How to grow your solo business

How can I expand my solo business?

As a “lone ranger” at some point I was faced with the situation that I had reached a revenue maximum. It couldn’t go any further without some organizational aspect suffering. So, I was faced with the challenge of reorganizing my company, so that it could continue to grow.

A company goes through phases in its life cycle that are characterized by fundamental problems or crises. These issues must be addressed before further growth is possible. Small companies in particular have to find a strategic and organizational orientation here in order to be able to survive in the market.

In the following article, I would like to shed light on some measures that I believe are necessary in order to grow sensibly (and without burnout).

Find out how you can grow

A good concept for deciding what opportunities are available for your company to grow is Igor Ansoff’s product-market matrix. It shows the basic directions – market penetration, product development, market development and diversification (risk spreading).

Ansoff‘s matrix of strategy
Ansoff‘s strategy types

You should base your decision on the following aspects:

  1. Market penetration has a low risk and should be chosen, if you still have a lot of room for growth with your existing products in your existing market.
  2. You should take product development, if you specialize in a customer group rather than a product or service. It involves learning new skills and greater uncertainty of success than market penetration. So the risk is greater here. However, your growth is not limited by the existing demand for your previous product.
  3. Market development is finding new target groups for your existing product. It also comes with a certain degree of uncertainty regarding the chances of success and is therefore less certain than market penetration. When you’re highly specialized in a product or service, finding a new customer group can be easier than building new skills.
  4. Risk diversification is the riskiest way, since you are stepping into new territory here, both on the product side and on the market side. On the other hand, you can choose the most lucrative field and, if successful, you have a completely independent cash flow and thus less risk in your company.

If I were in your place, I would just sit down and brainstorm at least 5 ideas for each field. This gives you a sense of what the directions practically mean to you.

Ideas on how your business can grow

I just want to share a few thoughts here that I hope will help you to develop your own ideas.

Suppose you are alone or with only one or two employees in your company and you offer a service. Which paths could you take?

  • Development of a special offer for your best customers (product development), i.e. establishing a cooperation with a hairdresser as a personal trainer
  • Development of a basic offer to make it easier for new customers (product development), i.e. as financial service provider you offer small and inexpensive evening training courses
  • Development of an info product (online course, webinar, download) for your target group (product development – the advantage here is that you are not paid by the hour), i.e. as a physiotherapist set up an online resource for exercises
  • Search for a very special target group that you have not previously served, possibly also with a new offer (market development, diversification), i.e. as a marketing agency select the target group sports clubs
  • Setting up a completely new business that has nothing to do with your previous one (diversification), i.e. setting up an online shop for music equipment as a nail designer

Decide how you want to grow

Based on your ideas, of course, you have to make a decision at some point. My recommendation: once you have made your decision, do nothing for for the moment. Just go about your normal life (with this decision in the back of your head) for a week or two and let it sink in. If after two weeks you are still convinced that you made the right decision, then you can continue.

The reason for this approach is simple. You should avoid a hasty shot. Because the more you follow a direction that you change again, the more difficult and expensive it becomes.

Costs vs. Changeability
Costs vs. Changeability

If you tackle the whole thing seriously and correctly, your decisions should be embedded in a meaningful concept. Whether you work out a complete strategy right away or just pursue a few strategic ideas is of course up to you. In any case, it’s all about finding new customers. That’s why I’m convinced that my article “Customer acquisition – you don’t need tips. You need a system.” can give you an idea right from the start of what a structured path can look like. It is about the long-term development of a marketing and sales channel that measurably brings customers.

Plan resources for growth

No matter what you tackle, make sure you get a concrete idea of ​​what needs to be done. You don’t need to know every detail, of course. However, you should have a very clear idea of ​​the main problems and a rough outline of steps with which they can be solved.

If I may recommend: Prepare a project plan in which you record the time required and budget for the individual steps. When you’re done with that, add it all up.

“Double the planned times and budgets. Then you have a realistic idea of ​​what your project will cost.”

Andre Jacobi

Looking for partners and employees

One of the most important, if not the most important, aspect is finding partners. The reason is simple:

Your day only has 24 hours. You can do a lot on your own, but only up to a certain limit.

There are two problems that can arise:

  1. Your economic mainstay suffers because you put too much into building the new one.
  2. Your build-up is sluggish because you don’t invest enough time, since you have to take care of your existing business.

So find people to support you. There is no best way here. It depends on the example. Maybe you need someone who supports you in the previous business so that you can jump into the new one. Maybe you need someone to build the new with you. You will have to decide that.

