Shaping a Business Growth Strategy: 7 Key Steps That Work

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Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel

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A concrete growth strategy is more than a marketing strategy, it's a crucial cog in your business machine. Without one, you're at the mercy of a fickle consumer base and market fluctuations.

sales reps reviewing their business growth strategy

So, how do you plan to grow?

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If you're unsure about the steps needed to craft an effective growth strategy, we've got you covered. 

For the majority of businesses, growth is the main objective. With that in mind, business decisions are often made based on what would contribute to the company’s continued growth and overall success. There are several methods that can facilitate growth which we'll explain more about below. 

Types of Business Growth

As a business owner, you have several avenues for growth. Business growth can be broken down into the following categories: 

1. Organic

With organic growth, a company expands through its own operations utilzing its own internal resources. This is in contrast to having to seek out external resources to facilitate growth.

An example of organic growth is making production more efficient so you can produce more within a shorter time frame, which leads to increased sales. A perk of utilizing organic growth is that it relies on self-sufficiency and avoids taking on debt. Additionally, the increased revenue created from organic growth can help fund more strategic growth methods later on. We’ll explain that below.

2. Strategic

Strategic growth involves developing initiatives that will help your business grow long term. An example of strategic growth could be coming up with a new product or developing a market strategy to target a new audience.

Unlike organic growth, these initiatives often require a significant amount of resources and funding. Businesses often take an organic approach first in hopes that their efforts will generate enough capital to invest in future strategic growth initiatives.

3. Internal

Internal growth strategy seeks to optimize internal business processes to increase revenue. Similar to organic growth, this strategy relies on companies using their own internal resources. Internal growth strategy is all about using existing resources in the most purposeful way possible.

An example of internal growth could be cutting wasteful spending and running a leaner operation by automating some of its functions instead of hiring more employees. Internal growth can be more challenging because it forces companies to look at how their processes can be improved and made more efficient rather than focusing on external factors like entering new markets to facilitate growth.

4. Mergers, Partnerships, Acquisitions

Although riskier than the other growth types, mergers, partnerships, and acquisitions can come with high rewards. There’s strength in numbers and a well-executed merger, partnership, or acquisition can help your business break into a new market, expand your customer base, or increase your products and services on offer.

Strategize, consider the available options, and build some into your business plan. Depending on the kind of company you're building, your growth strategy might include aspects like:

  • Adding new locations
  • Investing in customer acquisition
  • Franchising opportunities
  • Product line expansions
  • Selling products online across multiple platforms

Your particular industry and target market will influence your decisions, but it's almost universally true that new customer acquisition will play a sizable role.

Not sure what that looks like for your business? Here are some actionable tactics for achieving growth.

1. Use a growth strategy template [Free Tool].

HubSpot Growth Strategy Template

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Don’t hit the ground running without planning out and documenting the steps for your growth strategy. We recommend downloading this free Growth Strategy Template and working off the included section prompts to outline your intended process for growth in your organization.

2. Choose your targeted area of growth.

It’s great that you want to grow your business, but what exactly do you want to grow?

Your business growth plan should hone in on specific areas of growth. Common focuses of strategic growth initiatives might include:

  • Growth in employee headcount
  • Expansion of current office, retail, and/or warehouse space
  • Addition of new locations or branches of your business
  • Expansion into new regions, locations, cities, or countries
  • Addition of new products and/or services
  • Expanding purchase locations (i.e. selling in new stores or launching an online store)
  • Growth in revenue and/or profit
  • Growth of customer base and/or customer acquisition rate

It’s possible that your growth plan will encompass more than one of the initiatives outlined above, which makes sense — the best growth doesn't happen in a vacuum. For example, growing your unit sales will result in growth in revenue — and possibly additional locations and headcount to support the increased sales.

3. Conduct market and industry research.

After you’ve chosen what you want to grow, you’ll need to justify why you want to grow in this area (and if growth is even possible).

Researching the state of your industry is the best way to determine if your desired growth is both necessary and feasible. Examples could include running surveys and focus groups with existing and potential customers or digging into existing industry research.

The knowledge and facts you uncover in this step will shape the expectations and growth goals for this project to better determine a timeline, budget, and ultimate goal. This brings us to step four…

4. Set growth goals.

Once you’ve determined what you’re growing and why you’re growing, the next step is to determine how much you’ll be growing.

These goals should be based on your endgame aspirations of where you ideally want your organization to be, but they should also be achievable and realistic – which is why setting a goal based on industry research is so valuable.

Lastly, take the steps to quantify your goals in terms of metrics and timeline. Aiming to "grow sales by 30% quarter-over-quarter for the next three years" is much clearer than "increasing sales."

