I always get excited when I hear of new ways to grow a business. It might be a technological innovation like the cloud that inspires us to rethink how we approach our strategies and reach potential customers. Or it might be a different mindset that enables us to look at problems from a different perspective. A seemingly insurmountable challenge suddenly becomes a brilliant opportunity.
For small business any idea that might encourage even a little bit of growth is worth considering. The customers I speak to say it’s one of the main things keeping them up at night. They are troubled with questions like, “How do I find the time to grow my business?”, “Is my business even built for growth?” and “What should I be doing differently to make it happen?”
There are no catch-all solutions. But based on what we’ve learned at Intuit helping small businesses over 35 years, there are a several creative ways you can tip the scales in your favour. Firstly, don’t look for time in your schedule – make it; creating your ideal week before it starts will ensure growing your business is always a priority. Secondly, set yourself up for financial success from the outset so your business is ready for growth. And thirdly, one of my favourites: dare to innovate. By tailoring your offering to the changing needs of your customers you have a greater chance of remaining relevant in a market that is always on the move.
As the title of this article says, there is a fourth way, but I’ll share that one with you a little later.
Create your ideal week
It sounds simple enough but making time is one of the hardest things to do in small business. There is a tendency to put everyone else first, particularly your customers and staff. The trick is to block out time in your calendar each week to focus on key tasks. The first of these, according to accounting thought leader Chris Hooper, is to manage your emails more effectively. “I know staff who live through their emails,” he says. “Be better at assessing them. It has a huge impact on time recovery. Every time you get distracted you lose momentum.”
Chris, like myself, is also of the belief that if you schedule it, you get it done. By allocating time in your calendar each week to growing your business you are far more likely to come up with answers than leaving it until you’ve got on top of your inbox. This takes discipline and it’s never as straightforward as it sounds. You need to be diligent with your own time management and that of your colleagues. But, if you start to map out your ideal week, you will gain time in each day and will feel more in control.
Set yourself up for financial success
No one goes into business to scrape by. We invest our time and energy over many years in the belief our business will grow. Yet so many businesses start without the necessary financial foundations to ensure it can be scaled over time. The first step is getting your head around the basic terminology of financial management, terms like balance sheets, accruals and depreciation. Then reach out to a financial advisor, such as an accountant or a bookkeeper, someone who can look at your business objectively and help you put measures in place so your business can grow.
If you’re already across these first two steps then you may want to jump to the next one: put your finances in the cloud. By managing your books with cloud accounting software like QuickBooks Online, you can monitor your business from anywhere so long as you have a mobile or any device with internet connectivity. You can snap and store your receipts to better manage your expenses, and generate and chase up invoices for speedier payment. So if your business suddenly expands the way you’d always dreamed, you won’t be drowning in paperwork and losing income chasing invoices.
Furthermore, the time you save with expense management and invoicing, can be better spent focusing on more ways to grow your business. Chris suggests sitting down for one hour every month to objectively reflect on your finances. “It’s almost a form of meditation,” he says. “Seven days after the end of every month, sit down with your balance sheet and ask yourself, ‘Where could I have done better?’” So as part of creating an ideal week, be sure to pop this tip in your calendar.
Dare to innovate
As the old saying goes: necessity is the mother of invention. If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to innovation then take a leaf out of our playbook. Speak to your customers to find out what problems they’re having. At Intuit we encourage all our staff to conduct regular “follow me homes” to see how our customers’ businesses operate and how they are using our products. This information is invaluable for innovation. Our product designers can then enhance our offeringsto not only help those individual customers but every other business who may be dealing with a similar issue.
Chris points out, “Understanding customer experience – the journey they go on – is hugely important to product and service design.” As the CEO of accounting firm Accodex he recently applied the principle to his own business. “Accodex is prefaced around the use of foresight about where a business is going. We saw what was happening with crypto currencies – an asset increasing in value and volume. As the price skyrocketed, we realised there were going to be a lot of people with tax problems.
“So we researched who was serving this space. Then did some customer analysis. Who are they?Where are they? We found there were young people who have made millions, 23 years olds who have become rich within a short period of time. Accodex is now able to offer an ear to these people and guide them. We’re not just dealing with tax problems but issues of wealth management. It’s been a huge play for us.”
Expand your network
Once you’ve taken control of your calendar, put your finances in the cloud and found great ways to innovate your products and services, what next? The fourth creative way to grow your business is to expand your network by attending the most cutting-edge business conferences available. Our flagship event QuickBooks Connect was a huge success last year and is set to be even bigger this year when it kicks off at Australian Technology Park in Sydney later this month. The topics I’ve discussed above will be explored in greater detail. I urge you to come and listen to some of the country’s most vibrant business leaders share their insights and connect with other small business owners like yourself. You’d be amazed at how many great ideas for growth can come from one incredible event.