Building a Vigorous Startup Growth Plan
If there’s one buzzword that can elicit excitement and fear in startup CEOs, founders, and leaders, it’s the word “growth.” Is our business growing quarter after quarter? How can we expand our customer base? Are we going to make enough revenue this year to launch our additional offerings? Growth is integral to a startup’s success, there’s no substitution for it, and if we’re being honest, slow or unpredictable growth just isn’t going to cut it in today’s rigorous and highly competitive startup landscape.
That’s where a vigorous startup growth plan comes into play. This detailed, specific blueprint can ensure that your growth is calculated, intentional, predictable, and aggressive. Because that’s exactly what your startup growth should (and needs to) look like.
Is a Laid Out Growth Plan That Important?
We get it: startups aren’t always synonymous with rules, plans, and guidelines. But before a startup figures out where to put the nitro coffee taps and napping pods, it should architect a vigorous startup growth plan.
Why is this type of growth plan crucial? Is it even important at all?
The short answer is: a vigorous startup growth plan can be a life-or-death difference for a startup.
That’s because a startup growth plan lays out expansion strategies for different aspects of your business, from marketing to sales. It’s comprehensive, and gives you detailed methods for ensuring your startup isn’t only growing at an expected rate, but that it’s outdoing the competition.
But Things Change, Can’t We Wing It?
In startup land, things change, and fast. Isn’t winging it sometimes the best plan in an unpredictable landscape?
No, probably not. Winging it, or just “going with the flow” to make decisions in the spur of the moment, can be detrimental. These aren’t just small drop-in-the-bucket decisions we’re talking about. They’re aspects of your business with major financial implications that can impact the trajectory of your entire company.
Let’s face it: research tells us that a majority of startups fail within the first few years, and that they can fail due to misreading market demand, running out of money, cash flow problems, and the competition. Why wing something as crucial as the growth of your business, and leave the success of your company up to chance? Especially when you can turn to your trusty startup growth plan, that’s designed to work in an ever-changing landscape?
You might be wondering how a startup in flux can use a fixed startup growth plan. It’s important to note that there are two things a startup plan isn’t. It’s not restrictive, it’s not stagnant, and it is designed to evolve as your startup grows. Yes, your vigorous startup growth plan expects your business to change, and accounts for uncertain scenarios.
With that in mind, here’s how you can start building out your own vigorous startup growth plan for your business. Because your startup deserves it.
Map Out Your Product Journey
When creating your vigorous startup growth plan, an excellent place to start is by mapping out your product journey, which demonstrates how customers use your product. This visual representation shows how your customers use your product or service, in every instance (from when they sign up and start using your product) and outlines different actions they can take.
This tool is crucial for enhancing your product, because you’re able to deeply understand exactly how your customers are using it. It also gives you clear insight into your product’s capabilities, as well as where there’s room for improvement and new features. Without mapping out your product journey, you won’t have a clear picture of all of the ways customers are using your product, from their perspective.
Leave Room for Evolutions of Your Product
In order to ensure your startup growth plan grows with your company, you also need to leave room for evolutions of your product during the mapping process. Here’s how to do that: after you create your current product map, you can create a future state map, which outlines how customers might use your product in the future. This is an excellent tool for identifying different growth opportunities, clarifying potential future uses and evolutions, and identifying and tracking goals.
Build A Marketing Plan That Sets Your Team Apart
Another key component of your vigorous startup growth plan is to build a powerhouse marketing plan, which sets you apart from the competition. Startup marketing can be a bit like the Wild West, and the rules are far more pliable than with traditional marketing. While building your marketing plan can be an incredibly in-depth process, here are some general steps to get you started.
- Identify key goals: What are the main goals of your marketing strategy? Are you trying to increase brand awareness, increase organic business, or to promote a certain product? Make your goals specific, timely, and take steps to measure their success.
- Understand your market: Who exactly are your customers? Creating customer personas isn’t only crucial for the product end of things, and it’s also critical for your marketing plan. Know exactly who you’re marketing to, understand their pain points, and identify the best ways to actually reach and engage with them.
