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How To Grow When What You Sell Doesn’t Scale

How To Grow When What You Sell Doesn’t Scale

If you were stuck in traffic behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, “How’s my scaling going?” you might have to be an entrepreneur to get the joke. The word “scale” is used so often among startups and small or medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that it has almost become shorthand for “growth.”

If you were stuck in traffic behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, “How’s my scaling going?” you might have to be an entrepreneur to get the joke.

The word “scale” is used so often among startups and small or medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that it has almost become shorthand for “growth.” If you’re not scaling your business, it’s assumed your business is somehow not succeeding.

Of course, scaling can take many forms. You might scale by drastically increasing the number of customers you serve. Scale could also be associated with the number of office locations you’ve set up, the number of people you hire and the depth and breadth of your portfolio.

The original context of “scale” is where someone is climbing a mountain. In this case, you’re the one climbing, and the top of the mountain is “success”. In some businesses, though, you’re not necessarily scaling a mountain — but that doesn’t mean the company simply hits a plateau, either.

Depending on the nature of your product, for example, it may not be possible to scale because each one is highly customized for a specific buyer. Mass production, for some businesses, is out of the question.

Other businesses aren’t really selling products but a set of services. What happens when these services draw upon a specific kind of expertise? You won’t be scaling unless you find a way to clone yourself.

Scaling — at least the way the business world usually talks about it — isn’t the only way to approach your sales strategy. Instead, come back to the word “growth” and what that means within your firm’s particular journey.

Here’s just one of the paths you could take to sell without really scaling:

Lock down your LTV stats

It’s easy to focus on the money that’s coming in the door when a customer pays you, but the most successful business pros think way beyond that.

What’s the lifetime value (LTV) of that customer? If you’re offering a service, for instance, how often will they use it? A customer who turns to you once has an obviously short LTV, while one who keeps using your service annually will become increasingly profitable.

Don’t just approach LTV from an annual perspective. Get granular by segmenting those who use your service or order your custom products quarterly, monthly or even weekly. The better you understand your customers’ LTV, the more you’ll know how many people you can actually serve. That’s when you:

Look for the ‘land and expand’ opportunities

A customer with high LTV might become even more valuable if you can find a way to increase your share of wallet with them.

Cross-selling might not be viable if you can’t scale your portfolio of offerings, but there could be a way to add an upsell of some kind.

Maybe there’s a way you can introduce a ‘VIP’ version of your offering that recognizes their loyalty, while also offering additional value for a reasonable fee. You could layer on extra consulting hours, for instance, or make the advice you deliver more tailored in some fashion.

As you expand the scope of what you’re offering to your most valuable clients, you may have to turn down other business. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though, because the VIP clients you focus on are going to be that much more profitable.

You don’t want those VIP customers to be a fluke or an anomaly, of course. That’s why you have to:

Lean into the experience you deliver

Unlike products or even services, a customer experience isn’t something you always have to think about in terms of scalability. Just think about how you can continually make it better instead.

Assess how easy it is for customers to choose the details of a highly customized product, for instance. Ask yourself if there might be a faster or simpler way for customers to make an appointment to enjoy the services you offer.

Maybe you need to think about changing the experience in the later stages of the journey. Now might be a good time to offer curbside pickup for a custom product, or a contactless way to pay for your services.

In some cases customers might really appreciate the ability to use a wider array of digital channels for almost every aspect of their experience. Many consulting services are also available through videoconferencing tools, for instance.

Focusing on your customer experience can help with scaling of a traditional business, but it’s equally vital for firms whose products don’t scale, too. The better the experience, the more likely your top customers will stay loyal and be open to increasing the volume of business they send your way.

Locate some affiliate partners

If all of the above areas work out, you might be saying “No” a lot more often to potential new customers. You don’t just have to leave them with nothing, however.

People really appreciate being directed to other companies in the same sector who might be able to address their needs. The companies that get the referrals appreciate it too, of course. They’re often even willing to pay for it.

An affiliate relationship can formalize these sorts of arrangements among your peers in a particular sector, and provide an additional revenue stream that doesn’t really cost you anything to generate.

The affiliate relationships you develop don’t have to be with businesses that do exactly what you do, either. You can give referrals to your major suppliers. You can offer referrals to your other customers if you’re operating in a business-to-business (B2B) environment. You might even come to resell someone else’s product as an adjunct to your core business.

Leave the scaling to all the more traditional startups and SMBs. You can still keep selling, and you can still keep growing — on your own terms, and in the way that makes the most sense for your kind of business.

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