Effective growth strategies and techniques change constantly.
What worked a year ago might not work today.
What worked for another business might not work for yours.
What got you to $10k monthly revenue might not take you to $100K monthly revenue.
The key to growth isn't having the right techniques. If you want to learn how to grow your business, you need a proven framework that will help you grow over the long term.
And that's what we're laying out in this guide.
Over the last 5 years, we've helped over 3,000 business owners launch and grow successful businesses, and we've condensed our experience into the proven process we'll be covering today.
If you are ready to stop struggling and start achieving both short and long term growth for your business, this is a must-read.
Let's get started!
Why Most Businesses Fail To Grow
Before we dive in, it's important to identify why most growth efforts fail.
The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that just two-thirds of businesses will survive their first two years, and only 50% will survive the first five. Just a third tend to reach the 10-year mark.
If businesses can't grow, they run the risk of heading to the graveyard.
The cost of doing business is increasing. Inflation rates rise by 0.7 - 3% each year, but if you can't generate (or retain) enough customers, your business won't survive. You'll be one of the businesses who shuts its doors within the first few years because you haven't grown enough to remain profitable.
So, why do most businesses struggle to grow?
A. They Aren't Meeting A Market Need
The simplest reason that businesses can't seem to find that initial growth is that they aren't actually meeting a market need.
The founder had a "cool idea" and decided to build a business around it rather than looking to the market to determine what the market demanded.
If you don't achieve product/market fit (or service/market fit), your business might find a few customers and appear viable initially, but it's never going to actually grow, regardless of anything else you do.
B. They Run Out Of Cash
A lack of capital was named a top challenge for one-third of small business owners. As Sam Ovens mentioned in the video above, many businesses focus on revenue early on and forget to manage cash flow. While revenue and accounts receivable are a good indication of growth, they don't allow you to cover immediate and ongoing expenses.
Managing cash flow is critical, especially if you are in the early stages of your business, and adjusting your business model to do a better job of growing cash reserves can help free you up to think long term and invest in long-term outcomes.
C. Weak Staff & Poor Management
When a business starts to grow, hiring new talent is often at the top of the priority list. Virtually every business needs more people in place if they want to handle more customers and continue growing.
As Sam Ovens describes:
"Hiring a team is hard, because not just anyone can do the job, and if even if you hire good people... if good people don't have good leadership, then they become bad people. If people who aren't that good have good leadership, sometimes they can improve, but sometimes they can't. It's a really interesting, multidimensional thing: building a team and managing a team, and really creating a good culture."
A report by YouGov found 55% of employees quit their jobs because of bad management. Even if you do manage to hire good people, it's critical that the leadership, team dynamics, management processes, and culture are healthy and empowering.
If not, you'll find yourself in a constant, expensive cycle of turnover, which will stall your growth and potentially sink your entire business.
D. Distracted Focus
In the world of business, there's always something new coming along; a new strategy, set of tactics, or a so-called "hack" that will supposedly open the floodgates to clients.
But if you're always jumping around to the next tactic, your business won't grow.
Let's say, for example, you're working on content marketing as a growth strategy. You've spent two months treating blog posts as your "holy grail"... yet you notice your competitors have started increasing Google Ads budgets, so you follow suit.
What happens then? You lose the momentum you were building through your content marketing strategy.
You're starting from scratch and switching your focus. Those two months you spent investing in content with minimal short-term growth are repeated on advertising, until a new strategy comes along and you switch yet again, hoping to hit a home run out of the gate.
In the end, you've wasted money on each channel with nothing to show for it, because you didn't invest the required time and effort to achieve results.
This is often justified as "experimentation," but true experimentation determines the time and money required to run a complete experiment from the beginning and then fully follows through on the game plan before analyzing results and potentially switching gears.
Businesses that approach growth like that tend to do well. Businesses that are constantly trying new things based on the mood of the owner or the head marketer don't grow.
E. Poor Retention
If a customer has already purchased from you, you're missing a huge opportunity if you are failing to satisfy and retain them.
Retention isn't nearly as sexy or popular as acquisition, and as a result, both and new and established entrepreneurs will often fail to give it the focus it deserves.
Don't make that mistake! The customer experience STARTS with the sale... it doesn't end there.
How to Grow A Business In 7 Steps
Now that we've addressed some of the critical reasons businesses fail to grow, it's time to learn how to succeed by effectively growing your business.
