How to stop your business from becoming stagnant

Image courtesy of KaboomPics

It's easily done. One minute your new business is buzzing and things are progressing along nicely; the next – you're twiddling your thumbs and waiting for the phone to ring. If this sounds familiar, it's likely you've neglected your marketing somewhere down the line, and now you're suffering the consequences.

If you take your finger off the pulse even for just a moment, you risk becoming stagnant. To avoid this happening, you need to kickstart that energy and passion that made you successful in the first place. Here are a few pointers to help you stay ahead of the curve.

Think about where you're heading

It might seem obvious, but have you ever considered why you're running your business and where you hope to be five years from now? If you're a graphic designer and you're passionate about interiors, for example, how will you become known as a specialist in that field? If you establish a clear vision, your marketing plan should easily fall into place.

Consider your audience

Who are you trying to attract? Where are they active? What are their likes and dislikes? Because if you don't know who your potential customer is, how will you know who to target and where? That's essentially what we're trying to achieve here. A clear route from attraction to conversion. Because knowing thy audience will stop you running around in circles.

Create a customer persona to stay focused. Make it up based on any available stats (website, Instagram, surveys, etc.) and stick it somewhere you can always see it.

For example, Margaret Smith is 37 years old and a Marketing Director for an SME in the travel industry, looking to improve its brand identity. Margaret loves to keep abreast of industry news and reads all the usual print magazines for both trade and consumer, as well as enjoying an unhealthy obsession on Instagram for travel inspiration posts. She's after some support from a local graphic designer who can help her with all her company's visual communications.

You get the picture. Create your own Margaret Smith (or similar), so you have a target audience in mind at all times.

Develop a strategy

With a clear vision in mind and a target audience, take a fresh look at your business. What are your strengths? What could be improved? How can you progress? Is there anything you can get rid of to better achieve your goals?

Start small and identify the one thing that you can tackle first. Do you need to work on your branding? Have you not yet launched onto Instagram? Do you have a monthly newsletter that you send out to existing clients?

Enjoy this part of the business development process. Scribble your ideas onto a big white sheet of paper with colourful pens and your strategy will start to reveal itself.

Update your portfolio or website

Whenever I have a spare moment, I like to work on my website. I might tweak copy, test out different landing pages, add fresh case studies and client testimonials – every little helps. The aim is to ensure potential clients are attracted and then convinced to get in touch.

There are many ways you can ensure web visitors convert. By far the most important is to have a clear and compelling value proposition – that simple positioning statement that visitors will see first when they land on your website.

What is a value proposition? It’s the main reason why someone should hire you. It’s something that:

  • explains how your product solves customers’ problems or improves their situation (relevancy),
  • delivers specific benefits (quantified value),
  • tells the ideal customer why they should buy from you and not from the competition (unique differentiation).

Review your own value proposition and test different versions to see which convert the most. Take an agile approach and keep tweaking your website's intro copy until you find the perfect statement.

Set aside time to learn new skills

If you don't concentrate on self-improvement, then you'll get left behind. Keep learning to expand your skillset, stay relevant and be in tune with your industry. Clients want to know what the latest social media channel is or whether there are any hot new tools they can use. They want to stay abreast of changing trends and beat their competition, and they expect you to do the same and advise them accordingly.

Add new services

With the above in mind, are there any new products or services you can introduce? Just lately, we've seen more and more graphic designers offering "content creation" support for Instagram feeds and stories.

Listen carefully to existing clients and their needs to identify any new services that you could offer. Because if they're talking about it, I guarantee others will be on the same page.

Refresh your social media marketing

It's all too easy to fall behind on your digital marketing when you've got clients to serve, admin to sort and meetings to attend. But a forgotten Instagram feed might reflect badly on your business. Take a fresh approach and develop a social media strategy, so you don't neglect your channels.

Make the best use of tools available to you. For instance, did you know Planoly has just launched auto-posting to Instagram? It's literally saved my life. Just schedule images to post automatically, and you'll keep a presence on Instagram during busier weeks.

We also recommend SproutSocial to manage all your social media in one place. And Buffer is great for scheduling content for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and anywhere else you want to remain active.

A word of warning – social media shouldn't be exclusively automated; you need to log in occasionally and chat to people, retweet stuff and network. There's still so much value in making contacts on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Upsell to existing clients

Care about your customers doing well and you might just find a way to make more money out of them. See that their Instagram feed could do with a refresh? Send over a proposal with suggestions on what they could do. Visually show them how much better they could be, for instance.

Have you spotted a new trend that you think they should embrace? Or perhaps you think they'd benefit from a new brochure? Whatever it is, upsell to win more work, make more money and help your client to thrive.

Send out a newsletter

Sometimes clients just need a gentle reminder that you're open for business. Use Mailchimp – it's free forever for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month – and send out a monthly newsletter about what you've been up to.

It could include new client wins, case studies, things you've spotted in the industry... whatever it is, always consider that the ultimate goal is to keep your business in people's minds. So when they do need your services, you'll be the first they call.

Launch a side project

A great way to jazz things up is by starting something that will make new and existing clients sit up and take notice. Could you launch a magazine, for example?

That's exactly what LJB Studio is doing with Design Giving, a new publication launching soon to support independent designers and makers – the very people its founder, Laura Boast, wants to work with. It's genius. Not only is Laura demonstrating her design skills; she's opening up her world to lots more potential clients.

Or what about an interesting personal challenge, like James Curran's Tokyo Gifathon, where James unbelievably animated a new gif every day for 30 days. His hard work definitely paid off, though, as it led to a wealth of new clients and a raised reputation.

Approach the people you want to work with

Have you spotted a website that needs a refresh? Is there someone you think you could help? Why not approach them? I have a friend – we'll call him John – who loves to redesign the homepage of someone's website and then email it to them, explaining why he thinks they'd benefit from a fresh look. It doesn't always work, but six times out of 10 – he sparks their interest and wins the business. Yes, it takes non-paid effort upfront. But John simply sees it as part of his marketing.

What could you do to grab someone's attention and encourage them to become your client? The possibilities are endless.