Viresh Harduth, Vice-President: New Customer Acquisition (Small and Medium Businesses) for Sage Africa & Middle East shares his tips how to grow the business beyond the start up stage.
The start-up scene in the Middle East, and particularly the UAE, is ripe with opportunities and booming with the emergence of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). From food delivery to music-streaming and service marketplaces, the region has it all.
In fact, the MENA based start-ups received an estimated funding of US$893 million (AED 3.3 billion) in 2018, with a 31 per cent increase in investment compared to 2017, according to Magnitt 2018 MENA Venture Investment Report. These figures can be attributed to the strong government support for homegrown innovation and entrepreneurs, along with a significant rise in the quality and speed of growth of start-ups from the region.
So, you’ve survived the start-up phase of your business. Now it’s time to grow. Whether you’re looking to expand by diversifying your product or service offering, or by entering new markets, you’ll need a few strategies to help you along the way.
Here, I unpack three such strategies and suggest a few ways to shake up your growing business. Whichever you decide to experiment with, the Golden Rule is this: take it slow and have a plan. Expanding too quickly could result in growing pains and allow inefficiency to creep into your processes. Slow and steady wins the race (and the customers).
Shaking up your brand’s identity shows your target market that you’re adaptable. Even big brands regularly refresh their corporate identities to stay relevant and to keep up with changing consumer preferences – much like what Careem, a UAE-based ride-hailing app, with the change of their logo making it more bold, positive, playful and differentiating.
As you grow your business and diversify into new products, services and markets, you might find that your current identity no longer serves you. A brand revitalisation will better reflect the needs and values of your bigger business, as well as the innovation you offer and how you are different from your competition.
Growing tip: When rebranding, always aim for simplicity in design and marketing message. Focus on your customers’ challenges.
Reward customer loyalty
Existing customers are one of the best sources of revenue for your growing business. Studies put the cost of acquiring a new customer at five to 25 times higher than retaining an existing customer.
Your customers are also your greatest advocates – nothing is as effective as organic word-of-mouth marketing. Honest referrals and testimonials can also go a long way to attracting new customers.
But to get them to take the time to write a glowing review requires a lot of effort on your part. Customers are more willing to talk your business up if you offer consistent and excellent service, exceptional experiences, superior support and personalised attention.
Make the time and effort to really listen to your customers, understand their needs and challenges, and then figure out where you fit in.
Growing tip: Consider developing a customer loyalty and referral programme with great benefits for repeat business. Add another layer by offering existing customers discount vouchers or free products when they refer a friend.
Find a mentor – or hire a business coach
Whatever business growth challenge you may be facing, chances are someone else has already been there and survived to tell the tale and offer advice on how to overcome those challenges effectively.
Few things are as important in business as a supportive network. Whoever you choose to work with, your mentor should be someone who has walked the same path and who can help you think about the bigger picture. They’ll ask the right questions, scrutinise what you’re doing and offer suggestions and strategies to help you move forward.
If you can’t find a mentor with suitable experience, consider hiring a business coach who specialises in your industry and can teach you proven strategies to help you grow. Even if they can’t help you, they probably have an extensive network of their own that they can tap into and from which you can benefit.
Growing tip: Find a mentor or business coach who can guide you in your own personal development, not just your business. Nobody ever regretted learning a new skill. The more knowledge you have, the better businessperson you’ll become. If you offer payroll services, for example, why not learn more about HR and add that to your offerings?
Whatever you decide on today to expand your business, try to keep it simple. Simplicity makes it easier to stay engaged with customers and drives efficiency, which is crucial for any growing business.