So many entrepreneurs would like to grow our small local businesses into national empires, but don’t know where to start. Even if national isn’t in the plans, at some point, chances are, you will at least look into setting up a second location or expanding statewide.

Here are some of the nuggets I have picked up along the way during our own nationwide expansion.

Develop a strategy

How do you want to expand your business? Do you want to roll out nationwide all in one big move? Or one state at a time? Or will you target the regions surrounding your area first and work outward from there?

For Incorporate Massage, we started expanding into new regions when our local Utah corporate clients with offices in other states wanted us to serve their other offices as well. So expansion has been very organic for us, but also seemingly random to those on the outside.

You have to find the strategy that works best for your business, your business model and the market. Growing too fast will kill a business, but so can growing too slow. So find a balance and a plan that can support your growth rate and your budget.

Do Your Research

Once you have a basic strategy outlined, research the areas you plan to target to determine if there is a market there to support expansion of your business into that new region.

For us, we can tell what markets are a primed because we rank organically on Google for our target key phrases, and when we start getting regular calls from an area, we can tell the climate of that market is ready for us.

You also need to research the competition to determine if it’s a good fit, or how to prioritize the areas you want to go after. For instance, if I want to expand into Philadelphia and Chicago, but I see that Philadelphia already has a very competitive corporate massage market, but Chicago doesn’t, I would move Chicago up on my priority list and start investing funds there first.

Test, Test, TEST!

I cannot stress enough that TESTING IS THE MOST CRITICAL STEP in expansion. Testing is so key to mitigating risk and making calculated business decisions that you must never ignore it.

When you think you have identified an area you want to target for expansion, find a way to experiment with it. Interview local prospective customers in that area. Do focus groups. Start a Google Adwords PPC campaign and see how it performs.

Do people there REALLY want what you’re selling?

I’ll give you a good example of why this matters from my own experience. Once upon a time, we thought Boise, Idaho was the perfect place for us to start this expansion. It’s geographically close to Salt Lake City where we are headquartered, so it seemed like a natural direction to go.

We did some research and saw that there are some big companies up there and some tech firms, so the forecast was looking good. I also saw there was virtually no competition.

So I hired a few employees there and decided we would launch big by investing in an exhibition for a conference in Boise that had done well for us in SLC, and then we would just sit back and start bringing in the big bucks. So what happened next?

Nothing.

Thousands of dollars later, we learned that Boise didn’t have the ideal climate for corporate massage. No one was receptive to our message. The business community there still believed touch in the workplace was inappropriate, and we were not equipped at that point to launch a marketing campaign to change their minds.

My point is that if we had tested first PPC or some cold calling, we could have invested those funds somewhere we could have seen a return. With a simple Google Adwords campaign, we could have seen that no one in Boise was searching for online for corporate chair massage, and would have saved ourselves all that time and money.

So learn from my mistakes and make sure to TEST the market as much as possible before you’ve invested too much into your new perspective market.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amelia-wilcox/how-to-expand-your-busine_b_7787038.html

This article was written by Amelia Wilcox from Huffington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.