7 Ways to Grow Your Small Business

Today we’re taking a bit of a detour and examining various growth strategies for small businesses. In advising small businesses on a day-to-day basis, we see what works and what doesn’t work. Here are some of the best ideas of what works, especially if you could use more business (and who couldn’t?).

7.)  Chart Where Your Business Comes From.

For a month or two, write down in a spreadsheet the name of each new customer, how much they spent, and why they came in the door. You may be surprised what you discover.

(By the way, if a person referred more than 2-3 of those customers, take them out to lunch.)

If you have so many customers that you can’t do this, then distribute a survey. If you have your client’s email addresses, email them a survey. There are a lot of survey tools available, either through a email marketing provider like Constant Contact or through a web-based service like SurveyMonkey.com.  There is nothing wrong with emailing former clients to ask that they fill out a voluntary survey. No customer should ever be upset because you’re trying to improve the service you provide.

6.)  Hit the “Refresh” Button on your Marketing Plan.

Whatever you’ve been doing probably isn’t working well enough for you, or else you wouldn’t be reading this. Or at least you will probably acknowledge that you could use more business coming in the door. If that is the case, then try changing whatever you do now to bring clients to you. You may find you can spend less time for more payoff.

Can you do a Groupon, or one of the hundreds of similar Groupon-style clones (like Living Social or Bloomspot)?  Can you send an email to all former customers offering a freebie for referrals (past clients are always the #1 source of business).

5.)  If you Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em.

Go to lunch with a competitor. See if there’s a way you can work together. You may find out that you each turn away a certain kind of business that the other is willing to accept. Perhaps you can do cross-referrals.

If you are two small businesses located geographically close to each other, can you do a promotion where customers get a freebie for visiting both your store and your competitor’s store?

For example, I live in a small town that gets a fair amount of tourists in the summer. There was one small wine shop in town where tourists would come and do wine-tasting. Then there were two. And finally a third. At least initially, the first wine shop was skeptical. However, having 3 wine shops created great opportunities for cross-marketing promotions.

4.)  Run from Competition vs. Embracing Competition.

There are two ends of the spectrum – distinguishing yourself as one of the only businesses offering your service in an area, compared to embracing competition. For everything inbetween, you need to distinguish yourself in a unique way. Most business owners would rather be the only provider in their town or area. However, sometimes competition works.

The classic example of this is the New York City Diamond District. Hundreds of diamond sellers all occupy the same small block in New York. The selling is cutthroat but the sellers trade the privilege of being the only type of business in their area for the increased foot traffic which comes with the increased competition.

It’s the same reason you find a group of accountants, dentists, or lawyers all occupying the same building. If you can locate your business in an arrangement like this, you may benefit by distinguishing yourself in a particular sub-niche that no other business provides.

3.) Eliminate Products

That’s right. I said “eliminate products.” Streamline your product offerings to embrace your core purpose. Have you ever been in a small corner store where they sell a random collection of different products which have no relationship to one another? Doesn’t it seem weird?

I imagine these types of stores started out being one kind of store and over the years added more and more products until they were selling beef jerky, new DVDs, and dog beds, all within inches of one another, and there was no rhyme or rhythm to it.

They try to be everything to everyone and end up being nothing to no one.

(Sometimes stores can pull this off, especially if they make their store a destination in itself, with their unusual product offerings laid out throughout the store in an aesthetically pleasing way. More often than not, it doesn’t work.)

Apple defines itself not just by what it is, but by what it’s not. You don’t go into an Apple store and see a refrigerator of sodas for sale. Although I’m sure they could make money selling sodas, it would detract from their core mission.

2.) Increase Efficiencies Through New Technology.

If your problem is that you spend too much of your time bogged down in the details of running a business rather than serving customers, you may want to see if there are any technological solutions you can implement.

If you need to constantly update your website, you may want to see if you can outsource this task. A new software program that automates routine tasks may be worth the up-front investment. A reasonably-priced bookkeeper may free up more of your time, which could be spent earning more revenue. Usually the additional amount of work it takes to set up these new systems is worth it in the long run.

1.)  Be Open to New Ideas & New Direction.

You should be OK with the fact that your business may need a radical overhaul. Perhaps you’ve become better at delivering a different kind of service than what you started out doing, or the most common source of new business is asking for service or products in one discrete area of your business. You shouldn’t be afraid to make an abrupt change, including closing your doors and reopening with new branding and focus.

Look also at your website. You should have Google Analytics set up so you can’t examine what people are looking at the most. You may be surprised to discover what people are clicking on. See if you can expand the most popular product offerings.

Got any other great ideas that we missed? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.


John Corcoran is an attorney with Plastiras & Terrizzi in San Rafael, California (Marin County).  He advises clients about real estate/land use, general civil litigation, and small business matters.  He can be reached at (415) 250-8131 or [email protected]



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photo credit: Flickr


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