This article is part of a multipart series. If you're just starting out, check out the full background on the entrepreneur journey.
After the entrepreneurial dream has been hatched, after the basics required to create a venture have been put into place, and after the idea has been launched, true entrepreneurship kicks into high gear. That’s when the work of growing the business or venture begins to dominate an entrepreneur’s day-to-day activities.
There is one noteworthy difference between launching something and growing it: Launching something is a project, while growing it is a process (or, more precisely, a set of processes).
Before we get into the processes in the Grow It phase of the Journey, however, let’s remember where we started.
4 stages of the Entrepreneur Journey
There are four distinct stages that are the phases of the entrepreneurial journey:
- Dream It
- Create It
- Grow It
- Manage It
The Grow It stage of the Journey
As one moves from the Create It stage into the Grow It stage, it is critical to understand the goals and constraints of one’s particular situation. What is the objective of the growth? Is it to bring in more revenue? Have a greater impact in the world? Something else?
Before starting growth-oriented activities, ensure the goals of the growth are clear.
It’s difficult to successfully execute on a growth plan if you don’t know the goals you’re trying to achieve or the metrics you are trying to affect.
Getting to the first growth milestone
As you move into the Grow It stage, one of the first orders of business should be to get your first sale. (It’s fine to interpret “first sale” as a proxy for some other “first result” action, if your venture isn’t driven primarily by revenue.)
Not only is achieving this milestone cause for celebration (congrats!), it also is a useful “forcing function” to ensure that your end-to-end processes are connected. If anything is disconnected in the process, you’ll quickly find out if you’ve sold something and notice any issues in delivering, billing, or servicing your offering.
As you work through looking at the end-to-end process, you’ll notice areas where you direct your focus to expand your impact. These areas fall into a number of broad categories:
- Grow marketing
- Enlarge distribution, networks and partnerships
- Improve conversion
- Expand operations
- Ramp finance
Be sure to keep in mind that in growing your venture, it is important to test, learn, and iterate your way to an answer — especially with respect to growing the impact of marketing and conversion investments.
Marketing and conversion test results are inherently measurable and lend themselves to an experimental approach.
Example growth objectives for marketing
When growing your venture, there are a number of growth objectives you can target with marketing impact. Ask yourself the purpose of the growth, and its connection to results that matter for your venture.
- Are you trying to grow your reach and awareness? If you can grow reach and awareness while holding costs steady, this is a worthwhile objective to increase the opportunities you have.
- Maybe you’re trying to increase traffic to your website. If your website is a primary driver to your business results, growing your traffic can improve your overall results, if you’re able to maintain or improve your conversion rates from those additional website visits.
- Are you trying to increase foot traffic to a physical location? If you have a brick-and-mortar space, increased foot traffic means more browsers and buyers.
- Is your product, service or offering something that has a long sales cycle? Or do repeat visits and purchases drive your long-term success? If either of those things are true, then growing your opt-in email subscriber list is a potential driver to growth.
- Do your prospects and customers search online for information about you using local search? If so, showing social proof and growing your reputation and reviews might be in the cards.
Look through the items above. Which marketing objective or objectives are most relevant for your venture?
That set of objectives is the “what” answer to the “what are you trying to do?” question. Which leads to the next question — the “how.” Which tactics are at your disposal to drive that marketing growth?
The sheer number of tools and techniques available to drive marketing results are staggering.
Advertising, social media (both paid and engagement-based), email marketing, search engine optimization, content marketing, online reviews, and even intentional word-of-mouth marketing techniques all can help drive growth.
Resources to grow a business (or other venture)
Here are a few resources that are definitely worth bookmarking:
- The local business guide to Google Ads
- A beginner's guide to social media
- Unleash the power of email marketing
- Email marketing list building basics
- Beginner’s SEO guide — Search engine optimization for small business websites
- Word-of-mouth marketing starts with other small businesses
- How to use content marketing to grow awareness, trust and sales
- How to ask for reviews, ratings and testimonials
Bonus: Check out Slideshop's data-driven Business Growth Strategy PowerPoint template, which can help you visualize the growth strategy of your business. The template includes business objectives, turnovers, market shares, sales, profits, market extension, new product development and more.
Don’t grow it alone
As you grow your venture, you’ll find that you simply can’t (and shouldn’t try to!) do everything yourself. When you’re first starting out, you may find it preferable or necessary to do many things yourself, from either a cost or learning standpoint.
To grow, however, you may find you need or want to partner up with individuals or organizations that complement your venture. (Web developer and GoDaddy contributor Lisa Stambaugh refers to these complementary service providers as her power partners.)
You may also look to partners to handle functions that, while required, are not your core strength and are better outsourced.
Growing a partner network can help grow your venture in myriad ways.
Building a network of complementary partners can grow your business through referrals. For example, if you’re an accountant, partnering with a web developer might make a lot of sense. As an accountant, you probably see a lot of small businesses, and in your conversations with them, you may find that they want or need an upgrade to their website. You can refer this business to your web developer partner.
Similarly, if you’re a web developer, you interact with a lot of businesses and see which ones have their accounting house in order, especially if they are running an eCommerce operation that needs to integrate with bookkeeping. In those cases, you can refer business to your accounting partner.
