You’re out to lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. “How’s business?” your friend asks.
“Fine,” you say. “It’s going well.” And while it’s not a total lie – your business is doing OK – it isn’t growing the way you wanted it to. Rather than talk about it with your friend, you quickly change the subject.
Does this sound familiar? Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs are stuck in a place of “not doing badly, but not growing either.”
It’s easy to come up with generic explanations to why your business isn’t growing. For example, “your marketing doesn’t persuade people, so they don’t want to buy.”
But what if you want to know why – exactly – your business isn’t growing?
You have to look more closely at the key points of business growth. When you do that honestly, you can usually pinpoint what you need to do next.
Sure, a blog article can’t replace a marketing coach. But even if you only get a little clearer on what you need to focus on, it might save you months or years of work.
So, go through these five key points of business growth to see what you need to work on next to see the greatest improvements in your business quickly.
Overwhelm Leads to Inefficient Work
Before we get into where your business isn’t growing, think about why you haven’t tackled this issue before.
When you don’t know what exactly you should do, you have to try everything until something works.
That takes a lot of time and leads to frustration. It’s why so many people quit before their business even gets off the ground.
If you always know what you need to do next, you take the right step every time. You don’t run around in circles or spend time on anything but the most beneficial tasks.
People who feel overwhelmed are unlikely to make progress. It’s when you take focused action that you start creating results again.
And to do that you need to learn how to pinpoint your next actions that will make a great difference in your business.
So, let’s look at five key points in business growth. Note that the order makes a difference, so the first one that seems to be holding you back is the one you should fix first.
Key Point #1: Having a Business Idea That Is Valid
Having a business idea that will actually make you money might seem overly basic, but it’s still something you have to consider. If your business idea isn’t valid, nothing can make it a success.
Does any of these statements describe your business?
- Other successful businesses do the same – or almost the same – thing you do.
- Other successful businesses help people with the same problems or goals you help them with, but your solution is significantly better (faster, cheaper, more reliable, etc.).
- Some print magazines are dedicated to topics closely related to what you do/sell and they occasionally write specifically about products/services similar to what you sell.
- Major blogs write specifically about the things you help people with.
- Several online forums are dedicated to topics closely related to what you do/sell and some discussions are specifically about products/services similar to what you sell.
If any of these indicators is true to your business, your business idea is almost certainly valid.
If none of the indicators are true to your business, don’t lose hope. Your business might fill a significant market gap.
Positive, but not nearly conclusive, indicators are things like:
- There are thousands of monthly Google searches specifically looking for products similar to what you sell.
- If the right people/companies would buy your products, they would save significant amounts of money, time, or effort; they would be significantly safer than they are now; or they would reach important goals they otherwise can’t reach. And there are lots of those kinds of people/companies.
If your products/services don’t match any of these indicators either, you should take a very critical look at your business idea. Simply put, what makes you believe there are enough people willing to buy what you sell?
You might come up with several answers. If you do, great! If you don’t, consider changing your business idea.
Fortunately, often only a relatively small adjustment is enough to make an invalid idea a perfectly valid one. For example, if you sell tree house construction services, you might’ve noticed that lots of people search for advice on how to build their own tree houses (even though almost no one searches for tree house construction services). So, moving from construction to instruction could be a solution.
Key Point #2: Specific Target Customer
This is one of the most common reasons for slow business growth: people don’t want to be specific enough about their target customers.
Have you heard the saying: “If you target everyone, you hit no one.”
You can’t be the best choice for every kind of potential customer. You have to focus on a specific group to make them see you as their best choice.
Here are a few examples of target customers that are NOT specific enough:
- Parents with children under the age of 7 who need help with learning difficulties.
- Small businesses that have fewer than 10 employees and have $300,000-$500,000 annual revenue.
- Married couples that have been married over 10 years and live in New York.
All these examples lack many things. But most importantly, they don’t specify what those target customers want most.
You have to know your target customers’ most frustrating problems are, their most important goals, and how they want to get the results they’re after.
When you get specific enough, your marketing can be much more effective because you’re focused on the exact things they’re most interested in.
For example, the first target customer profile in the above list would be much better if it also mentioned that the parents’ greatest problem is that the local public schools don’t offer support for children with learning difficulties, and that their most important goal is to give their children an education that guarantees they get into a good university.
There are other things, too, that you should know about your target customers. But being clear about the biggest problem and the most important goal makes your target customer much more specific and usable.
Maybe you’re thinking, “If I get more specific about what kind of people I try to sell to, I lose opportunities.”
That’s not true.
If you aren’t specific enough to be the best choice for at least one group of people, then you aren’t the best choice for anyone.
