When we checked in with small business owners about their plans for 2016 late last year, top priorities included investments in new equipment and inventory expansion, improved technology systems, and increased marketing efforts. Regardless of where they were focusing their capital expenditures over the course of the next 12 months, however, one thing was clear: growth was the name of the game.
Wherever your business is along its growth trajectory, continuing to build your foundation in anticipation of rapid growth or decelerating as it reaches maturity, it's important to consider not only how you expand your workforce, office space or distribution network, but also your brand. The following tips offer cost-effective ways to build or enhance your brand to generate more business and increase your value to your current customer base.
1. Assess how you're positioning your primary product or service within the marketplace.
This applies whether you've been in business a year or for over two decades. While conducting an exhaustive customer perception study of your firm may not be something you want to invest in at this time, there are less formal ways you can evaluate how the market perceives your brand and your offerings.
Develop a formal panel of your most loyal customers to understand why they choose your brand and what it is they believe your products and services represent in the marketplace. Is it your quality service? Commitment to the local community? Your low prices? Getting to the heart of why customers stick with your firm will help you understand better what you are doing correctly and what messages you may want to adapt, based on how your business has evolved over time.
2. Find out where your customers are reaching your business -- or opting for your competitors.
Whether you're operating brick and mortar locations or your business is primarily online, there is more data than ever available on where consumers are shopping for products and selecting service providers. By proactively tracking where your new business leads are coming from -- whether through online referrals to your website or foot traffic driven by word of mouth recommendations, Angie's List, Yelp or some other channel -- you can begin to play a more meaningful role in driving your business' momentum.
Beyond asking your customers how they came to find your company, there are free online tools, like Google Analytics, that provide valuable insight into your online profile and visitors' activities while on your site. If your business is product vs. service focused, consider distribution channels where your company is doing well, in addition to those where you currently don't have a presence. For service or experience-oriented businesses, look at places where you have customer reviews, both positive and negative. Consider how these sites factor into new customer acquisition and consider whether engaging with customers on these platforms might be worthwhile.
3. Fine-tune your social media strategy for reach and efficiency.
If you already have a sophisticated social media program in place, good for you -- skip to the next tip. For most small business owners, a toe in the waters of social media is closer to the norm. Social media can be an incredibly time consuming endeavor to undertake on top of running your business, but the rewards of a highly targeted strategy can make it worthwhile.
As with tip No. 2, before expanding your social media investment, consider where and how your customers are reaching your business. If they are actively seeking out the services you offer online, ensuring your company is represented is important. To avoid embarking on a time intensive program, limit your activity to the platforms that matter most to your business and share content across your various profiles. If your business's page on Facebook tends to draw the most visitors and likes, consider linking your Twitter feed accordingly. Don't worry about being on every platform; it's more important to pick one to three social sites that you can really own and participate on regularly.
4. Give your pricing policy a gut check.
If you do opt to create a formal panel of customers, as I discussed in tip No. 1, to gather insights on which components of your value proposition are most effective, take the opportunity to better understand how your product pricing affects how your business and products are perceived. While your customers might not be completely transparent about their willingness to pay, getting a better sense of what their budgets are like and what margin pressures they are dealing with can help to inform your pricing process.
Additionally, by doing some market research on your own to find out what the going rate is for companies in your industry or local area, you can determine if recalibrating your own prices could increase your sales volume and revenues.
This is not investment, tax, or legal advice. Should you have questions, please consult your own attorney, tax accountant, or other appropriate expert having expertise in the area of your question or before making important decisions in these areas.
Daniel DeMeo is Chief Executive Officer at CAN Capital, Inc., the largest and most-experienced small business finance specialist providing access to capital.