If you sell a physical or digital product, expanding your distribution channels is another mechanism to grow your business that's worth exploring.
If you have an eCommerce site, technology makes it simple to connect your websites to marketplaces such as Amazon, Etsy, Walmart, Jet and eBay.
Improve conversion rates to drive growth
While your marketing efforts and partnerships are working hard to bring more visitors to your door, make sure that you are also driving growth by making the most of those visits.
Tracking conversion rates and testing the results of different experiments in conversion rate optimization can significantly boost the results of your tests.
Here’s why. Let’s say your website conversion rate of visitors to purchasers is 3%. And similarly, let’s say through testing and optimization, you are able to boost that conversion rate to 3.5% over the next year. A half a percent boost, that doesn’t sound like a lot, right? That half a percent boost can add almost 17% to your total conversions and revenue.
Here’s how I did that math, with a few hypothetical numbers:
If your fraction of visitors who convert is a fairly small percentage of your number of total visitors, tuning and optimizing your conversion rate can provide a significant growth boost.
Growing marketing, forging new partnerships, and improving conversions are components of the Grow It phase that interact with the world outside your organization. But how will you ensure you can handle that growth?
Scaling your processes, infrastructure and staffing might be required to support the ramp and influx of new traffic and customers.
Processes are things you do repeatedly and on a regular or semi-regular basis. Leading up to the launch of your venture, there might’ve been some things you did in an ad-hoc or manual basis.
A common example of this is sending out an email campaign and reminders to customers. When you were first getting going and in the early days, it was probably OK to craft those emails by hand and manually send them out from your email account. Now that you’re growing, however, the name of the game is automating repetitive processes where it makes sense. For example, systems like drip email campaigns are much better handled by systems that automate those processes rather than trying to do them manually.
It’s important to use your judgment when deciding both what and how much to automate.
Is that spreadsheet still working for you to track things? Great! Keep using it. That said, if there are places where you can layer in some lightweight automation like macros or basic scripts to automate repetitive tasks, do it.
Additionally, if you find yourself doing repetitive things in multiple systems, repetitive things in repetitive systems, or doing repetitive things in repetitive systems, automation tools like IFTTT or Zapier might take care of some automating things for you that you historically had to do yourself.
This will free up some hours each week for you to work on growing the business.
Similarly, make sure that your infrastructure is built on a scalable foundation.
For example, if your site runs on WordPress, make sure your web server is able to handle an increase in traffic and is configured with performance-improving tools like a Content Delivery Network (CDN). This goes for your email systems, internet bandwidth, and even physical facilities as well. Make sure they can handle your projected growth.
Speaking of growth, employees, and physical facilities, here’s a fun fact: The W. L. Gore company — the company that makes Gore-Tex — has about 9,000 employees. However, any given Gore-Tex company building has at most roughly 200 people in it; they found a novel way to scale. The reason for keeping its facilities that size? Connection and communication. According to business researcher Gary Hemel, Gore-Tex founder Bill Gore felt that “once a unit reaches a certain size, ‘we decided’ becomes ‘they decided’” if it gets too large.
Explore new products and new markets
There are two other dimensions of operational growth to consider as well: new products and new markets.
Based on your experience and interaction with your customers, you have likely uncovered complementary or adjacent products, services or other offerings that you may want to bring to market. These expanded offerings can help you to fulfill more of the needs of your existing customers, or they may enable you to reach new customers who formerly were working with another supplier.
Similarly, you may find that your existing products may serve a market need in other locales than the one you had served at launch. This might mean opening up a new physical location in a new neighborhood or even a new city in your region. It might even mean international expansion.
Any one of these opportunities can present significant opportunities to grow your venture.
As your venture grows, you will likely need increased capital to fund this growth.
The easiest source of capital when things are humming along is to fund the growth from existing operations, funneling profits back into the venture. It’s straightforward and requires no additional effort on your part.
If you’ve been in business for a while and have things well-dialed-in, you may find that a line of credit is the most appropriate resource for funding. Organizations like Kabbage specialize in funding of this type.
However, based on the level or timing of your growth plans, you might need to look to outside funding sources. There are many different funding options available to you, spanning many different models.
- Bootstrapping and personal loans
- Business credit cards
- Borrowing against savings or a retirement account
- Small business loans
- Equipment financing
- Angel investment
- Equity fundraising
Editor’s note: The above content should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation.
Aim for thoughtful growth
Understanding the tradeoffs and interactions between different parts of the business is the foundation of thoughtful execution during the growth phase.
Since there are multiple dimensions to growth — marketing, sales, partnerships, operations, finance, culture and more — taking a measured approach is required to keep these various factors in balance.
Grow sales too quickly, and you might not be able to meet production or quality goals. Grow your employee base too quickly without commensurate sales, and finances get tight. Grow without thinking about how it affects your organization’s culture, and you risk losing what made your approach unique in the market in the first place.
The Grow It stage is one of the most exciting aspects of the Entrepreneur Journey.
Thoughtful acceleration can get you to your objectives, and it can help you successfully reach ever-higher goals. As you reach those goals, you’ll find a balance between growth and managing the various initiatives that are in play to sustain the venture.
This ongoing management is the focus of the Manage It stage of the Journey, and will be the focus of the next installment in this series.