Build a system to work in

This point is more of a recommendation than actually necessary. I’m assuming you already have a reasonably functioning business. For this I want to propose a bet: I bet things aren’t going smoothly. Honestly, when is that ever the case… And further I’ll bet that one of the main reasons for this is the fact that things “just turned out that way” when the company was built.

Do better this time. Plan the activities that need to be done over and over again before you do them. Prepare checklists and enter the work steps in the calendar.

I know this smells like process management. It is. But it makes you more efficient.

At some point we got used to a certain work logic with recurring tasks. We first used Trello for this and then switched to MeisterTask. I highly recommend it… Here’s a screenshot that you can see we’re actually using it.

Screenshot MeisterTask
Screenshot MeisterTask

Establish controlling

In order to keep an eye on the success of your growth, especially at the beginning, you need a compass that shows you whether you are on the right path. Controlling does that for you.

This isn’t about looking directly at sales and seeing that not much is happening in the beginning. Rather, you need indicators that show you that your idea is working. Examples can be:

  • increasing number of visitors to the website
  • positive feedback from customers
  • to find a customer at all
  • increasing reactions to your social media content
  • absence of complaints
  • repetition of small successes

As you can see, not every point is 100% objectively measurable. However, each point can be set as a criterion beforehand, so that you can observe it. And that’s the key.

If you need inspiration on the topic of “meaningful indicators” and how you should use them, then my article “Which key indicators are important for a small business?” is for you. In it, I go into more detail about the different types of key indicators and show you which is important in which context.

Adjust your plan

No plan lasts forever or can accommodate everything. That is why controlling your measures is so important. It shows you when you need to change your plan.

It is here, where the logic of the well-known PDCA cycle emerges – plan, do, check, act.

PDCA cycle

It’s a fine line between

  • testing something long enough to get any reliable results at all and
  • to pursue a path for too long because it has failed.

You won’t always be right, that’s part of the deal. Often, my path is to try 3 more times or 3 more months before giving up a tactic.

Speaking of tactics… I have shown a more precise demarcation of where tactics end and strategy begins in the article “What is the difference between strategy and tactics?”. What you want to avoid is giving up a direction that makes sense in principle.

Take your time

I included this point because I am far too impatient myself far too often. And that, although I know from my own experience that setting up a new business or branch of business almost always takes 3 years until it runs reasonably smoothly.

So: take your time!

Withdraw if things don’t go well (preferably defined beforehand)

Should you give up, although it is always said: “Persevere! Persevere! Persevere!“

Admittedly, it is difficult to leave a path that you believe in. But I am convinced that it is necessary.

Let’s say you’ve invested 2 to 2.5 years and your results show no discernible upward trend. Do you really want to hang on for another 2 years? Of course, it depends on the individual case whether it makes sense to give up. However, I am not convinced that everyone (and always) will be successful “only with enough effort”. I’m a big believer in „Try smarter!“.

Ideally, you should think about your worst exit scenario before you start. Make it clearly measurable. In the past, I personally had the following criteria:

  • If I don’t find a new customer within a year, I’ll give up.
  • If I can’t see that the company can become profitable within six months, I’ll give up.
  • I will invest 20,000 euros. If they are gone, than that’s it.

I always felt that this approach saved me from greater harm.

Optimize your performance

Much better is the case that your plan actually works. When that happens, focus on that and smooth out the path. Grind off the corners and edges and take your performance to a higher level.

To do this, you have to standardize what can be standardized. Your performance must be reliable. Consistency is the magic word.

Optimizing and standardizing your performance will make you more efficient. And that means you can either get more done or save money.

However, it is the last step. First you need to find what works and build it. Only then, can you optimize.

I’ve also gone through this step myself – as a freelance lecturer, I started to standardize my content and teaching methods at some point. It was the greatest gain in time and the greatest relief for my private life that I have experienced up to that moment. You see, I belong to the “believers”.

At the end, I hope you took away some inspiration on how to grow your business. Maybe, it was just an idea that came to you. Perhaps, you were able to take something away from the individual phases.

If you have any questions or would like feedback on an idea, please use the comments. I will reply quickly.

I would also like to draw your attention to my personally favorite article – “How do you write a small business strategy? – Complete guide“. I am convinced that this is where everything starts. Many of the mechanisms and tools you need to grow your business come from strategy development. I would be happy if this article might be the beginning of your planned (!) success story.

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