- Create branding that sticks: As a consumer, you probably know how important brand recognition is. Brand recognition is when a company’s branding is so identifiable that it is easily recognized. In general, most consumers prefer to purchase from brands they already know, making brand recognition a crucial aspect of any marketing plan. When creating your branding, ensure it’s authentic, memorable, and clear.
- Designate your strategies and channels: Marketing today isn’t like the marketing from the generation of our parents, and today’s marketing strategies are multi-channeled approaches that are custom to each business. Identify where most of your consumers are hanging out (on certain social media apps, for example), and decide which channels and mediums will be your main focus.
- Cultivate community: Startup marketing can’t be robotic or automatic, and the best way for it to be successful is by cultivating community. To do this, establish a brand voice, and use it on your targeted marketing channels. Engage with your audience, create dynamic CTAs, and find ways to get your audience to communicate with your brand.
- Designate your budget (for today’s landscape): Your marketing budget needs to be built for today’s marketing landscape, meaning you probably need a budget for things like social media ads and video content production. Put your marketing budget in the areas where it can make the biggest impact with your potential customers.
Have a Hiring Plan
Another critical aspect of a startup growth plan is how you’re hiring. Startup founders and leaders know that certain things are tough, like raising funds. But with competition for top talent and a growing talent shortage (that’s only expected to get worse), hiring top talent for your team should be anything but random.
When creating your hiring plan, first identify what roles you need to hire for right now, and which ones you plan to hire for in the future. You also should establish if the hire can be filled internally, or if you can train your current team for skills gaps.
Next, establish your hiring budget, and craft your job descriptions. For startups, a great approach is to describe specific goals and outcomes you want that person to achieve, and tasks they’ll take ownership of (instead of simply rattling off generic skills). You should also describe your company’s culture, goals, and ideals, so you can find candidates who align.
Then, source your candidates. You can post your job (internally and externally), or work with recruiters to hire top-tier candidates. After that, during the interview process, look for candidates who you can see sticking with your company for the long run, and who can play a role in its future.
Ultimately, your hiring plan should have a short-term component, and a long-term component, taking into account your company’s future growth.
Look Closely at Sales Goals
Let’s get down to brass tax: one of the most important things for the growth of your startup is revenue, which comes from sales. With that in mind, your startup’s sales goals are another crucial aspect of your startup growth plan. Your sales goals should be simultaneously ambitious and realistic, and your sales team needs to be highly trained and incentivized to reach these goals.
When building out your vigorous startup growth plan, your sales goals are going to be the fuel. And they’re definitely a balancing act to figure out at first, especially when it comes to a fast-growing startup.
First, establish your starting sales goals. But keep a close eye on them, and if these goals aren’t being met, work to identify if the sales team can do better, or if the sales goals aren’t realistic enough. You should be tracking short-term sales goals, such as monthly or quarterly, because of how crucial they are to your startup’s growth at this stage, as well as long-term sales goals. Also, make sure that you’re not only focusing on areas for improvement, but that you’re properly compensating and recognizing your team when they achieve their goals or other accomplishments.
Set Up KPIs
Metrics matter when it comes to startup growth, which is why setting up KPIs is an important step in building your startup growth plan. KPIs, or key performance indicators, are metrics that measure performance. KPIs are used across the board in every aspect of a business, and they should be specific to the department, team, or project which they’re measuring.
Some KPIs are universal and generic (such as customer satisfaction), but most are more specific. For example, the marketing team might have a KPI to increase their conversion rate, while IT might have a KPI to lower a query resolution time by 1 minute this quarter.
When crafting your KPIs for your different departments, teams, and projects, there’s one thing to keep in mind: SMART. This acronym stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. It means that KPIs should be detailed and precise, that progress should be measured, that they should be realistic, that they should be necessary, and that they should involve specific time parameters.
Do You Really Know Your Target Buyer?
Do you really know your target buyer? Considering that many startups fail because they’re not targeting the right market, it’s not necessarily a given that a startup truly knows who its customer is. To understand your target buyer, first start with broad personas and traits, before eventually narrowing down your focus to specific niches. Then, conduct research on your competition, to see how similar brands are solving customer pain points, and to identify how you can stand out to your buyers.
After that, it’s an excellent idea to actually speak to some potential customers. You can crowdsource on social media, or use formal focus groups, for example. But this sort of first-hand research can help you deeply understand your customers, and identify specific similarities and traits that you can target.
