5 smart ways to grow your business

Growth is the word on the tip of every politician’s tongue at the moment, but while it remains to be seen if the government’s strategy to stimulate the economy will be successful. In business at least, it’s not usually possible to shrink your way to growth.

With budgets under pressure businesses large and small are having to come up with increasingly innovative ways to attract new customers. Below are some particularly nice examples.

1. Get your customers to do your marketing for you

The traditional approach to this is to ask your customers to recommend a friend, but let’s be honest: how many of us can be bothered? 

My local gym tries to bribe me with a free bottle of wine or a picnic rug if I recommend someone who subsequently signs up for membership, but apart from the dubious appeal of a picnic rug when half the country is under water, I can’t help feeling guilty about selling my friends for the price of a cheap bottle of Cava. If they were offering Dom Perignon it might be different. 

The dessert brand Gu solves this problem brilliantly, by offering its customers the chance to have Gu treats delivered to their office. Not only is the day brightened by having something nice to eat, but you are instantly popular with your colleagues. The offer is only open to companies with 100+ employees, so from Gu’s perspective it is an excellent sampling opportunity.

2. Make your customers feel special

We all want to be appreciated and no one does this better than Trip Advisor. So far I have submitted nine reviews, not exactly a vast number, but every time I post a new one, I receive a personalised thank you as well as regular updates about how many people have been reading my reviews and whether they have found them helpful. 

I now glory in the title of senior reviewer and I have been informed that when I submit just two more reviews, I will receive my contributor badge. 

It sounds like the girl guides, but it works. I’m already looking forward to submitting a review for the restaurant we are eating at tomorrow night. 

3. Embrace the competition

Biscuiteers have previously featured in the Real Business hall of fame, and deservedly so. Their gift boxes of beautifully iced biscuits are a delight and a refreshing change from the usual flowers and chocolates. A less imaginative company might have seen home bakers as competition, but Biscuiteers has embraced them and developed icing kits and biscuit cutters specifically to cater to their needs, even publishing a book on how to create Biscuiteer products in your own kitchen. 

Personally, I think life is too short to ice biscuits myself, so I will continue to order mine online. For Biscuiteers it is a case of having your biscuit and eating it.

4. Be surprising

Doing something unexpected that stops people in their tracks and makes them think (positively) about your brand is a very powerful marketing tool. A great example of this is the ‘Car Bike Rack’ from Cyclehoop, whose owner Anthony Lau has been a great supporter and user of the British Library Business and IP Centre. 

Cyclehoop makes bicycle racks and other devices that encourage cycling. The ‘Car Bike Rack’ has the silhouette of brightly coloured parked car and fits neatly into a parking space, but is actually a rack for bicycles. It is witty and playful and you can’t walk past without smiling. In fact, the only quibble I have is that the Cyclehoop branding and contact details aren’t prominent enough. When people are looking at your product you need to make the most of it.

5. Ask an Expert

Finally, if you’re running a mid-sized business, the chances are that you are usually too busy flying the plane to think about upgrading the fleet, which is why it is so important to take time out to plan your next move (preferably when the plane is safely parked on the runway) and to get some expert advice. 

Finding the right sort of help isn’t always easy, so I’m going to risk a blatant plug here and suggest checking out the British Library’s ‘Innovating for Growth Programme’. This offers small and mid-sized businesses with aspirations to grow and employ more people a free programme of tailored advice and support with an estimated value £10,000. Apply now – and it might be the smartest thing you ever do for your business.

Frances Brindle is director of strategic marketing and communications at the British Library. 

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