This is a guest post by Victoria Greene.
SMP, startup, entrepreneur: these are the familiar terms now associated with modern business. How do you ensure sustainable growth when starting out? In this post I’ll guide you through nine areas of strategy you need to grasp to support your business in its initial stages. All of these are strategies you’ll improve upon and learn from as your brand expands, changes direction, and achieves the success that comes with learning from failures.
Your Number One Strategy Is To Have A Strategy
If this is your inauguration into running a business, the first things you need to know and do are strategic thinking and strategic creation.
Every decision you make as a small business owner impacts your brand and has the potential to impact growth and revenue. Remember being told as a child to ‘put on your thinking cap’? When you’re running a business, think of your ‘strategy hat’ as the most important piece of clothing you own — and wear it everyday.
- Think about the problems you will undoubtedly run into as an ecommerce business owner. Pre-empting what might happen and strategizing your way around problems will help in the short and the long term
- Having a plan to kick into action rather than a panic switch is much better for your business. Don’t risk it all by not thinking ahead, or being naive by assuming that your business is going to flourish without any hiccups
- Plan your day and your tasks ahead of time to ensure you have a clear head when you finish work and a clear strategy when you start the next day. This will help keep you on track and focused
Your MVP And Route To Market
Without an minimum viable product you have nothing more than an idea. Many developing businesses find themselves overcomplicating their MVP by attempting to develop an idea before assessing its basic market viability.
Before you start thinking of optimizing your base product or adding all the bells and whistles, you need to assess if at its most basic, it’s a product or service people will want to buy. If you invest all your startup capital in creating a finished product that then flops — it’s likely your strategy was the culprit.
Establish that there is a market for your business and set about getting to know your customers. Keep your audience in mind at all times, they’re the biggest element of your growth strategy.
Every brand and business is different. Therefore no two marketing strategies are ever the same. A great reason for forming a marketing strategy early is it will help you find out more about your audience and the market. Start with the why of your business and create a strategy around it.
Once you know exactly who you are and what problem your business solves for your audience, you can start creating your go-to-market content strategy. Think about each element of your marketing and prioritize the work. How will your customers find you and how will you communicate and drive leads? Your site is the place people can come to find your product/service and learn about your brand. At the very least set up a one-page site or even a blog to attract interest and start generating some SEO power. (Read here for some more SEO startup tips).
Map your emails, social media and video to your site so that people can discover you more easily. Track interactions with Google Analytics and use those insights to inform your content marketing decisions.
Building A Brand Image (FAST)
You are building the brand you want people to recognize. You might decide to use a simple blog page to introduce your idea, but use a proper website to launch your brand and start selling to your audience ASAP.
Onepagelove.com has a huge range of one-page templates aimed at the startup market. This is a quick way to get a slick-looking site and start getting feedback on your ideas and the business you’re trying to grow.
Out-of-the-box ecommerce sites are a great way to hit the ground running with everything your business needs. The cost of working with designers is removed and the hassle of sorting through tedious payment options has been taken care of. Using customizable templates like these that allow you to automate the online store setup means you can press play and begin building relationships with customers.
Your brand is much more than your website, it’s everything you do and the way you do it. But having something to show and be proud of is a great place to start — and the best way to get people talking about you online.
Employee Engagement And Brand Culture
Employee engagement and brand culture must start at the top and needs to be there from the beginning. The sooner your brand culture is ingrained in your business the better.
‘Be deliberate and diligent about making sure company values are reflected in your team’s attitudes and interactions.’ Rajesh Anandan
You may not associate brand culture and employee value with strategy but without it, everything falls apart. There must be a strong foundation of understanding, ownership, accountability and brand ambassadors. None of this can happen without an internal brand strategy.
The way your employees treat your customers is a reflection of your brand. If you’re not diligent about the engagement and the experience of your employees then you’re letting down the whole business, including your customers. Encourage your staff to be brand advocates, to love what they do and to want to be part of the success. Never neglect this very important element of your business, no matter how fast you scale.
Embrace Digital Transformation
Staying the same, being reactive, becoming complacent with small successes does not support a sustainable business model.
‘In anything other than a protected industry, longevity is the capacity to change, not to stay with what you’ve got.’ Lou Gerstner
How you launch your brand might be very different to how it’s marketed in 2-5 years or even 6 months. The needs of your audience will change, as will the way they want to receive information. Evolving with digital trends and outsourcing where you need to is part of a good growth strategy — recognizing where the change must come is not always easy, which is why communicating with your customers is so important. Embrace the technologies and efficiencies afforded through digital and experiment with new ways of reaching your customers.
Growing your business means passing some responsibility onto others and even outsourcing some aspects if you’re short on resources. Don’t be afraid of outsourcing, just ensure any outsourced work is clearly defined, closely managed and supports the expansion or iteration of your business, in line with your goals.
Successful outsourcing, and in particular, outsourcing that drives transformation and helps achieve broad strategic goals, requires companies to follow a disciplined process that keeps them focused on taking the right steps and making the right decisions. In short, outsourcing initiatives succeed by design, not luck.
Sustainable business growth often means looking at the different options available for diversifying, scaling and opening up new niche markets you could profit from. The more you learn about strategy and business the quicker you’ll respond to new opportunities. Though at first daunting, investing in a new market or identifying where your company could merge, acquire or seek out new avenues becomes an exciting challenge.
Review your business strategies and your business structure regularly and don’t fall into the complacency trap. You put in the hard graft at the beginning, but don’t forget to review your strategy once the business is bubbling along. Like all bubbles there will come a bursting point, so take a close look at what’s working and what is definitely not. Be critical and make the changes then and there. Don’t wait for the perfect moment, or the big budget. Don’t wait for the bubble to burst before taking action. Iterate as the market evolves and always know exactly what problem you’re solving for your customers.
Putting all your energy and hopes into a business idea you’re passionate about is a huge personal risk. It’s also a very rewarding venture if you stay focused and strategically develop your ideas. Your strategies are the glue that hold your business together: invest in them and take the time to communicate them to your employees and implement them across all your activities. Strategic success is sustainable success.
Author Bio: Victoria Greene, Brand Marketing Consultant and Freelance Writer. I work with ecommerce businesses & marketing teams to create content and targeted digital strategies. You can find me in my office, working on my latest projects for my clients.