We'll be taking you through the following 7-step process:
- Identify Your "North Star" Goal Or Metric
- Build a Team, and Empower Them To Do Their Best Work
- Assess Performance Via The Numbers (Quantitative Data)
- Assess Performance Via The People (Qualitative Data)
- Satisfy And Retain Existing Customers
- Improve Your Marketing And Sales Funnel
- Build Your Recurring Lead Generation Channel
By following these steps, you can skip the potholes that trip up many entrepreneurs and keep your business squarely on that exponential growth ramp.
1. Identify Your "North Star" Goal Or Metric
The first step towards growth is prioritizing which goals are most important. This is known as your "north star" metric—something you're continually working towards improving, and the KPI you measure growth by.
A north star metric is typically related to one of these things:
- Revenue (such as sales, purchases per customer, or customer lifetime value)
- User activity (such as number of engaged users, or time spent using the product)
- Retention (such as NPS, repeat purchase rate, or churn rate)
Notice that "becoming a thought leader" isn't a north star metric. Your holy grail metric is something that's measurable—like "customer retention greater than 80%" or "churn rate of less than 2%", for example.
As Sam Ovens explains:
"The best performing CEOs of all time are quiet people you've never heard of. They're quiet, humble, analytical engineers who shy away from the spotlight, have zero interest in fame and focus incessantly on adding value, allocating capital, and improving efficiency. They're outsiders."
So, how do you find your north star metric?
The answer depends on how customers use your product or service, and the value they get from it. Take a look at these two areas of your business. Which metric captures both?
Airbnb, for example, would have their north star metric as "nights booked." Their customers use (and pay for) their service on a nightly basis, so it makes more sense to grow by focusing on "nights booked" than a vanity metric like "number of bookings."
A social networking app, like Facebook, would probably have a north star metric of "time spent using the app." That metric is key to their growth; without customers using their platform, neither their advertising platform or business would be profitable or successful.
On the other hand, a small online boutique might have their north star metric as "purchases per customer." They know that customer retention can be more fruitful (and cost-effective) than customer acquisition, so by constantly driving to improve the number of purchases each customer makes, they build brand loyalty.
Found your north star metric? Simply setting a KPI isn't enough. You won't see enormous growth by naming one metric as your sole focus.
Your entire team needs to fully buy in to your north star metric, and constantly evaluate your activity at frequent intervals based on whether it's moving you closer to that KPI.
Let's put that into practice. Say your business sells online courses. In this case, your north star metric could be user activity. You want customers who purchase your course to read through and implement the advice you're giving, and refer your product to their friends when your methodology works.
So, instead of focusing on acquiring new customers through inbound marketing, you'd focus more on refining your onboarding sequences, or editing your course content to keep it up to date.
Those activities directly relate to your north star metric of increasing user activity—a KPI that helps your business to grow.
To summarize: Ditch any strategies that don't directly work toward your north star KPI.
Do the same for strategies you expected to boost your north star metric as a byproduct of something else. Your entire focus should be on tactics specifically designed to improve the holy grail metric you've picked.
2. Build A Team, And Empower Them To Do Their Best Work
Once you've achieved your product/market fit, the #1 factor that will determine your business' success is your people.
Great people with great leadership will get you to your north star metric. Weak staff or poor management won't.
It's difficult for a solopreneur to execute strategies that impact their north star metric, especially when there are other fires you need to fight. You have to deal with operations, customer service, financing, and so much more. Each of those activities takes time away from pursuing your north star metric, but they absolutely must be addressed.
So what do you do?
The simplest solution is to delegate your activities and start building a talented team. Identify your own personal areas of expertise and the day-to-day tasks you want to focus on—then hire people to do anything that doesn't fall within your list.
You might realize that you hate keeping your books up to date, so delegate your finance work to an accountant. Spend the time you'd usually use reconciling your accounts on something that works towards improving your north star metric.
Similarly, you could hire a support team to control your inbox if you don't enjoy customer service. Building a professional customer service team is bound to help your business grow—especially if your north star metric is something like NPS, where you want each customer to be impressed with your support.
There's a reason why successful entrepreneurs like Richard Branson name delegating as "crucial for success."
However, it's important that you pick the right people for the job when you're hiring for growth. If you're hiring someone to take tasks off your plate so you can work towards your north star metric, pick an expert who knows what they're doing.
A lot of business owners make the mistake of approaching hiring with a cost-first attitude. They think of it as an expense rather than an asset to the business, and therefore look for the cheapest option around.
This is the opposite of how you should approach hiring. If you prioritise budget, you'll end up paying more in the long run due to training, turnover, and low productivity costs. If you hire top-notch people, on the other hand, you'll make back much more than you spend.
