Whether you’re looking to add to your product selection, role out a new-and-improved model, or expand the services your business offers, finding innovative ways to identify high-potential ideas can be expensive and time-consuming for small business owners.
Yes, you could hire a consultant, create a survey or run a focus group, but as a small business owner already juggling multiple roles and responsibilities, do you really want to invest the hours and money required to do so?
The good news is that you don’t have to.
Instead, put on your thinking cap and roll up your sleeves to find free ideas on your own. Not only will this save the cost of hiring outside help, you’ll uncover opportunities specific to your existing business. If you’re thinking about growing your business, start by digging into these three valuable sources of high-potential business expansion ideas.
Expand Your Business Through Customer Complaints
No one looks forward to receiving customer complaints. Yet by thinking of them as opportunities for expansion and building customer loyalty rather than purely solving customer service issues, you could soon see the value that unhappy customers actually bring to business owners.
When Audrey Darrow, founder of Righteously Raw Chocolates received complaints about her product line, she listened, and the result was a new best-seller.
“We had complaints over the years that all our chocolate bars had truffle inside,” she says. “Not everyone wanted fruit in the middle of their chocolate.” Darrow and her team decided to introduce their Pure Dark Bar in March, 2014, and it’s been a solid seller ever since.”Customers are so excited, and sales have gone well,” she says. “We always thought the cost would be too high to do a pure, solid chocolate bar, but we had received enough suggestions and complaints that we finally decided to do it.” Darrow says adding this product line was the right choice. “We are glad we did, because it is actually easier for us to make.” And it showed her customers that the company listens.
Make sure your customers know where to share their comments and concerns, both online and in the place of business and take a good look at each and every one of their complaints.
For each complaint, ask the following questions:
- Is this a recurring customer complaint? If so, it may indicate a new, long-term business demand.
- Could this complaint be resolved through customer service? If so, it points to a need for improved customer service training, or for better business delivery processes. It doesn’t suggest a potential business expansion.
- Does this complaint point to a demand for an alternate version of an existing product or service?
- Is it an opportunity for an entirely new product or service line?
- Are any of your competitors offering a better solution to this customer complaint than you are? If so, how can you address it and improve on it?
Once you determine that there’s an opportunity to expand your business by acting on one or more customer complaints, it’s time to crunch some numbers. Calculate the cost of introducing this new product or idea, as well as your potential sales. Include any research and development costs, new hiring costs, and/or new materials and supply costs.
(As your business expands, make sure you update your insurance coverage along the way without small business coverage identifier)
Monitor Social Media for New Business Ideas
Social media is useful for more than marketing your business. It’s also a research tool to find what’s trending and resonating with your target market, as well as for monitoring your competitors’ posts.
Whether your business focuses on Yelp, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter or another social media platform, “social media listening” gives you direct access to followers’ thoughts and feedback on your product— valuable information when it comes to looking for areas to expand your current product line or service offerings.
Your own social media accounts may hold the most valuable ideas about where and how you should expand your small business. Your followers are likely comprised of your current customers and others who are in your target market (or aspire to be).
Ask yourself the following:
- Which of your posts get the most comments and what are customers saying that could point to new opportunities to improve and expand your existing business?
- Is anyone modifying your product, or using it for a different purpose than it was originally intended? If so, this could point to a demand for alternate versions of your merchandise, new accessories or variations in color and size.
- Are there any surprises about who’s reading and sharing your Tweets, Facebook posts, Pinterest pins or Instagram pics? Reviewing social media (and website) traffic statistics regarding the demographics of your followers could point to expansion opportunities. For example, maybe you’re surprised by the number of out-of-state social media followers you have. This could indicate a demand for your product or service in another part of the country, and a potential to expand either by opening a store or office in another state or by extending your marketing efforts and shipping services to that area.
Offer a Product Alongside Your Service … or Service Alongside Your Product
Service-based businesses get paid for doing something for their clients. Product-based businesses make money by selling clients something they’ll use themselves. Although most businesses start out solidly entrenched in either the product or service side of the business world, when you’re ready to expand, it may be worth sneaking a look to see what opportunities may lie on the other side.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What product could I carry and/or develop to complement the service I offer?
- What services would complement my current product line?
- How would this make my customers’ lives easier? Think about new benefits to your customers, such as added convenience, resources or guides with commonly requested information you could provide in lieu of booking an appointment, etc.
- Would they find value in it?
- How could I make it profitable?
Here are a few examples of how service-based businesses may grow by adding products.
- Veterinarians offering healthy cat food. They’re selling convenience.
- A lawyer specializing in small business writing a book on tax tips for small business owners, perfect for people who want more readily-accessible information without booking an appointment.
- Dog groomers offering a shampoo line, nail clippers, and ear-rinse. Yes, you may lose some full-service grooming clients who want to save money by doing it themselves, but you could also pick up customers who just want the option to give Rover a mid-week shampoo if he rolls in something yucky.
Justin Klosky is a great example of a service-based entrepreneur who expanded his business by developing a complementary product. Recently profiled in Entrepreneur, Klosky is the brains behind O.C.D. Experience, an organizational consulting firm that helps clients organize, declutter, and simplify their lives. Klosky launched the OCD Wallet, a slim leather wallet that lets you digitize and organize the bulky membership cards spilling out of your traditional wallet.
And then there are the product-based businesses offering services. Not all of your customers may have the skills, desire, or knowledge to make the best use of your products. Why not offer a paid installation or design service for these customers? Some examples may include:
- A home improvement store offering a kitchen design service
- Supermarkets that offer online ordering curbside pick-up or delivery
- An electronics store that sells computers, flat screen TVs and surround sound and also offers the option to pay for installation, setup, and programming at home
The key to finding ideas to expand your business is to be aware.
Listen to your customers when they complain. In addition to resolving their current issue, think about what you could offer as an additional or alternative product or service that could resolve recurring complaints. Evaluate social media to see what your followers are excited about, and ask them what they’d like to see you offer. Pay attention to what other brands are doing—especially if they provide a different product or service to a demographic that you share. And constantly look for opportunities to broaden your products and/or services to provide convenience and benefits to customers.