Next, you can execute the crucial step of creating specific customer personas. Who exactly are your buyers? How much money do they make, what does their personal life look like, where do they live?
Don’t forget, who your target buyer is today might not be who your target buyer is tomorrow. Be prepared to reassess your target buyer, and work through the process of understanding them again.
How Can You Test Types of Buyers?
Even with understanding your buyers, you don’t have to leave things up to chance. Instead, you can actually test different types of buyers, to make sure you understand them, and that you’re serving their needs.
Once you establish your buyer personas, you can work with marketing and sales to create targeted approaches for each type of buyer. You can then A/B test different marketing approaches to reach certain customers. When those leads come in, sales can jump in with their targeted persona approach.
This sort of testing can be very revealing. If your suspected target personas aren’t responding to your marketing materials, it might be that you’re misunderstanding your buyers, or that your approach isn’t actually speaking to them.
Continually Check on the Competition
Just like your business is going to vigorously grow, you can expect your competition to (at least plan to) do the same. With that in mind, you need to not only analyze your competition in the beginning, but continuously check in on them, and conduct an in-depth analysis.
To do this, you can use certain automated tools to continuously check in on your competitors, such as Google alerts, and apps that monitor their social followers and keyword traffic. You can also watch their customer reviews, sign up for their email newsletter (to see what they’re promoting and how they’re doing it), and keep track of how your competition is engaging with customers.
Consider Building SaaS Versions of the In-House Tools You Develop
Vigorous growth means coming up with new, innovative solutions and products. With this in mind, startup leaders can look for ways to capitalize on their expertise, and the things their company is creating. As you build out your tech stack and develop in-house tools for your team, you might find that you suddenly have an excellent opportunity to build your own comprehensive SaaS tool.
Consider the fact that your startup can be your own target buyer, and that you’ve already created the perfect tool that solves very specific needs. Once you’ve smoothed out the workflows, refined the tools, and seen how useful they are, consider adding them to your own SaaS offerings.
Expand Your Customer Base
That one customer persona that you’ve perfected and that you’re reaching effectively? They’re just the tip of the iceberg for a startup that wants vigorous growth. Mastering your target buyers should be an intentional and steady process, but once you’re reaching those first initial personas, look for ways to actually expand your customer base.
How can you reach new markets with your current tools? How can your solutions solve pain points for new types of customers?
Think about it like this. Google developed as a search engine tool, but now, when someone is looking at reviews for the best restaurant in town, they’ll likely turn to Google. Think of ways to expand your customer base, while staying true to your brand, vision, and goals.
Scaling can be exciting for a startup, and it might seem like the natural next step during times of explosive growth. But before leaders start pouring resources into scaling, first decide if scaling is even the right decision for your business. Make sure you’re not making premature decisions to scale, and that you have an excellent handle on your cash flow, bookkeeping, and accounting (don’t forget that outsourced accounting services are an option).
Also, remember that with scaling comes increased expenses. You’ll have to shell out more for everything from office space to HR resources. The bottom line: before scaling, ensure that your finances and back-end bookkeeping are completely shored up, and that you understand accounting for startup basics, so you can make the best financial decisions possible while scaling.
Keep Up With Technology Trends
Industry technology trends are rapidly changing, and new tools are constantly being developed which can help automate tasks, improve workflows, and reduce effort and time spent on certain tasks. It can be tempting to stick with certain tools and services once you adopt them and they become part of your team’s workflow. And we all know how uncomfortable it can be to switch systems and processes (when those changes aren’t intentional and supported). But sticking with old tools and resources “just because” you already use them is a great way to get stuck in the past, and let your competition pass you by.
A Vigorous Growth Plan Requires Vigorous Work.
In the startup world, growth isn’t a given, and the vigorous growth that fuels powerful companies requires an aggressive plan. But at the end of the day, this level of growth isn’t possible unless a startup has rock-solid financials. From taxes to forecasting, your startup’s accounting needs to facilitate your vigorous growth.
That’s where we come into play. We’re hiline, and we offer next-generation outsourced accounting services specifically designed with your startup in mind. Let us take care of your accounting, so you can focus on vigorous growth. Read more about our accounting services here, and contact us today.
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