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How to expand your business without reinventing the wheel

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Key takeaways

  • Market research can help you better understand your customers and plan your growth strategy 
  • A product launch doesn’t always mean creating something new; it can also mean providing access to an existing product or service in a fresh way
  • Creating free business profiles can increase your visibility online and bring more awareness to your small business

As a small business owner, you take business growth seriously. Perhaps you’re wondering which areas to focus on or you just want to know how to expand your business in general. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Expanding your existing business can take the form of launching new products or services, updating your current offerings, retaining customers, or revamping your online presence. By taking your expansion strategy to the next level, you can enjoy greater profitability in the days to come.

4 types of market research

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When thinking about expanding your business, it helps to research the preferences of your customers. Almost every successful business got that way by understanding their customer base. Here’s how to do it:

1. Primary research

Primary research is the market research you conduct yourself on your target customers. A few types of primary research include:

  • Surveys: This may include customer satisfaction surveys to understand existing customers or first-time buyers.
  • Polls: Much like surveys, polls are a great way to get a consensus about everything from preferred logos to the type of online content customers are interested in seeing.
  • Focus groups: With this tactic, you can get customers to weigh in and share opinions in a somewhat structured group interview format (online or in real life)—in exchange, maybe offer them a coupon or gift card to the local coffee shop 
  • Observation: You can couple any of the above methods with this type of research. As its name suggests, observation is when you observe and take note of important customer decisions while they interact with your product or service either in-store or on your website. You can use a supportive tool like Hotjar to conduct this type of research.

The benefit of primary research is that it can provide insights on how to expand your business specifically. Do this type of research directly before or after launching a new product to see what your customer base thinks about it. Use that feedback to strengthen what you’re offering or to guide your next new product.

2. Secondary research

Secondary research is information that’s already out there and is conducted by a third-party like a researcher, marketing agency, competitor, or government body like the SBA (Small Business Association). It can give you ideas about your business model and growth strategy from a high level.

Secondary research is a cost-effective way to research customer trends and put them at the centre of your business choices to stay relevant.

Some examples of secondary research include articles, infographics, videos, and e-books. Seeking out these resources  can provide relevant statistics about your industry and what your competition is doing. 

Plus with so many content creators out there, you’re bound to find useful how-to videos or step-by-step guides for almost any small business query.

3. Qualitative research

Qualitative research can be performed by you (primary) or someone else (secondary), but it mostly refers to any information that can’t be measured with numbers—it’s more about feelings and impressions. For example, when launching a product you can conduct qualitative research by asking open-ended questions like:

  • What is the main advantage of using this product?
  • What problem were you attempting to solve by purchasing this product? 
  • In your opinion, what would improve this product?

This type of research is useful during a product launch because you can narrow in on potential customer expectations and feelings. It will help you learn whether your product is meeting their specific needs and can uncover new opportunities to solve problems for your customers.

4. Quantitative research

Contrary to qualitative research, quantitative research relies entirely on facts and numbers. It can also include both primary and secondary research but not “feelings” or “hunches.”

Places you can go to gather quantitative research for your product launch include:

  • Social media: New followers, engagement levels with product-specific posts, and new email list subscribers can tell you a lot about what’s working with your audience.
  • Website page views: If you see an increase in website traffic after you launch a product, it can be a good sign that you’ve addressed a particular need within your current customer base or new target market.
  • Sales: Measuring sales throughout the launch of a new or upgraded product can give you clues about your target market and how they’re interacting with your marketing campaign. 

How to expand your business in three impactful areas

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Small business growth takes some strategizing. By using what you learn from your research, you can apply changes in the following three key areas:

1. Launch new products or expand your reach 

The easiest way to grow your business in the short-term without the financial burden of opening a second location is to start with your products or services. 

Examine the existing products that are popular with your customer base. What might be missing from your offerings? Maybe you’re wondering why a product isn’t reaching a specific demographic

A quick social media poll might uncover that these customers are looking for greater accessibility of your products at local retailers so that they can try them in-store before buying. This could be especially true for any type of cosmetics or skin care where customers often like to smell the product or test it on their skin in-person before making a purchasing decision. 

Your expansion plan doesn’t always have to be launching a brand new product. It may also include launching an existing product in a new location or to a new audience. Primary research helps determine how customers use your products and what may be missing. These insights can help determine how to launch or expand products in a fresh and more effective way. 

2. Engage your customer base

Customer retention essentially means gaining repeat customers. It’s when you attract loyalty from a customer who has made a purchase from you before. Your ability to attract, engage, and retain your customer base is where your small business starts and ends. 

Studies show that it can cost up to seven times more to build new customer relationships than to maintain your existing ones. Focus on current customer retention and keeping the momentum with referred customers to improve profitability and sales. If there’s an issue with your product or service, a happy (and repeat) customer is likely to provide helpful feedback because as a loyal client, they want to see you succeed.

Here are just a couple of the many benefits to retaining customers:

  • As the rapport grows between your company and your customers, so does their brand loyalty, which can increase chances of word-of-mouth referrals (aka more business growth). These referrals are the highest form of compliment your small business can receive. It means you created a pleasant experience that exceeded expectations, and the benefit of a positive reputation is that you have to do less to market your own business since your customers are doing it for you.
  • With a reliable base of customers, it’s easier to predict busy periods and creates a more stable business environment. It allows you to plan accordingly with the right amount of stock and resources (staff), making for a more pleasant customer experience.

To stay in touch with your customers and increase your chances of retaining them, share relevant information on your company blog, email newsletter, and social media channels. Useful content offers an opportunity for your target audience to learn something instead of just getting sold on a product.

3. Make the most of your online reviews 

More than ever, business owners need to get active online and engage with customers. Here are a few ways you can maximize your presence online.

Activate free business profiles: Add your business to sites like Yelp, and then stay active—keep your business information up to date, add photos, and respond to reviews. When potential customers are looking online for businesses like yours,  word-of-mouth referrals are crucial and that includes online reviews, making your Yelp Business Page a useful tool. Make sure you have a business page set up on Facebook and LinkedIn too.

Audit your own business: Perform routine internet searches online to see what customers are saying about your brand and respond to all reviews on your Yelp Business Page. Doing so is a great way to help manage your reputation and beat the competition.

Be responsive: Always acknowledge and speedily respond to all comments and reviews. 

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Here’s an easy formula and checklist for responding to reviews—both positive and negative:

  • Thank all reviewers for their feedback and time.
  • Emphasize any positive or helpful comments.
  • Address any issue and identify where it deviates from your business values.
    For example, if the customer felt that they received poor customer service, make sure to emphasize that this treatment goes against your mission to provide the best service possible. Then offer a way you plan to use their feedback to fix it, like offering more service-oriented training to staff.
  • Offer another way to continue the conversation via direct message or a phone call.

Build on what you already know

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According to some reports, only 9% of small businesses will survive past the 10-year mark. Why? It’s largely due to a poor customer experience and a lack of market research. 

Knowing how to expand your business doesn’t have to be chaotic or cause you to start from scratch. Chances are, you already have some success as a small business, so it’s a matter of learning how to strategically grow on what you’ve already built.

Knowing your customer base is an ever-evolving challenge, but it leads to better product launches, higher engagement with your current and new customers, and a more authentic online presence. 

The bottom line is that you need to be thinking about the future you want for your small business so you can deliver the best possible experience to your customers.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.