5. Plan your course of action.

Next, outline how you’ll achieve your growth goals with a detailed growth strategy. Again – we suggest writing out a detailed growth strategy plan to gain the understanding and buy-in of your team.

Growth Action Plan Downloadable Template

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This action plan should contain a list of action items, deadlines, teams or persons responsible, and resources for attaining your growth goal.

6. Determine your growth tools and requirements.

The last step before acting on your plan is determining any requirements your team will need through the process. These are specific resources that will help you meet your growth goals faster and with more accuracy. Examples might include:

  • Funding: Organizations may need a capital investment or an internal budget allocation to see this project through.
  • Tools & Software: Consider what technological resources may be needed to expedite and/or gain insights from the growth process.
  • Services: Growth may be better achieved with the help of consultants, designers, or planners in a specific field.

7. Execute your plan.

With all of your planning, resourcing, and goal-setting complete, you’re now ready to execute your company growth plan and deliver results for the business.

Throughout this time, make sure you’re holding your stakeholders accountable, keeping the line of communication open, and comparing initial results to your forecasted growth goals to see if your projected results are still achievable or if anything needs to be adjusted.

Your growth plan and the tactics you leverage will ultimately be specific to your business, but there are some universal strategies you can implement when getting started.

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Free Growth Strategy Template

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To expand a business and its revenue, companies can implement different strategies for growth. Examples of growth strategy include:

Growth Strategy Examples

1. Viral Loops

Some growth strategies are tailored to be completely self-sustainable. They require an initial push, but ultimately, they rely primarily (if not solely) on users' enthusiasm to keep them going. One strategy that fits that bill is the viral loop.

The basic premise of a viral loop is straightforward:

  • Someone tries your product.
  • They're offered a valuable incentive to share it with others.
  • They accept and share with their network.
  • New users sign up, see the incentive for themselves, and share with their networks.
  • Repeat.

For instance, a cloud storage company trying to get off the ground might offer users an additional 500 MB for each referral.

Ideally, your incentive will be compelling enough for users to actively and enthusiastically encourage their friends and family to get on board. At its best, a viral loop is a self-perpetuating acquisition machine that operates 24/7/365.

That said, viral loops are not guaranteed to go viral, and they’ve become less effective as they’ve become more commonplace. But the potential is still there.

Part of the appeal is that the viral loop flips the traditional funnel upside-down:

Growth strategy viral loop

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Instead of needing as many leads as possible at the top, a viral loop funnel requires just one satisfied user to share with others. As long as every referral results in at least 1.1 new users, the system continues growing.

2. Milestone Referrals

The milestone referral model is similar to the viral loop in that it relies on incentives to kickstart and sustain it. But milestone referrals add a more intricate, progressive element to the process.

Companies that leverage viral loops generally offer a flat, consistent offer for individual referrals — businesses that use milestone referrals offer rewards for hitting specific benchmarks. In many cases, "milestones" are metrics like the number of referred friends.

For example, a business might include different or increasingly enticing incentives that come with one, five, and 10 referrals as opposed to a fixed incentive for each referral. A company will often leverage this strategy to encourage users to bring on a volume of friends and family that suits its specific business goals.

The strategy also adds an engaging element to the referral process. When done right, milestone referrals are simple to share with relatively straightforward objectives and enticing, tangible products as rewards.

3. Word-of-Mouth

Word-of-mouth is organic and effective. Recommendations from friends and family are some of the most powerful incentives for consumers to purchase or try a product or service.

The secret of word-of-mouth’s effectiveness lies in a deeply rooted psychological bias all people have — we subconsciously believe the majority knows better.

Social proof is central to most successful sales copywriting and broader content marketing efforts. That's why businesses draw so much attention to their online reputations.

They know in today's customer-driven world — one where communication methods change and information is available to all — a single negative blog post or tweet can compromise an entire marketing effort.

Pete Blackshaw, the father of digital word-of-mouth growth, says, "satisfied customers tell three friends; angry customers tell 3,000."

The key with word-of-mouth is to focus on a positive user experience. You need to grow a base of satisfied customers and sustain the wave of loyal feedback that comes with it.

With this method, you have to focus on delivering a spectacular user experience, and users will spread the word for you.

4. The "When They Zig, We Zag" Approach

Sometimes the best growth strategy a company can employ is standing out — offering a unique experience that sets it apart from other businesses in its space. When monotony defines an industry, the company that breaks it often finds an edge.

Say your company developed an app for transitioning playlists between music streaming apps. Assume you have a few competitors who all generate revenue through ads and paid subscriptions — both of which frustrate users.

In that case, you might be best off trying to shed some of the baggage that customers run into trouble with when using your competitors' programs. If your service is paid, you could consider offering a free trial of an ad-free experience — right off the bat.