In this video, Sam Ovens explains why he only hires "full stack people":
Hiring great people solves a lot of problems that you would otherwise have to focus on yourself, but even with great staff, you'll still need to build workflows and policies that both empower and incentivize those people to do their best work.
Here are a few things you should be aiming for with this system:
- Provide Clear Directions: Your #1 job as a manager is to clearly set the vision and provide the directions. Don't make any assumptions. Your employees should know exactly what is expected of them, what their personal #1 goal is, and how it fits into the company's north star goal at all times.
- Provide Agency: The point of having great people is that you don't have to micromanage them. Once you've provided clear directions, let them be great. It's probably not going to look exactly like it would look if you were doing things yourself, and you'll find that is usually going to be a good thing.
- Provide Incentives: Link your employees' personal success to the success of the business. If they do something that benefits you, it should also meaningfully benefit them as well. Don't make performance incentives a complete joke. Small wins should net small rewards, and big wins should net big rewards.
3. Assess Performance Via The Numbers (Quantitative Data)
Growth is a numbers game.
You are making $X and you want to make $XX.
But there are many other important numbers at play beyond your revenue and income totals.
In order to grow profitably, you need to understand the numbers - the "quantitative data." You need to know how every part of your business is performing: every customer touch point, every stage in the customer journey, every action, every platform, every location.
The best place to start is with your customer journey. Map out every action a customer can take between their first contact and final contact with your business.
Every step in that journey needs to be tracked, and the data needs to be analyzed and understood. You also need to list out all the variables and different pathways that make up the diverging journeys:
- Which channel do most of your sales come from?
- What are the typical paths to purchase?
- What pages do people visit pre-purchase?
If we don't understand what is currently happening in our business, our attempts to grow will be blind.
If you conduct business online, you will need analytics software to help you with this. A great, freel place to start is Google Analytics' Behavior Flow. You can generate a report that shows the most popular pathways on your website. By using the "Made a Purchase" segment, you'll be able to spot:
- Which landing page(s) drive the most conversions
- How many interactions a typical customer has
- The type of content your customers read pre-purchase
- The URL people visit right before landing on the purchase confirmation page
Once you have Google Analytics set up and operating on your site, you will be able to track this info and use it to make decisions that will increase sales and grow your business.
Here's a great guide to setting up and using Google Analytics Behavior Flow if you haven't already done so.
Here's an example of how this data might help you.
If 90% of your customers land on the product page you've promoted through Facebook ads, you might see the majority continue to read two blog posts before they convert. In this case, content marketing would be a major advantage—you've proven that the majority of customers need this type of content before hitting "purchase."
Without knowing this information, you continue promoting product pages on Facebook. Your goal is "conversions," yet we know that most people won't convert instantly. Instead, it'd be smarter to optimize your campaigns for a cheaper objective—like brand awareness or link clicks—to reach more people, and deliver the information they actually want.
So, map out the typical flow of a customer. You want to know the touch points you've got with them at each stage to analyze which pages should be optimized as a priority.
Once you've ticked this task off your to-do list, don't neglect it forever. You should constantly re-analyze your customer journeys, as they can change as you begin to grow. Increased prices and different customer targeting can have a huge impact on the pathways people take from "stranger" to "customer."
4. Assess Performance Via The People (Qualitative Data)
Numbers are just one form of data, and they will only tell us one side of the story.
The other side is people:
Your customers have a lot to tell you about your business. And your own employees have a lot to tell you as well.
This "qualitative data" will help us better interpret the numbers and achieve the insights inside that can take the business to the next level.
Get to know your customers personally through the quantitative research methods we discussed. Dive deep into:
- What your customers are saying: What do they need help with? What problems are they trying to solve? Why are they struggling with it? Find this information by asking your sales team to provide a list of FAQs.
- The information they're searching for: Which search terms do they use to find information related to their problems? Use keyword research tools like Ahrefs or Ubersuggest to find these.
- What (and where) they are communicating online: Which social networks do they use? Are they active in niche forums or communities? Do they use slang? Find this information through customer surveys.
Use the information you've gathered to build accurate buyer personas—and more importantly, learn what makes your customers tick. One report found 71% of companies who exceed revenue and lead goals have documented personas. These in-depth profiles give you the power to:
- Speak directly to your customers using their own language (which helps with relatability);
- Find more people who fit your ideal customer profile, and use the same language to encourage them to convert.
A huge part of understanding your target customers involves making sure you're set up to collect (and utilize) as much ongoing feedback as possible.
