Good question! There is, after all, a great deal of advice out there and the blogosphere is full of posts on this stuff. So why do we need another one?
Well, take a quick look -
Notice any similarities?
OK, so this is clearly not a representative sample, but a trawl across the net indicates that the vast majority of content is based on four basic propositions -
Anyone familiar with the business-school treadmill will recognise these statements and where they originated - anybody remember Ansoff? And, we can all accept that, with the possible exception of Proposition 1, they make intuitive sense.
Although valid as general statements, they are utterly useless as guides to practical action. They fail to address the specific and severe challenges we face as small business owners and are much too generic to be considered as the basis of workable plans.
Just think of the challenges posed by each proposition.
Well, perhaps! Although it is reasonable to assume that no business can afford to stand still, the need for growth varies hugely. A start-up that has secured external investment on the back of an ambitious business plan will need to achieve double or triple digit growth year-on-year. A stable business operating in a mature market may need to defend against rising costs and the occasional loss of a customer.
Excellent idea but MUCH easier said than done! Either or both options may be feasible for a large corporation but, for a small business, they are fraught with risk. Yes, this approach will form the basis of your growth strategy, but it needs to be considered, practical and appropriate if the future of your business is not to be jeopardised.
This one is DANGEROUS! The statement has become a business truism. However, it is directly contradicted by another, much more important truism - “Avoid becoming dependent on too few customers.” This is a real risk for most small businesses, and I know from personal experience just how unpleasant it can be.
Nobody is going to deny the importance of a structured approach. However, small business growth is a voyage into the unknown. Planned experimentation achieves it NOT extensive business planning!
If we are to build a workable approach for sustainable small business growth, we need to do better - much better!
We will begin with two fundamental assumptions -
Next, we will do what all good marketers do when faced with this sort of problem. We will segment our small business ‘market’ into a series of four ‘personas.’ There may be others, and please let us know if we’ve missed any.
‘Ambitious Al.’ A business with a proven innovative product that has ambitions to achieve rapid market dominance. Investment funding is in place, and the company plans to grow aggressively.
‘Defensive Di.’ An established business that urgently needs to grow its way out of a crisis. It may have lost its major customers or be facing rapid changes in market conditions, but it needs to find new customers fast.
‘Evolutionary Eve.’ This is likely to be a relatively young business that needs to develop a sustainable growth strategy to secure its long-term future.
‘Maintaining Mitch.’ A well-established, stable business that recognises the importance of achieving steady growth to avoid the risk of decline.
Each category of business needs to achieve growth. But each will require a very different approach; each has different challenges, and each has access to differing resources. They are not the same!
Subsequent posts in this series develop sustainable approaches to business growth for each persona.
Which persona describes your business? Follow the approach that suits you best and let us know what you think.