10 Ideas for Growing Your Small Business

Before starting as the business operations manager at Ludwig Business Consultants, I owned a custom framing shop for over fifteen years. As a small business owner in an even smaller neighborhood, I was required to get creative when it came to building business. After all, it’s next to impossible to compete with the big box stores when you’re just… you. Here are some of the best tips I discovered over the years.

  1. Build those customer relationships.
    The majority of my business came from word-of-mouth referrals. Knowing your clients as people and treating them as valued friends has a significant impact on this. In fact, 56% of consumers report that they will become repeat customers after a personalized experience (Twilio Segment, 2023). Even small things like wishing someone a happy birthday or asking how their granddaughter is liking college can guarantee their loyalty. According to Signpost.com, 65% of new business opportunities come from recommendations and referrals–and a 2021 study by Google My Business found that 84% of online consumers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations.

  2. Create content consistently.
    Yes, it’s tough to come up with new ideas and find the time for content marketing. Emails, blogs, social media, on top of doing your job… It’s a challenge for the small business. Fortunately, you’re allowed to recycle previously used content or adapt from others. This really is a key step, however. According to Erica Santiago of Hubspot.com, 47% of people need to see at least three pieces of content from a business before they’re willing to talk to a sales rep.

  3. Optimize for local search engines.
    The first rule: Make sure your Google business listing is current. According to BusinessDIT.com, 97% of people look for local businesses online, and 64% have used Google My Business to get the business’ contact information and hours. However, if this is inaccurate, you’re losing business. Just the other day I was searching for the contact information for a Chinese restaurant near a friend’s house. When I clicked on the Google Place for the nearest one, lo and behold, Baskin Robbins’ website popped up. Someone had taken advantage of the lack of a website to make a “recommendation” leading potential clients to a different business! Fortunately, I wasn’t in the mood for ice cream.

    The next rule: Take advantage of SEO, by naming local areas in your content and on your website. Your business can be in North Wales, PA, but your content should include Montgomeryville, Spring House, Lansdale, Blue Bell… (See what I just did there?)

  4. Analyze the competition.
    Nobody has a completely unique business. But everyone’s business offers something unique. My niche on the custom framing market was that my mother was a professional calligrapher whose work had been presented to Pope John Paul II, Liza Minelli, and Nancy Reagan. You can find out what your competitors are up to simply by acting as if you intend to engage their services, by discreetly following their websites and social media, or by subscribing to trade journals. Then focus on the differences that make your business special, and market that.

  5. Invest in advertising.
    Paid advertising works, it’s as simple as that. Depending on your budget, you might wish to hire a marketing professional. But even smaller scale advertising like sponsored listings on Google, Yelp, and social media sites put your business in front of potential clients. Further, there’s the old marketing “Rule of Seven,” which indicates that the average person needs to see a product or service advertised before they’re willing to buy it.

  6. Get and stay organized.
    There’s a reason it’s called an organization. Keeping yourself on task and keeping your business structured provides a level of professionalism that engages potential clients on a deeper level. Further, a report by the Wall Street Journal states that office workers waste an average of 40% of their day due to a lack of organizing skills. Whether it’s a weekly routine or a daily checklist, knowing where you stand in each moment means you’ll provide better customer service… leading to increased business.

  7. Build strong business partnerships.
    Participate in events hosted by your local Chamber of Commerce. Join the Rotary Club. Collaborate with other businesses in your area to offer special deals or to participate in your town’s Founders Day. Offer a discount to a business partner’s customers. (By the way, this one really works; one of my favorite restaurants used to offer a discount to a shop across the street and vice versa, and I’d drive the extra thirty miles just to visit them both.) And it’s not just for sales: the Harvard Business Review reported that in the technology sector, 44% of executives view “innovation partnerships” as essential to their company’s growth.

  8. Stay focused on your goals.
    Building a business takes time. It’s tough when you’re in the trenches to remember that turning a profit can take a few years. Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t an overnight success; nobody is. Remember why you started and be willing to work towards that eventual goal. And remember, a study from Dominican University showed that people who formally set goals and pay attention to them are 43% more likely to succeed than those who do not.

  9. Show up consistently.
    Rosabeth Moss Canter in her TEDx Talk stated, “The first secret of success is showing up.” Yes, show up to work. But also show up for your staff and for your clients. Behave in the way you want to be remembered: inspiring, dedicated, caring, passionate. When clients see these traits in you, they want to do business with you. And your staff will be inspired by you.

  10. Be prepared to make sacrifices.
    Growing a business requires dedication, hard work, and occasional sacrifice. Especially in periods of growth, the work/life balance will be skewed. On average, most business owners work 50 hours per week, with a quarter of small business owners working more than 60 according to research by The Alternative Board. The same study found that working more than 45 hours a week can be detrimental to your mental and physical health.

In the end, building your small business is a choice you’ll need to make: a choice to commit both emotionally and financially into your goals and dreams. I would not trade my time at my frame shop for the world, nor that time I had with my mother in her final years. And now I am equally enjoying working for a wonderful small business run by someone else.

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