Every startup entrepreneur wants to see their company grow. They want to snowball their customer acquisition, attracting thousands of new people to the brand, and reach diverse new audiences in new locations. They want to open new offices, generate more revenue, and ultimately, secure higher profitability.
But none of that can happen if you have an impediment to growth – an invisible (or perhaps visible) force keeping your startup from creating the momentum it needs to keep growing.
So what are the biggest barriers startup entrepreneurs experience in their route to achieve long-term growth? And more importantly, how can you avoid or overcome them?
You can’t grow without capital – at least, not effectively. You’ll need money to get all the initial equipment, space, and people required to begin operations. And from there, you can achieve a modest rate of growth as long as you keep providing quality products and services.
But what if you want to grow more or grow faster? You could invest in marketing and advertising. You could work to get more PR exposure. You could put together a client referral program. You can hire more salespeople and practice social selling.
There are many available routes, but all of them require money. And the revenue from your existing customers alone may not be enough to cut it.
Fortunately, there are many viable options to overcome this barrier, including getting funding from angel investors, venture capitalists, crowdfunding, banks, and even peers.
You may have a great product and a happy customer base, but what does that matter if nobody knows you exist?
Visibility is a huge obstacle to growth, but there are some viable strategies you can use to address it, including:
Website. Developing your company’s website is one of the most important investments you’re going to make. It’s going to serve as your central hub of operations – and the centerpiece of all your promotional channels.
Publicity. You’ll also need to invest in publicity, circulating headlines about your business and getting featured in the news. PR and reputation management can be huge in getting your brand established.
Marketing/advertising channels. Most of your new visibility will stem from your marketing and advertising efforts. There are countless strategies to consider employing here, including search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click (PPC) advertising, email marketing, and even traditional advertising are all viable options.
With an effective brand visibility strategy, you can rest assured that brand recognition will be high – and that people will be capable of discovering your brand.
But where does the relationship go from there?
Oftentimes, people don’t make an instantaneous decision; they wait and research other companies before finalizing a purchase. They also don’t always have the presence of mind to recommend your brand to others.
Both of these problems can be resolved by making your brand more memorable. A catchy name goes a long way to cement your brand in people’s minds, but you’ll also need the help of brand differentiation to distinguish your company from others.
Growth is all about customer acquisition – the process of attracting new people to the brand.
Or is it?
Most growth-focused entrepreneurs focus almost exclusively on customer acquisition, doing everything possible to get the brand in front of more people and to attract more customers to make a purchase. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, and you do need customer acquisition to help your company grow, it often neglects an important counterpoint: customer retention.
Customer retention is the practice of ensuring that your current customers stay with your brand and/or continue buying from you in the future. It’s much cheaper and more profitable than customer acquisition, and it’s practically necessary if you want to achieve sustainable growth.
So how do you do it? You start with a great product or service and make sure your customers are getting what they need. When people leave, find out why. When things go wrong, try to make up for them. Remaining adaptable and continuing to make customer service a top priority are your best options.
The Competitive Edge
Though it should be obvious, your startup is only going to succeed long-term if it has some type of competitive edge. Even if you’ve entered a brand-new market with a completely novel approach, it’s only a matter of time before competitors arise – and you need some way to stand apart from them if you want to keep growing.
These are just some of the ways you can do it:
Pricing. The most straightforward way to compete is to lower your prices. If you can offer the same thing for less money, you can likely steal some customers. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to lower your prices while keeping your profitability intact.
Availability. You can also compete by making your product or service more accessible or available to a different target audience. If your offer is the only reasonable one on the table, people won’t have much of a choice.
Quality. If you can’t compete on price, compete on quality. You can often justify charging more for a product if you use better materials, have higher quality assurance, or provide a better overall experience.
Service. Similarly, you can outcompete your peers by providing better service. Help people resolve their issues and give them a better connection to your brand.
Everything from the naming of your startup to your ongoing marketing efforts depends on your high-level strategy. What is this business’s course of growth? What are your goals and intentions?
Too often, investors are held back by a lack of intent or intent that’s too vague. For example, you may have a plan to “grow,” but what does that even mean? How much growth is reasonable to achieve? Are you going to grow vertically or horizontally? What are the channels and mechanisms that will help you achieve this growth?
If you don’t have a researched, written strategy in place, you’re doing something wrong – and it might cost you.
In the early stages of your business’s development, you’re going to notice dead weight. Dead weight is anything that isn’t actively benefitting your organization but is still taking your resources (whether it’s time or money).
For example, this could be an employee who simply doesn’t add much value to your organization – despite collecting a full-time strategy. It could also be a stagnant marketing strategy that’s barely breaking even, yielding much lower results than your other channels.
If you want to keep growing, you can’t be afraid to cut the dead weight. Change is scary, and nobody likes to fire an individual or an agency, but you have to make the call if you want to grow more efficiently.
These days, data is arguably the most important resource for growing startups.
How do you know whether your customers are happy? How can you tell if your marketing strategy is working? How can you tell if your company is achieving peak productivity? How can you predict whether a new approach is going to work?
The answer is with data. If you want to grow unimpeded, you need to measure and analyze everything you can.
Few startups are successful from the outset. Even fewer are successful with the original business model that spawned them. Markets change, competitors emerge, and new opportunities and threats will constantly arise. If you want to grow efficiently, you need to remain agile and adaptable, adjusting as you learn and experience more.
It’s true that most businesses eventually fail. And among those that persist indefinitely, many achieve a kind of purgatory-like stagnation, never ascending beyond their current limits and remaining trapped in their existing position. However, this doesn’t have to be your fate. Learn to recognize the biggest obstacles that stand in the way of your growth and put strategies in place to overcome them.