It’s better to be the best choice for 1% of people than to be a mediocre choice for 100%. 🙂
Key Point #3: Focused Message
If you try to communicate a complicated message, you’ll struggle to make anyone understand it. And when no one understands what you’re saying or why they should care about it, no one wants to hear more from you.
And if you communicate a simple message, but it doesn’t persuade people to buy, people still don’t want to buy.
For example, this message would be too complicated: “Our window cleaning supplies are the most durable professional-quality supplies meant for consumers who want their windows to be perfectly clean and clear every day of the year. We guarantee the lowest price. You’ll find that using the supplies is so easy that even your toddlers can help you clean your windows. Using the usual kind of window cleaning supplies makes the whole process unnecessarily complicated and time-consuming. But our supplies will take all those problems away…”
And here’s one that’s simple, but not persuasive: “Our window cleaning supplies are durable.”
The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.
I’ve written about the importance of having a clear value proposition many times before. Your value proposition is made from the best reasons for your target customers to want to buy what you sell.
So, simply put, your value proposition is the message you need to communicate with your marketing. When you do, you have the best possible chance to make sales.
The key question here is: “Do you know which are the three ideas that are most likely to make your target customers want to buy from you?”
In other words, if you could only communicate three simple ideas to your target customers, what ideas would make them most likely to want to buy from you?
When you know exactly what you need people to understand, you can make all your marketing have the impact of a sledgehammer on them. When they hear what you say, they feel like you’re offering them what they’ve wanted for ages.
If you’re stuck on whether your ideas are good ones, here’s a quick exercise that shows how good your ideas are.)
Key Point #4: Thought-Through Marketing and Sales System
If any link in a chain is broken, you simply call the chain broken. You don’t continue to try to use it as if it was intact.
For some reason, people don’t seem to think in those terms when it comes to business. If any one thing in your marketing and sales system doesn’t work, it means people aren’t buying – the system is broken.
So, the first step is to figure out what’s not working. Depending on your business, you might find the answer very quickly, but it can be difficult if you don’t have years of marketing experience.
But you have to know what’s not working, so you can fix it, right?
The most common reason for not knowing what isn’t working in a system is that people don’t even have a system or know what their system is.
Start by considering what the specific steps are that you want people to go through before they buy. In other words, what specific things happen, so that someone who has never heard of you ends up buying from you?
First they see you, your product, or your marketing somewhere. That’s the first step. It can be a guest post, social media update, a video, article, advertisement, etc. What is it in your business?
After they’ve seen you for the first time, then what happens? What’s the next thing they see or are asked to do? And what happens after that?
Map out all the steps they will go through before buying. If you can’t identify the steps – or you’ve never really thought of them – you just don’t have a marketing and sales system, yet. Now you can create one.
You have to know how you reach new people and what you do to make those people want to buy from you – consistently.
The entire system can be as idiotically simple as:
- Call people (cold calling) and make the sale during the call.
Or the system can be more complicated. For example:
- Write a guest post and ask readers to get your free ebook.
- Offer the ebook free if people join your email list.
- Follow-up with regular emails and promote a webinar.
- Do a webinar where you sell a product.
The system can even be a lot more complicated than that. It depends on what your business is like. But usually, the simpler it is, the easier it is for you to get great, consistent results.
In any case, you have to know what your marketing and sales system is. Since it’s the most complicated part in marketing, getting help with it is a good choice.
Key Point#5: Deliberate Improvement
Deliberate improvement basically means that you always have to find the things that need your attention the most. If you don’t know what will make the biggest difference, you end up wasting months or years on things that could never make much of a difference.
So, start by going through the list of business growth key points in the order they’re in. See if you have to work on any of them right now. If yes, then do it! Drop everything else and focus on what will make the biggest difference to your business. And remember to start from the first one that’s holding you back; for example, it’s pointless to build a marketing strategy (#4) for a business that’s based on an invalid idea (#1).
Most commonly people get stuck on points #2 (a specific target customer) and #3 (focused message). Finding the balance between the right target customers and the message that will persuade them can be tricky.
If you want to see how persuasive your ideas are, try this quick exercise.
But when you’re done with that, building a good marketing and sales system (#4) is almost as commonly something people need help with. Unfortunately many just don’t want to ask for it.
Ready to Start Growing Your Business?
If your business isn’t growing the way it should, the solution is simple: go through these 5 key points, see what you need to do next to create the biggest difference to your business, get help if you need it, and grow your business. You might be surprised how quickly things start to work out when you take the right steps.
Thoughts or questions about what you should do next? Leave a comment below.