As businesses begin to reopen after the COVID-19 lockdown, it’s an ideal time to be working on your growth plan.

You’re probably thinking: Grow? I just want to get back to where I was.

That’s understandable, but it’s short-sighted. Most businesses are making essential operational changes to meet the requirements of serving customers in an environment still threatened by a pandemic. Those changes may mean increased expenses and reduced revenue—which means you’ll need to grow just to stay even.

So what can you do?

Grow your business by expanding your product and service offerings

One way to grow is to expand your product and service offerings. What else do your customers use that they would purchase from you? They’re already buying from you because they know you and trust you. Can you increase your business by selling your existing customers a wider variety of products and services?

If you’re going to use this growth strategy, your additional product offering needs to make sense. If you’re a clockmaker, you might want to consider also selling watches, but it wouldn’t make sense to start selling shoes—even though your customers probably buy shoes.

There has to be a connection between what you’re offering now and what you add so that it’s easy for your customers to accept. If there’s no connection, you’ll create a sense of unease and even distrust among your customers. If you want to do business in an area totally unrelated to what you’re doing now, start a brand new business—don’t connect it to your existing one.

Example: A woman I knew who had a dog grooming business announced that she was going to start selling sterling silver jewelry (for people, not pets). There’s no connection there. I trust her as a groomer, as someone who knows about dogs. As a source for jewelry, she has to prove herself to me. But if she started selling dog food, treats, high-end pet accessories or similar products, or even cat supplies, that would be a natural, connected expansion.

Here’s another angle on expansion: Think about how your customers’ needs are going to change in the coming years and get out in front of that. What are they going to want that you’re not offering now?

You may have heard the joke about the leadership style of figuring out where the parade is going then running to get in front of it. While we might say that with derision when we’re talking about politicians, that’s actually an excellent strategy when you’re thinking about new products. Get out in front of what your customers want and be there with it so that when they’re ready, you’re already there.

Another reason to expand your product and service offerings is that you never know when things could change in your industry and make your current product or services obsolete. The more products and services you have, the easier it will be for you to survive discontinuing one or more of them.

Think 8-track tapes, even cassette tapes. Think BetaMax, VHS tapes, and now even DVDs. What’s the market for those products today? Essentially zero.

Remember the Sony Walkman? Who uses a portable cassette player anymore? It’s all smartphones playing digital files, not tapes.

If you’re old enough to remember when fax machines were introduced, you’ll recall how exciting it was to transmit documents in just minutes over telephone lines. Yet fax use was slashed by various types of electronic transmission because it’s faster and paperless. While there are still a few fax machines in use, the technology is certainly moving toward obsolescence.

Be prepared for your product to become obsolete. It can happen.

Alliances, partnerships, and joint ventures provide a strong platform for growth.

A great way to increase your customer base as well as to expand your product and service offerings without doing the actual product development is through alliances, partnerships, and joint ventures.

If you’re in the flooring business, form an alliance with a company that sells window treatments. If you’re a personal trainer, look at an alliance or even partnership with a nutritionist, or even a company that sells equipment or workout clothes.

You may think it’s better to do everything yourself, to build your own empire. While that strategy can work, it’s not always the most effective, efficient, or practical.

Something I heard about international politics years ago was this: “We don’t go to war against our economic allies.” It applies to business as well.

So if your flooring business sets up an alliance with the window treatment business, you have become allies—and you don’t have to be concerned about the person who owns the window treatment business getting into the flooring business.

Think about this:

“It’s easier to compete than to cooperate.”

—Robert Kiyosaki, entrepreneur and author of Rich Dad Poor Dad

When I first heard Robert say that, I thought he misspoke. But he kept saying it, and after I thought about it, I realized how much sense it makes.

When the Rich Dad® Company decided to offer advanced training in real estate, it could have created its own programs. It didn’t. Instead, it formed an alliance with what was then known as Wealth Intelligence Academy®, which was already providing high-quality training. It was truly win-win-win because Rich Dad was able to meet the demands of its students, Wealth Intelligence Academy gained more students, and the students got the education they wanted and needed.

It many ways, it would have been easier for the Rich Dad organization to create its own training academy and simply begin competing with Wealth Intelligence Academy. But the result of that would have been two very good companies competing against each other. Instead, they became allies, and didn’t have to worry about each other as competition.

Rather than competing with companies that are doing what you want to do, turn them into allies and partners. Then you all win.

And if you think that sounds hard, you’re right. But it’s lucrative. It allows you to eliminate competition and better serve your customers while you grow your business.

Eliminate competitors by making them your partners.

With that said, choose your allies and partners carefully and be sure you are completely covered with written agreements. Another Kiyosaki quote that’s worth remembering is: “You can’t do a good deal with bad partners.”

Reach out to new markets

You should always be looking for new markets. As obvious as that sounds, many business owners don’t do it because they get comfortable dealing with the markets they know and just don’t think about what other segments might include potential customers.

Step outside your existing markets. You could look for new markets based on geography. If your market is in one town, can you expand to another one?

You can look for new markets based on demographics. Maybe you’ve been marketing to a specific demographic profile. Is there another demographic group that could become your customer? Maybe another demographic group that might spend more money?

Thoroughly penetrate the accounts you have

What this means is: Get the most sales you possibly can from the customers you already have.

This can work whether you are a business to business or business to consumer operation. The customers who are already buying from you know you, trust you, and like you.

From the B2B perspective, find out if your customers are buying products you sell from other suppliers and ask what you can do to gain that business. Also, find out if there are other people or departments in the company that could use what you’re selling.

Many years ago, I was a sales representative for an air freight company. I had an account that was giving my company a substantial amount of business and we had a good relationship. I would regularly ask my contact if there was anyone else in the company that used air freight, and he just as regularly said no, he controlled it all. One day I saw one of my competitor’s trucks at the company’s loading dock, picking up shipments. I called my contact to find out what was going on—after all, if he was making a change, I wanted to know about it. It turned out that he didn’t know anything about the shipments I saw going out because they were controlled by another department. So he made an introduction and recommendation, and I increased the business I got from that company.

Never assume you’re getting all the business you can from an existing customer.

From the B2C perspective, be sure your customers know everything you offer and stress the convenience of being one source for them.

Don’t assume they know. Tell them over and over.

Beyond the buyers: Remember the decision influencers.

When you market, you need to market to the actual purchasers of course, but you also need to market to the people who influence those purchase decisions. After all, toddlers don’t buy toys or cereal, so why do manufacturers still advertise those products on kids’ shows? Because the kids influence their parents’ buying decisions.

The receptionist at a company may not make the buying decision, but she may talk to the purchasing agent who does. What is she saying about you? Does she tell the purchasing agent what a nice person you are? Or what a jerk you are? You don’t have to send her flowers and candy but treat her with courtesy and respect. If you’re a B2C operation, remember to market to the entire family.

People very rarely make decisions without being influenced by others, so find out who those influencers are and keep them on your radar.

Deliver superior quality in all your products and services

The absolute best way to grow your business is to provide products and services that people will come back to buy again and will tell others about. It’s not just enough to offer a good product—although that’s important. You have to offer the service to go along with it. When you offer a great product and fantastic service, you’ll get referrals without having to ask for them (although you should always be asking for referrals!).

Customer service is not brain surgery.

This is so true. Great customer service is the absolute easiest thing you can do to grow your business. All you have to do is treat your customers the way you want to be treated by the companies you buy from. Don’t cut corners when it comes to giving your customers the best you have to offer.

Just be the best.

Jacquelyn Lynn
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