First, congratulations! You're halfway through the 10 Steps to Grow Your Business! Now, on to Step 6.
There are many ways to get what you sell in front of prospective customers. In this step, we discuss a number of the “channels” you should consider to connect with customers and grow your business.
IN THIS STEP, WE'LL EXPLORE THE BEST WAYS TO:
- Tap the Web
- Create a Catalog
- Use Sales Reps
- Go Global
- Add Wholesale
- Try Brick-and-Mortar
- Add New Locations
- Weigh the Franchise Opportunity
Tap the Web
Think about what’s happened during the past decade alone. Let’s look at the real estate industry as an example. Ten years ago, about 10 percent of the house-buying public was going online to find new homes. Today, 77 percent handle their searches online, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Or, consider that 70 percent of adults use the Web. And you should use it to reach them. If you’re not online now, regardless of your business type, chances are you’re missing valuable opportunities for additional business. In an age of short attention spans and a growing need for instant gratification, Web surfing is more appealing than ever to business and retail consumers.
Here are things you can achieve by tapping the Internet:
You can establish your brand image and express key features or aspects of what you offer.
You can sell your products through the Internet.
Satisfy a consumer’s impulse
On the Internet you can sell at “the speed of thought.” In essence, as quickly as someone has an urge to buy, you can sell it to them. Compare that to a brick-and-mortar store that’s open from 9 to 5 and only in one town.
Deliver collateral material
Instead of printing fancy brochures that are static and require delivery, you can electronically create a PDF file of your brochure for people to instantly.
Track and perfect
As described in Steps 1 and Step 2, you can easily learn what’s working and what needs fixing via online analytics, so you can grow.
Find out more in StartupNation's 11 Steps to Create a Successful Website.
Create a Catalog
Catalogs seem “so yesterday”! But have you noticed you’re receiving more of them in the mail than ever? Know why? Because they work.
Your catalog should have two key components:
- Information of value to the customer
- A unique design or format
This may be the only contact the customer has with you in an offline setting. It’s crucial to make a good impression with a well-designed catalog.
Catalogs as branding machines
Catalogs allow you to create a snapshot of what your business is all about in the comfort of your customer’s own home. If designed professionally, catalogs help you stand out from your competition, shout out your company’s products and embody the image you wish to portray.
Catalogs and loyalty
Americans who shop from catalogs are loyal. They make an average of 15 catalog purchases annually, according to a study by the Direct Marketing Association.
Catalogs and "shelf life"
Catalogs give you additional time to stay in a prospective client’s thoughts – they have what’s called “shelf life.” This means they hang around on a credenza or in a stack of unread mail somewhere until your eye-catching publication is picked back up and thumbed through during downtime – just the right frame of mind and relaxed moment for a customer to consider making a purchase.
Catalogs as "loss leaders"
Some businesses look at catalogs as an indirect instead of a direct selling tool that results in purchases made through the provided toll-free number. What catalog issuers discovered in the Internet age is that many people actually do their purchasing at your Web site instead of by phone. So take into account the possibility that your catalog could be a money-losing proposition in and of itself, but very effective in causing desirable sales volume online. All of this can be tracked with promotional codes that you encourage customers to use.
Use Sales Reps
We’ll dive deeper into this one in Step 10, which focuses on Sales, but we couldn’t outline channels without at least an honorable mention of using sales reps. Reps can provide a turnkey way for you to hit accounts you could never get around to with your internal resources. And by tapping their access through their pre-existing relationships, whole new channels could present themselves.
For example, you may be able to approach mom-and-pop retailers in your area, but the reps might be able to add a new channel, like chain stores, to your sales effort. When the Battery Buddy was introduced to the marketplace, our licensee first got the product onto the shelves in Sears stores by meeting with the buyer at Sears corporate. This was something they could manage internally. But they used sales reps to get the product into car dealership service garages, because it was a totally different channel of distribution and our licensee didn’t have the internal network of national salesmen to make this happen.
One important note: Many sales reps are better at taking orders than at selling. Selling is expensive, difficult and potentially time consuming. Taking orders for “the usual” products that are already in demand, on the other hand, is about as easy as can be.
Are you ready to export? It’s not as daunting as you might think, even on a thin budget. With all the systems, resources and communication methods available today, going global is easier than ever.
A few things that can make a huge difference in an effort to develop international channels include the following:
Try to ally with in-market experts
Whenever possible, forge relationships with people who have experience, and even better, operations in the market you’re going to pursue.
