After you have survived the startup years and raised a successful business, it is only natural that you want your small company to grow beyond its current status. There are many ways and methods to increase the stream of interested parties, but you should keep in mind that securing the loyalty of the existing customers is no less important than obtaining new ones.

Move away from what you know

Differentiating yourself to potential customers often means stepping outside your comfort zone. If your business could be described as primary retail, consider including consultative services as well. On the other hand, if you are in one-on-one consultative business, stir the things up and add another consultant or two. The point is to show your flexibility and openness to innovation which attracts customers and potential clients.

Offer incentives

Customers love free items and discount which you can use to spark the interest in your business. The same way, if you are in service industry, offer an introductory free class or consultation, where people will have a chance to test your service before they commit. Offer discount coupons, product specials and other methods for attracting potential customers. Depending on the type of your business, offer a free newsletter and let your potential customers know that you are ready to provide information from the start. Good content will educate people about your business.

Expand Online

Bill Gates may have overstated the case when he said that by the end of 2002 there will be businesses with an Internet presence and those with no business at all. Still, an effective website is a benchmark of a successful business today. More than 80% of traffic comes through search engines, so landing your web site in the top section of search engine is vital. While design and mechanics behind the website are important, it is your content that will draw visitors and get them stay. A content strategy based on behaviour, customer metrics and keyword-based content will get you excellent rating on search results.

Use social media for brand recognition

Social media are here to stay. Expand your reach by learning the latest methods of expanding your business footprint, building brand recognition and engaging new customers. If a company engages the customers’ tweets, comments and posts with helpful responses, other people will follow the company and expand the fan base. In addition, small businesses can post testimonies of satisfied customers on video channels like YouTube, tag them with search keywords and link videos to their websites.

Broaden your business network

Socializing at both industry and non-industry events will provide you with opportunities to pitch your ideas and engage new people. Attend business functions, join chambers of commerce and visit trade shows. Have a stack of your business cards ready as well as your one minute pitch on standby. No one can tell you who you may run into or where a meeting may take you. Membership in associations for your particular area of business is crucial for both networking and showcasing your skills. Being a part of an association often gives you access to training, upgrading or accreditation courses in your field of business that will give you a competing edge in the marketplace.

Demonstrate your expertise

There are many ways that you can use to get new clients interested in your business or service. A blog that discusses relevant topics in your area is a good start. Follow up with an e-book that you will offer as a free download on your company website. Make your voice heard as a featured speaker at conferences, educational facilities or trade shows related to your industry. Appearing in front of people who are already engaged and interested is a good way to get them to sign on your product or service.

Open another location

Sometimes the most common-sense method to grow is to cover a larger customer base physically by opening another place of business. For many entrepreneurs, expansion means exactly that. But, keep in mind that physical expansion isn’t always the best answer without careful research, planning and number-crunching. If you have set your goal to opening another location, make sure you are maintaining a consistent bottom-line profits and that your growth is steady for the last few years. Also, make sure that your administration and management team are up to the task as you will need them to lift the new location off the ground.

Compete for a government contract

In 2003, Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez from the New York’s 7th district wrote that, ‘The best way for a small business to grow is to have the federal government as a customer.’  Taking an inquiry at your local SBA and SBDC offices will help you determine the types of contracts available to you. There is also a Business Matchmaking Program hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and SBA. You need to register your company with all the proper organizations and agencies. I wrote more about this for Nebraska Entrepreneurship and it has come to my attention that people who work for various government agencies say that their biggest problem is to find small companies interested in government contracts.

Merge with or acquire other businesses

Buying a company that makes products or provides services related to yours is one of more aggressive approaches to expansion. Tech giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon continue to acquire smaller businesses, positioning themselves as leaders in the market and increasing profit margins. On the other hand, if you are not powerful enough to acquire another business, perhaps you can arrange a merger. However, in order to do it right, you need to do your homework and consult with stakeholders, mentors, business associations and other available resources before settling down to a merger or acquiring a business.

Choosing the proper method of expansion for your business ultimately depends on the type of business you own, available resources and how much money, time and hard work you are willing to invest.

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Posted by James D. Burbank

James D. Burbank has worked for years in traditional as well as online marketing. He has worked in Central Asia, Europe and Australasia for years, helping US-based companies exhibit at trade shows in those parts of the world, among other things. He’s been on the ground for years and for the last few years, he has also been working in online marketing. James is currently on well-deserved hiatus and blogs about his experiences, the stuff he’s learned and more. Business and marketing all the way. He is also a father of two and a huge Utah Jazz fan.