A lot of companies already have feedback coming in that goes to waste. They don't have processes in place to use feedback—even if it's valuable.
Workaround this by embedding customer feedback analysis into your routine. Set up a feedback channel where customers can send their requests via email, and ask one team member to "own" the process of asking for feedback outright (through surveys, user testing, and interviews).
Hold a monthly meeting to comb through the suggestions. Invite every member of your team—they might have insight on whether or not to implement it, or share a way to take the feedback to the next level.
Let's put that into practice. Say you offer consulting services to Fortune 500 companies. You have these nuggets of feedback to discuss:
- Customer A: "Can you create an online portal so I can access the notes from our sessions at any time?"
- Customer B: "It would be great if you could open a live chat to answer quick questions."
You come to the conclusion that the feedback from Customer A isn't a priority. It's the first time anyone on your team has heard a customer ask for an online portal. The investment massively outweighs demand, but you add it on your list to reassess in six months' time.
The feedback from Customer B, on the other hand, is valuable. It's something you can implement instantly without much legwork, so you install live chat software on your website and have one of your customer service agents handle messages that filter through.
Regardless of your decision, head back to the customer who provided the feedback and notify them of the update. Not only can you involve customers in your growth, but they'll feel like their voice is being heard—a huge competitive advantage.
5. Satisfy And Retain Existing Customers
Everyone wants to talk about customer acquisition. Getting new customers is exciting. It's sexy. It gives a great dopamine rush.
But the truth is, it's not nearly as important as retention.
Customer satisfaction and retention are ultimately the key to long-term growth.
- Previous customers are 5x more likely to purchase from you than new visitors (Marketing Metrics).
- And gaining new customers costs 5x more than keeping existing ones (Forrester Research).
- 43% of customers spend more money with brands they're loyal to (Fundera).
You might be surprised to learn that your bid to retain customers starts from their first interaction with your company. If customers don't know, like, or trust you from the get-go, you'll have a tough job convincing them to return.
If your website crashes when a customer tries to view their orders, for example, there's a slim chance of them purchasing from you again. Why would customers go through that frustrating process on your website when they can head to a competitor whose site works just fine?
It's also worthwhile to remember that customers don't automatically become loyal when they've received their purchase confirmation.
You need to earn their loyalty by making sure their first interaction with your brand—whether that's your website, app, or product—is error-free.
Once you've perfected that first-touch, begin to put processes in place that allow you to retain customers on a long-term basis. That could include:
- Having several forms of customer support (live chat, social media, email, and phone)
- Going above and beyond to help them
- Sending re-engagement emails
- Constantly asking for their feedback and implementing suggestions
- Running loyalty programs
- Offering discount codes or coupons
Your ability to retain customers is crucial for growth—not just because you'll avoid the constant (and exhausting) need to find new customers to stay afloat.
Happy customers will purchase time and time again, and 83% of consumers are willing to refer after a positive experience—meaning you can leverage existing customers into repeat customers and new customers.
That's much easier than trying to win over thousands of new customers who are strangers to your brand, right? You don't have to go through the process of convincing them to purchase over and over again.
You've earned their trust already; it's just a matter of building it into something more powerful.
6. Improve Your Marketing And Sales Funnel
If you have a business, you have a sales funnel. It might not be well thought out. It might not have been put together intentionally in any capacity. But it's there.
If you've been following along up to this point, you've already mapped out your customer journey. That is essentially your funnel. You should be tracking it by now, and if you are tracking it, you are in a great position to being improving it!
To start, you need to understand what you are hoping to accomplish with your funnel. Here's a great framework:
|Funnel stage||Customer thoughts||Your goal||Emails to automate|
|Attract||"Ooh, this looks interesting…"||Drive people to your website.||Posts on social media that share links to your blog posts.|
|Engage||"I have a problem I need to solve. Is this the solution?"||Educate the people visiting your website, and encourage them to sign-up to your email list.||Lead magnet pop-ups, and welcome emails that include social proof (e.g. case studies or customer reviews.)|
|Close||"I'm ready to buy."||Conversions!||Personalized emails containing case studies, or product recommendations based on website activity (e.g. abandoned carts.)|
|Delight||"Should I purchase again or recommend this brand to my ccopfriends?"||Encourage people to buy again, and refer you to their network.||Emails containing links to help docs, information about your loyalty program, or coupon codes exclusively for repeat purchases.|
This framework applies to more than just email. This should be the experience across each platform and channel.
When we want to improve this experience, we should start by identifying where it is struggling the most.
