most people know the weak points of their business but are afraid to admit them so just sort of brush them under the carpet, start whistling and carry on doing what they were doing anyway.
On the flipside of the coin, one of the main challenges with self-assessment can be that, when we’re too close to something, it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees; annoyingly though, as soon as we look at someone else’s situation, it’s crystal clear where the weaknesses lie and what they need to do to fix them (life, eh).
On that note, it can be a great idea to get some external input into any audit you carry out from a consultant, agency or even just a wise old friend who knows your industry well.
2. Increase your backlinks
Backlinks are the #1 reason your website either is or isn’t being found on Google.
I’ve heard it said that the safest place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google search, so if that’s where your business is currently, you’re pretty much sleeping with the fishes.
A backlink is essentially any other website linking to your website; the more of these you have from sites relevant to your products and services, the more reputable Google and other search engines will perceive you to be.
To increase the number of backlinks to your site, get in touch with relevant news outlets in your industry – including magazines, blogs and influencers – and reach out to offer them free guest posts or possibly to collaborate on a piece of industry research.
So many websites out there are well designed and have clear, quality content, but fail to get the volume and quality of traffic necessary to convert leads.
A good analogy is a physical store: it’s like opening a shop, stocking all of the best products your customers could buy, but getting no footfall whatsoever.
By focusing on improving your backlinks, you can start to generate more footfall to your site; get this right and inbound leads can start to come in in just a few months or less.
3. Build automated sales funnels
Automation techniques are nothing new, but an alarming number of SMEs still aren’t using workflows or funnels to warm up new contacts.
Too often, a new contact comes into a CRM system and – apart from the initial follow up call and the odd informative email – never learns anything about your business or even finds out what your services and capabilities are.
Then, 6 months down the line, your sales guy gets in touch again and is greeted by the prospect with a giant “Who?” when they mention your business’ name.
Building workflows and funnels to warm up and nurture leads is a great way to make sure that doesn’t happen, as well as to make sure your prospects learn everything you want them to about your business.
Using a combination of well-designed marketing emails and one-to-one sales emails that prompt a response.
This is a great way to nurture your new contacts over a couple of months and give your sales team a reason to get in touch and have a conversation.
“Do you want fries with that?” is a simple question which has no-doubt earned McDonald’s billions and billions of dollars over the years; implementing something similar in your sales process is a great way to generate extra revenue.
This may seem an obvious idea, but thousands of businesses still fail to cross-sell effectively.
Your current crop of customers already know who you are and trust you to some degree, so it makes perfect sense to target them with a wider offering. The comparable cost of acquiring a new customer is huge.
The best way to do this is to identify the products you could cross-sell against each other and then run an email or calling campaign to ask if they’d be interested in that product or service, too, or who their current supplier is and how much they pay.
Incentivising your internal team to make this happen can also be a great way to make the campaign a success.
5. Invest in your team
There’s a great story I was told while studying business management in California back in 2012:
One director says to another: “Isn’t it a risk to invest in our people? What if we do and they leave? The other replies: “What if we don’t and they stay?”
To me, this is the perfect illustration of the fact that you have to keep investing in your people if you want the business to improve.
Investment internally also increases their levels of happiness, makes them feel valued and – as a result – builds internal trust and work ethic.
It could be an online course, it could be an external training day, it could even be as simple as a team building day away from the office.
Investing in your team where you don’t absolutely have to is the best way of oiling the cogs of your business internally and proving to your team that you care.
6. Spy on your competitors
Often we’re so busy worrying about our own businesses that we forget to keep up-to-speed with what our competitors are doing.
Installing a plugin for Chrome such as SimilarWeb is a great way to do a little digging into a competitor’s website to see where they’re getting their traffic from, what their backlink profile looks like and how people are finding them through search engines.
Comparing this information with your own site can give you a great idea of where to focus your efforts in order to quickly fill any gaps in your current strategy and generate more interest online.
7. Talk to staff
In Japan, instead of the directors and managers speaking first in meetings, the interns and new hires do. This safeguards against them just saying things to agree with those above them and ensures a new way of thinking is always present in the business.
In the West, though, staff are often afraid to tell the directors what the real weak points are within the business; funnily enough, they’re also the best people to ask.
So how can you get an honest opinion from staff who would understandably otherwise hold their cards close to their chest?
You could send out an anonymous survey to the team, drop them a personal email out of the blue or even just ask a few off the record questions about a certain aspect of the business when you’re next making a coffee.
Engaging with your employees and asking their opinions will not only make them feel valued, but is also a great way to see things from their perspective – especially those at the lower end of the hierarchy.
8. Listen to angry customers
Steve Jobs was a huge believer that “our most unhappy customers are our greatest source of learning”.
Customers who recently complained and those who have left are great to talk to in order to get a real picture of your business.
It can also be a good idea to employ an external third party research company or marketing agency to carry out this kind of research for you; we often find that people are much more honest with someone who’s not directly connected to the business.