SCORE, America’s premier organization providing FREE counselors to growing businesses offered 10 practical tips to help you grow your business. All 10 points can get a boost by using technology. I’ve added the technology dimension, resource to each tech tip.
1. Grow your customer base. Understand your customer demographics and why they buy your products and services. Win clients over with new and diversified products. Offer multiple price points and create packages or customizable plans, which give your customers greater freedom and flexibility.
One of the best things you can do to really KNOW your customers is to profile them in a database or customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Profiling your customers and analyzing their purchasing history will help you uncover what products are more profitable and why and help you market to them what they want and that will sell.
Databases: Microsoft Access, File Maker Pro, Intuit Quick Base, Alpha Software
CRM: BatchBlue, Zoho CRM, Sage CRM, Working Point, Intuit Customer Manager, Microsoft CRM, Infusion Software
2. Expand low budget marketing. Promote your business for free on Twitter, and set up a Facebook fan page. Start a blog and comment on other blogs. Take this opportunity to communicate with customers about your business. Go viral.
Other low budget marketing inclucdes:
Email marketing (Campaigner, Constant Contact, Vertical Response, iContact)
Cost Per Click Marketing on Google, Bing, Ask
Search Engine Optimization (ptimize your web site for more search engine traffic)
3. Surround yourself with experts. Get feedback from advisors you trust. Entrepreneurs count on SCORE for free and confidential business mentoring. Use a mentor to test ideas, map a sales plan and focus on success. Ask SCORE for advice and meet with a SCORE mentor.
SCORE advisers are great for advice on just about everything. If you want to find more mentors check out your local Chamber of Commerce or professional organization (NAWBO, BDPA, YO, Vistage International, and others are great resources)
4. Add ecommerce through a web site. Your business needs a web site to stay competitive. Secure all variations on your company’s domain name. Use online forms to encourage interaction. Add a shopping cart to sell your products, not just promote the brand.
Your web host can help you develop a shopping cart for your web site. If you want to start selling online, on the cheap, consider using PayPal.
5. Free up time to sharpen your focus. Organize for success. Set a time each week to handle routine tasks. Use a PDA to keep track of phone numbers, dates, appointments and meetings. Take short breaks to refresh and recharge.
There are so many tools you can use to manage your daily schedule. Microsoft Outlook’s calendar is used by many professionals, but there are so many others.
6. Create experience events to draw in customers. Host special events like demonstrations, trunk shows and classes. Offer rebate programs to encourage repeat purchases. Rearrange merchandise to make it appear fresh and provide a fresh customer experience.
Events are a VERY powerful tool to encourage loyal customers, showcase new products and services, and even as a new revenue stream. Eventbrite is a great event management tool. Constant Contact Event Marketing has recently launched their own as well.
7. Network to build buzz and referrals. Join groups that represent your clients. If you don’t have the money to join an association, offer to donate your services. Take advantage of social gatherings, committee appointments, membership meetings and networking events. Each meeting is an opportunity for referrals.
This goes back to the suggestions in point three.
8. Track your cash flow. The one thing all businesses need is cash. Ensure that you collect receivables within 30 days. Monitor invoices. Pay early when you get a discount. Always keep an eye on your cash. Prepare cash flow reports so you understand your cash needs.
QuickBooks, Freshbooks and Sage Peachtree are a few tools to consider.
9. Plan for financing success. Even if you’re in business, you should have a business plan ready to submit to potential lenders. Know how additional funding will help you grow your business, and demonstrate your ability to re-pay the loan.
Check out Palo Alto Software’s Business Plan Pro
10. Consider an LLC. As a sole proprietor, you are personally liable for the debts and liabilities of your business. A corporation or limited liability corporation (LLC) protects your personal assets and property. You can register your business as a separate legal entity.
Legal Zoom and Nolo are great resources.