Let's say we are getting thousands of new visitors to our site every month with intriguing content, great advertising, or some other attraction channel. These visitors come to our site, read our content, spend lots of time on the site, and then leave, and we never see most of them again.
This means we are struggling to pull them in and keep them engaged in our funnel. We need a better mechanism for encouraging them to leave us their contact info, whether that is by creating an account, signing up for a tool, or subscribing to our email list.
Let's look at another example:
We have a low-cost product that we use as our initial selling target, and we are getting a ton of purchases, but after people buy this product, they very rarely buy our more expensive products or purchase from us again.
There are two potential issues here.
First, we might need better alignment between that initial product they are so eager to purchase and the rest of our products. The other stuff just might not be relevant to their needs. This is where getting some qualitative data from customers could be very helpful.
On the other hand, we might be running into a "delight" issue here. Maybe that low-cost product we are selling kind of sucks. It's not great, and once people hand us their money to get it, they end up disappointed and uninterested in purchasing from us again. Again, getting qualitative feedback could help us identify if this is the problem or if it's more of an alignment issue.
Improving your funnel comes back to data, so if you aren't tracking and analyzing your data, you are going to be powerless to improve your funnel.
7. Build Your Recurring Lead Generation Channel
When you decided you wanted to learn how to grow your business, this is probably the subject you had in mind.
We've included it last for a reason. At the end of the day, it's the least important part of growing a business... but it's still an important part.
If you want to grow, you need a way to bring in high-quality recurring leads month after month after month.
Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing. The channels that work for one business might not work for another, so you'll need to experiment with several techniques to grab your audience's attention.
The right channel for you might be any of the following:
- Content marketing: Create long-form blog posts around the content your target customers are searching for. (You'll already have a list of topic ideas from your customer research.)
- Email: Get website visitors to sign-up to your email list with pop-ups and welcome mats that offer free, exclusive content. Once they're on your list, send regular emails containing links to popular products or discount codes to encourage them to purchase.
- Podcasts: Interview people your customers trust, and publish the content in podcast-form. Upload the content to iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher to reach more people. (Again, you can find a list of influencers to interview by asking customers in your research surveys.)
- Social media advertising: Dip your toes into the advertising world with social media adverts. They tend to be cheaper than radio or TV ads; clicks from Facebook ads average at $0.27. Enter the details of your buyer personas into the audience targeting section to drive ideal customers back to your website.
- Video marketing: Take the topics your customers are most interested in, and solve their problems in video form. You can upload the video to YouTube, optimize the video for search, and direct viewers back to your website to enter the funnel.
What separates successful, growing businesses from "could have beens" is the way they approach lead generation.
Amateurs pick a channel based on what sounds sexy and easy, or based on a story they read from a successful entrepreneur about how quickly they grew through one particular channel. They choose based on bias and emotion and impulse.
Pros pick a channel based on their customers. This goes back to that qualitative data we talked about earlier. They focus on the long-term channels that make sense for reaching their customer base.
Next, they focus specifically on that channel and invest the time and resources required to thoroughly test it out.
Amateurs are constantly second guessing, changing their minds, and pursuing the next shiny object.
Pros invest until they can determine whether the channel is a winner or loser, then if it's a loser, they shift gears and experiment with a new channel. If it's a winner, they double down and focus even more energy on getting great results from that channel.
So start by choosing a channel to experiment with.
Here's a few questions to ask when choosing the first channel:
- Where are your customers? Where are they located? Where are they going? What platforms are they using?
- What's the easiest way to get in front of your customers?
- Where will your customers be most receptive to being approached by your business?
- Is there an intersection between where it's easy/low cost to get in front of customers, where they will be receptive to seeing you?
- Is there a channel where your offer will fit along with the intent of the user browsing or visiting there?
Once you've picked a starting point, go all in. Learn everything you can about that channel, and invest everything you can in it for a period of at least 3 months. Some channels require much longer timelines, so don't take 3 months as a universal guideline. It's more of a minimum.
Whatever you do, don't let yourself get distracted during the course of this experiment. Focus, finish, and then adjust based on your findings.
Next Steps: Grow Your Business
If you follow this 7-step process, you will grow your business.
We've seen well over 3,000 students use this exact framework to quit their jobs and launch successful businesses, and you are just as capable of achieving the same results!
That said, there's obviously a lot more we couldn't cover in just a blog post. We've done our best to give you the highlights, but if you'd like to try out the full, premium course our students used to succeed, click below to try it out 100% free!