Ensure that your intellectual property is protected and that you’re willing to diligently fight off any copycats
Give a strong review of your trademarks, designs, patents and copyrighted material (especially in the area of software) before going global.
Be ready to adapt your offering to the market you’re pursuing
This can include modifications to language, branding, packaging and pricing.
A valuable resource to tap is the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), an independent U.S. government agency that helps finance the overseas sales of U.S. goods and services. In 65 years, Ex-Im Bank has supported more than $300 billion in U.S. exports.
Ex-Im Bank provides guarantees of working capital loans for U.S. exporters. It also guarantees the repayment of loans and makes loans to foreign purchasers of U.S. goods and services. You can also get credit insurance against the risk of non-payment by foreign buyers for political or commercial reasons.
Ex-Im Bank supports the sales of U.S. exports worldwide. In recent years, its focus has shifted to developing nations, whose economies are growing at twice the rate of industrial nations.
U.S. banks can help you work out the logistics of foreign exchange rates. Their foreign exchange services (“hedging” products) allow you to lock in a price for future shipped goods, based on the current value of the U.S. dollar. Using such products is prudent business practice, because they protect your profits from sudden market fluctuations.
We suggest this strategy if you’re a high-volume buyer of products and currently sell only trough retail channels. The basic principle behind this is to leverage your high-volume pricing – the advantageously low pricing your vendors give you – to add a slight markup and then resell that product to other retailers. This puts you in the wholesale game.
We’ve seen this in particular with eBay merchants called “Power Sellers” who often buy large lots of items, sell some direct to customers, but resell a portion of the goods to other retailers who have their own retail ambitions. The only way this works, of course, is if you have access to the product at preferred pricing that your wholesale customers can’t get on their own.
The other way adding wholesale as a channel can help you grow is by moving inventory that’s just sitting around. Deeply discounting products that just won’t move out the door is reasonable in order to get money out of stagnant inventory and back into new inventory that you believe will be more profitable. Wholesale - or in this case, “fire-sale” - pricing can attract other businesses to swoop in on deal-hunting missions, and take the dead weight off your books.
If your business is online or maybe a catalog-only company, you may want to create your first retail location to enter the time-honored world of running your own brick-and-mortar store.
In terms of pros and cons, brick-and-mortar enables you to interact in-person with your customers, and that may be a big benefit if you believe you can better influence their buying decisions that way. This old-school channel can also help you create more of an attention-getting presence in your community. Another way to say this is, since you have a physical storefront, people can literally see that you exist – and this can provide marketing and awareness benefits off the bat. Contrast that with a Web site – unless people are searching for you, they’re not likely to bump into you, your brand or what you offer.
Be aware that the brick-and-mortar channel also comes with light bills, merchandising demands, lease payments, people, etc., that must all be tended to constantly. Once you go down this road, expect fixed expenses to rise in your business, and probably variable expenses as well.
Add New Locations
What are the ingredients that have made the current location of your business succeed? Can you replicate those ingredients at another location?
If you’re already a brick-and-mortar business, a classic growth strategy is to open additional locations. If that interests you, consider the following pointers:
Choose a location that doesn’t “poach” customers from your current one
You want to be sure you tap a new group of customers to get total revenues cranked up.
Choose a location you can get to easily from your existing location
The more difficult or time-consuming it is to travel between locations, the less time you’ll be on the premises and ensuring things are operating as intended.
Choose a new location only if you’re sure you have or can get a superstar manager
The true magic in brick-and-mortar businesses comes from having great people onboard. Because a second location will necessarily split your time, you’ll need capable management who can always be there making things happen.
Remember this, too - even though you’ll gain efficiencies between the operations of existing and new locations, you will also experience new fixed and variable operating costs. Be prepared for that financially.
Weigh the Franchise Opportunity
Just as in “Add New Locations,” before you consider franchising, you have to know what’s working in your current business. Then you have to assess whether those things are replicable and practicable in other locations by other people.
Consider the following:
Certain businesses lend themselves to being franchised
They’re typically those with an offering that can be standardized and delivered in a systematic way by other entrepreneurs.
Streamlined and successful
Your current location or business concept has to be absolutely streamlined and successful before ever trying to create a franchise opportunity built on your business.
When you franchise, what you do day-to-day changes
You become more of a manager and marketer, and less of the entrepreneur you probably were while building your very successful current location(s).