Running a successful company isn’t all roses and beach vacations. To grow your business consistently, hard work and hard knocks come with the territory, and overcoming hurdles is commonplace. As well, if you run a woman (or minority-owned business) proven to be historically Use these five time-tested, data-backed methods to spark consistent small business growth and get on the road to bypassing even your toughest competitors. #1. Your small business marketing is incorrectly targeted, piecemeal… or nonexistent. This seems super-obvious… but you’d be surprised how many small businesses we encounter that do hardly anything at all to intentionally and purposefully find new customers. If your company isn’t marketing, new clients won’t know you exist. But if you are marketing, and those promotions actually repel the leads you’ve worked to attract, then you’re losing money and cultivating a negative image. If your social media profiles are filled with fluff your audience cares little about, if ad copy harps on using language offensive to your market, if your website design uses colors, imagery, or “benefits” that actually turn visitors off… then sending the wrong message in these ways can be worse than not promoting at all. Solution: Make your digital marketing strategy rock solid. Properly research your buyer personas and use them to present all marketing materials—including your website—in a way your unique audience will find irresistible. Then, promote the heck out of those results-focused materials and let the good times (results!) roll. #2. Your website design is “so five years ago,” and content is clearly dated. It’s been proven that visitors assign more credibility to websites that show they’ve been recently updated or reviewed. Not only does a dated website harm your audience’s perception of your business, but for most industries and content types, it also negatively impacts search engine rankings. Technology and trends change quickly. If your website is behind the times, it can cause clientele to jump ship. Think about it: Are your company’s services, guarantees, media mentions, and policies really exactly the same as they were even two short years ago? Growing a business consistently requires keeping up with the times. Outdated websites counteract marketing efforts. Solution: Make a concerted effort to revisit and refresh blog posts, offerings, and policies each year. If this is too difficult to manage, delegate to a competent Web design company and touch base with them at least once annually to confirm that your site is equipped with the latest (vital) technologies. (Hint: Mobile-friendly web design is now vital. Flash Web design is archaic [and detrimental].) #3. Prospects and clients are waiting far “too long” for support. Making clients wait forever to hear back from your company is a sure way to lose contracts and stifle growth, especially if the response they finally do receive is incomplete or otherwise inadequate. But what’s considered “too long” a wait in the world of Internet business? 41% of consumers expect an email reply within 6 hours. (Yet, only 36% of retailers responded that quickly.) [Forrester Research] A more manageable email response time of under 24 hours is widely considered acceptable. [BenchmarkPortal] Users expect a human to answer the phone or live chat in 2 minutes or less. [Harris Interactive] Optimal response time to a tweet is within 92 minutes for highest engagement. [LeadSift] Responding reasonably swiftly for the medium is one of the simplest ways to grow your business faster than competitors, as it makes clients trust that you truly care about serving them. Just be sure responses are thorough! According to consumers, customer service agents failed to answer their questions 50% of the time. [Harris Interactive] For consumers, the quality of your email response matters just as much, if not more, than timeliness. [BenchmarkPortal] Solution: Strive to answer client emails in under 6 hours, but never more than 24. Human support reps should answer calls in less than 2 minutes and respond to Twitter queries in less than 90. Just as importantly, ensure that ALL client-facing team members are properly and extensively trained (or at least have appropriate company info available) to respond to inquiries correctly. #4. You’re not supporting words with action & making good on marketing claims. When all you have to show for your promises is more words, it’s difficult for your audience to believe in you. Most clients need to see proof before they’ll spend money on your company. This is especially true online, as so many “businesses” are really industry newbies teaching a rehashing of info from true experts. If you guarantee results, show clients for whom you’ve gotten results. If you promise flawless work, show examples of your work in all its flawless glory. For nascent companies without paying clients, that task is harder, but hardly impossible. Solutions: Offer your service as charity to a few select, “ideal clients.” Barter with established companies who’ll provide testimonials after your deal. Show work you’ve done for your own company in your portfolio. Most markets won’t mind (or even notice) that some work samples are internal. Prospects just need a way to prove that you can do what you say—without having used them as guinea pigs. Real-World Example: While doing freelance transcription work, and before I’d acquired my first verifiable contracts, I transcribed public domain audio to prove work quality. These professional samples were integral in getting my first few clients – and most new clients didn’t know or didn’t care that they weren’t produced under paid contracts. #5. Company communication is generic, uncaring, and largely impersonal. I remember when the ability to personalize emails with names came out (‘99 or so?). Internet marketers were falling over themselves to start using this new technology. And now 15 years later, despite email personalization improving marketing effectiveness 6 times over, an alarming 70% of companies still, sadly, just haven’t caught up. (Wait… what?) That’s right. From Amazon.com, to the Gap, to smaller “mom and pop shops,” it’s been proven time and again that using personalization in marketing will result in higher clickthrough rates, higher conversion rates, and increased revenue. Yet, companies still aren’t taking advantage. Solution: Take advantage. One easy way to get started right away growing business through personalization is to recommend helpful, relevant solutions to existing clients. Think of your top three clients—their goals, preferences, dislikes, and stresses. What product or service can you think of that would make their lives happier or easier? Recommend it to them, incorporating details from a past conversation to show them you truly care. The Reveal Client acquisition and retention are the keys to growing a business with some regularity. A true commitment to business growth involves: testing to find what works for you, acknowledging current mistakes, and correcting your trajectory—often. So even if your company is currently making ALL five mistakes above, don’t worry: The important thing is what you do from here. You’ve got the tools. Use them. Let me know if you have questions on incorporating the five strategies above in your marketing, and I’ll do my best to further clarify your path. 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