The point here is that there's often a lot of value and opportunity in differentiating yourself. If you can "zig when they zag", you can capture consumers' attention and capitalize on their shifting interests.

5. In-Person Outreach

It might be a while before this particular approach can be employed again, but it's effective enough to warrant a mention. Sometimes, adding a human element to your growth strategy can help set things in motion for your business.

Prospects are often receptive to a personal approach — and there's nothing more personal than immediate, face-to-face interactions. Putting boots on the ground and personally interfacing with potential customers can be a great way to get your business the traction it needs to get going.

This could mean hosting or sponsoring events, attending conferences relevant to your space, hiring brand ambassadors, or any other way to directly and strategically reach out to your target demographic in person.

6. Market Penetration

Competition is a necessary part of business. Imagine that two companies in the same industry are targeting the same consumers. Typically, whatever customers Business A has, Business B does not. Market penetration is a strategy that builds off of this tug-of-war.

Market penetration increases the market share — the percentage of total sales in an industry generated by a company — of a product within a given industry. Coca-Cola, the most popular carbonated beverage in the United States, has a 42.8% market share. If competitors like Pepsi and Sprite were looking to increase market penetration, they would need to increase market share. This increase would imply that they are acquiring customers that were previously buying Coca-Cola or other carbonated beverage brands.

While lowering prices and advertising are two costly yet effective tactics to increase market share, they are part of a series of methods businesses can use for overall sales and customer retention.

7. Development

If a company feels as if they have plateaued and its current market no longer has room for growth, it might switch strategies from market penetration to market development. While market penetration focuses on a company and its current market, market development strategies lead businesses to tap into a new one.

Companies can decide to manufacture new products or find an innovative use for their project. Take Uber. Although few would say that the rideshare company has plateaued, six years after its launch in 2009, Uber launched UberEats, its online food ordering, and delivery platform. The company already had drivers set to take passengers to their destinations. Uber expanded their idea and has become one of the biggest names in the food delivery industry.

8. Product Development

For growth, many businesses need to introduce something new. Product development — the creation of a new product or the enhancement of an existing one — allows companies to attract new customers and retain existing ones.

Online fast-fashion retailers are an example of this. A company like ASOS built its brand off of clothing. To appeal to a bigger customer base, it has since added face and body products, a collection made up of ASOS products and other popular brands. If an interested customer prefers to shop for their clothes, makeup, and skincare products at once, the brand now serves as a big draw.

9. Growth Alliances

Growth alliances are strategic collaborations between companies. They further the growth goals of the involved parties. Take JCPenney and Sephora. For Sephora, it can’t hurt for the makeup retailer to have more stores across the country. JCPenney, however, needed to keep up with powerhouses like Macy’s and its fully-fledged makeup section.

In 2006, Sephora began opening stores inside JCPenney. As of 2022, Sephora Inside JCPenney is now in over 574 stores. Simultaneously, JCPenney now carries a selection of makeup to rival competitors.

10. Acquisitions

Companies can use an acquisition strategy to promote growth. By acquiring other businesses, companies expand their operations through creating new products or expanding into a new industry. One of the more obvious ideas for growth, this strategy offers significant benefits to companies. They allow for faster growth, access to more customers, lower business risk, and more.

Founded in 1837, Procter & Gamble is a consumer goods company known for its acquisitions. It initially started in soaps and candles but currently has 65 acquired companies that have allowed it to expand into different markets. The list includes Pampers, Tide, Bounty, Tampax, Old Spice, and more. Although its sales dipped between 2016-2019, Procter & Gamble’s net sales for 2021 were $76 billion, its best year within the last decade.

11. Organic Growth

As mentioned previously, organic growth is the most ideal business growth strategy. It could look like focusing on SEO, developing engaging content, or prioritizing advertisements. Instead of focusing on external growth, organic growth is a sustainable strategy that promotes long-term success.

12. Leverage Social Media

Having a strong social media presence can be invaluable to marketing and business growth. Be sure to establish brand pages on all social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok, Twitter, etc. Social media can help you increase engagement with your target audience and make it easier for potential customers to find your brand. It’s also great for word-of-mouth promotion as existing customers will likely share your content with their network.

13. Provide Excellent Customer Service

It can be tempting to focus on acquiring new customers, but maintaining loyalty with your existing customers is just as important. Providing an excellent customer service experience ensures that you’ll continue to keep the customers you have, and there’s a good chance you’ll reap some referrals too.

The Key to Growing Your Business

Controlled, sustainable growth is the key to successful businesses. Industries are constantly changing, and it is the responsibility of companies to adapt to these changes.

Successful companies plan for growth. They work for it. They earn it. So what's your plan?

Editor's note: This post was originally published in March 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Topics: Sales Strategy

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