You think the time is right to expand your business into new markets. But where do you start, and how can you be sure to make the right choices?
The answer can be found, not only in the questions you ask, but who you ask them of.
Always start with what your customer data is telling you
Looking at the purchase habits of your customers gives you much-needed insights that can help to guide your business expansion.
If you're a retailer with a comprehensive point-of-sale system, you can see immediately what's going on with your sales and your inventory. When you track your sales data, you have visibility into how your business is performing and when your business is ready to grow.
If you're running a café or a corner store and you don't have a sophisticated IT system, starting to understand your customer could be as simple as a conversation in the store.
What are your customers asking for?
If someone comes into your corner store and goes to walk out again, ask them what they were looking for. Perhaps they were looking for some bait, but you don't stock bait. Take note, keep a list... after ten customers come in looking for bait, you've got all the customer information you need to add bait. With this insight you might also consider some other some fishing consumables like hooks or lures.
Perhaps you have a café and you find that you sell out of banana bread earlier than you had anticipated. That's a sign of high demand and one you can act on - you might start by ordering more banana bread in. Knowing it is a high-demand product, you could try making it even more attractive to customers - bundle it with a discounted coffee. If that pans out, you might find yourself selling twice as many coffees and twice as much banana bread.
Every business is different. But understanding what your customer would like to buy, watching what they are doing and studying your data and insights allows you to make informed decisions. Test. Learn. Adapt. Repeat.
Watch what your competitors are doing
Sometimes your customers won't tell you what they are looking for, but they will show you with their behaviour. If your sales are declining, try to find out why. What else are people buying?
Maybe the coffee shop down the road now offers iced coffee and iced tea. It's summer and they've got lines out the door. You didn't think of it and your customers never mentioned it. But you've got the data now and you need to react.
Be curious and keep an eye on new trends
People are often surprised by new trends. If you are in the café business, maybe the push for flat white or pour-over filter and batch brewed coffee caught you off guard. But changes in trends like this don't have to.
You can see trends in any industry taking off. It's telegraphed online. Follow industry blogs, influencers in your space and subscribe to the mailing lists and social media accounts of major players in your industry.
Taking the cafe example again, one look at the larger bean roasters' social media accounts would show you where their focus is. Look deeper, follow the influencers in the space. Subscribe to their blogs.
New trends won't just come to you, you've got to be curious and you've got to be out there. Listen to your customers – and of course, the internet lets you listen to the customers of your competitors too.