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How to Grow Your Business in 2017

These four go-to strategies will put you and your company ahead of the growth game this year. By Timothy Inklebarger | Digital Exclusive

Business Growth

With the New Year upon us, it’s time to look for both innovative and time-tested ways to take your business to the next level. Despite the endless lists of pointers and tips that you’ll read this time of year, experts say a few general strategies can help to get you on track for scaling up in 2017. Here are just four.

1. Capitalize on Millennials

The Millennial generation is now the largest age demographic in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Leonard Kim, managing partner at personal branding accelerator, InfluenceTree, notes in his latest Inc.com column. And as Millennials begin to replace their Baby Boomer and Gen X counterparts, business upstarts will do themselves a favor by taking notice.

Kim offers a number of strategies for capturing this key market, not only as customers, but as employees as well. After all, who better to understand a Millennial than another Millennial?

For starters, “Millennials see Fortune 500 companies as dinosaurs,” Kim tells Copy Desk, adding that small businesses should woo this group with flexible schedules and remote employment opportunities. Larger companies hoping to attract Millennials to their ranks should publicize the ways in which they changed their culture to better suit the needs of younger employees, Kim suggests.

Adapting to new trends can make a company more attractive to Millennials by showing they are nimble, swift and work without the hindrance of red tape and stifling bureaucracy. “Millennials like to be proactive and solve problems before they occur; they like to work in team environments and grow together,” says Kim.

2. Focus on e-commerce

Going hand in hand with Millennial influence, Kim foresees the continued rise of e-commerce and products that focus on environmental sustainability, health and wellness. Companies with the desire to grow need to keep these trends in mind, says Kim. “Millennials are quite conscious of what types of products they buy,” he writes. “They turn off the sink when they brush their teeth. They shut off the water in the shower when they are shampooing their hair. They even go out there and actively look for socially conscious companies to purchase from, because they care about the earth.”

3. Understand social media and SEO

Building your brand and its all-important online identity is synonymous with building and growing your business in the modern world. But capturing your target audience online has gotten trickier, according to Chris Bartlett, a marketing associate with Chicago-based EM Search Consulting.

Bartlett says online marketing strategies vary depending on the company and product, but keeping up-to-date on current search engine optimization [SEO] methods is key in 2017. “Google and other search engines are getting smarter,” Bartlett explains, noting that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to “trick” search engines with keywords and other types of SEO methods.

Growing your company and online presence means pushing out content – via blogs, websites and social media platforms – that is specifically targeted to the needs of your customers. Connecting with customers is more important “than finding loopholes in [search engine] algorithms,” he says. “People are pushing out content for the sake of pushing out content, and it’s not necessarily pushing out content for the sake of helping their users. I’d rather have five dedicated followers than 500 who couldn’t care less.”

Among Bartlett’s cardinal rules of social media marketing is keeping it visual. For example, “Some of the top brands in the country are taking advantage of emojis,” he recently wrote in his marketing blog. “Users skim right over plain text, so do something eye-catching to stand out and get people interested.”

Other dos and don’ts include: establishing a goal for online engagement, whether it is creating a conversation, creating brand awareness or fostering brand loyalty; frequent contact through useful online posts; and engaging customers’ comments. “Social media is a place for people to interact, so keep your tone conversational,” Bartlett advises. “Engagement on social media is really the end game, after all. Users are more likely to remember brands with which they engage online.”

4. Focus on the right customers

Engaging customers can help grow a company overnight. Word of mouth is still king if you play your cards right, but making sure you engage the right customers means the difference between success and failure.

“I find that many small businesses don’t pay enough attention to analyzing marketing segments; that all has to do with understanding who your customers are,” explains John Harmon, a mentor with SCORE, a nonprofit association that offers mentoring opportunities and educational workshops for growing businesses. Every business serves several segments—each one having different needs than the others—that can be reached through different channels.  A full service marketing agency, for example, may offer website design services to one set of customers and email marketing campaign services to another. A construction company may want to focus on smaller, more numerous home-remodeling projects or larger, less frequent new construction projects. Until the business understands segment needs, the business’ capabilities and its competitive positioning, it’s difficult to prioritize the importance of these segments.

“Degree of difficulty can also determine what a business might do,” says Harmon. ”It’s easier to serve the same segment with the same offering but choose another geographical location to target or to more effectively use SEO. Another segment may be far more attractive for its growth and profitability potential but may require new products or capabilities that the firm must develop or acquire. Some segments might be less profitable but lead to much more profitable work from the same customer.”

Different customers have different needs at different times, and without an understanding of those needs it’s virtually impossible to know which part of your business to focus on, says Harmon. Until companies establish a clear path, building or growing a customer base can be a treacherous journey.