You're a small business owner. Things are going well, but you're ready to take the next step in growing your business. Easier said than done, right? Rest assured, there are active, tangible measures any business owner can take to diversify and strengthen their revenue streams, regardless of industry or scale.
I started Brooklyn Outdoor, Detroit's only national outdoor advertising company, in 2013 and grew initial revenue from $600K to $6M last year. It hasn't always been easy and there's still much more work to be done, but let's take a look at some of the ways you too can grow your business.
Assessing Your Business
From the start, it's important to continuously review and assess your strengths and weaknesses as a company. To do so, you'll want to keep a strong pulse on your profit and loss statements by quarter to see where costs can be tightened as your business and industry changes. Take the time at year-end to evaluate where you have financial gaps, and where your business needs to grow to serve your clients better.
Additionally, staying in tune with your team's morale will allow you to address in-office issues quickly, which will help foster an environment that creates happier, more empowered employees who have the confidence to produce better results. This can be difficult when you are “in the thick of it" as the CEO or founder, but well worth it in your bottom line and workplace culture. You'll also want to identify what brings you the highest percentage of business, whether that be a specific client-type or sector. Zeroing in on the right kind of client for your business helps you build a stronger, more targeted business plan, as opposed to going after everyone. You may be forced to walk away from some potential clients, but the motto “quality over quantity" will be your best friend in this case.
Inbound Marketing How-To's
According to Marketo, a marketing software developer, inbound marketing is a strategy that utilizes many forms of pull marketing – content marketing, blogs, events, SEO, social media and more – to create brand awareness and attract new business. Using these tools correctly can be critical to growing your business. Just as brands try to find customers, we live in an age where brands are “being found" by customers, making inbound marketing an important aspect in developing that relationship.
When you have owned channels like blogs and social media, or events that are tailored to your business, your reputation grows authentically and naturally as more people encounter you and your brand. This system of touchpoints helps your business connect with clients and prospective customers on an interpersonal level, and goes beyond the typical business transaction mindset, allowing you to establish a more valuable and memorable connection with people. As they continue to interact with your business and become more familiar what motivates you and what your brand represents, they may just be your next partner or loyal customer.
How We Did It: To illustrate who we are as a company, we've established an office space that emphasizes our focus on authenticity and Detroit roots. It maintains an industrial-chic style and features many unique art pieces from local artists, so when it is time for a potential client to visit, they understand our brand and perspective. As we have had more people from our community in our workspace, they have often inquired about if it was available for parties or meetings. That got us thinking, and we realized our office had untapped potential as a rentable venue. We have since begun renting the space to corporate and individual customers, helping us generate additional revenue and opportunities to connect with more potential clients. This was a great lesson in identifying what's unique about our business and how we can use it to boost our bottom line.
Your social presence is also helpful in providing a portfolio of information readily available for that right kind of client to find and get a glimpse of the real you. Social tools like boosting posts will also help reach your target audience quicker for a few dollars at a time. Also, using search engine optimization (SEO) keywords in your social posts are extremely helpful in boosting brand awareness, ranking higher in web searches, and leveraging your locality to attract customers in your area. Recognizing and understanding needs and niches in your market that have not been filled can be helpful when trying to broaden your business plan as well. This could mean creating an extension of your business that might not directly relate to your current industry, but adds another layer to your services, expand your network and expose you to additional resources that further your entrepreneurial goals.
How We Did It: Relying on our team's strengths and expertise, we have developed various business units that fit under the broader Brooklyn Outdoor umbrella: Experiential, Hand-Painted, Events, and more. Brooklyn Events – our most successful new division - started with our in-depth knowledge of Detroit's food, art, and entertainment scenes, and our Detroit-themed lifestyle blog – J'adore Detroit – focused on highlighting our great city and its revitalization. The blog has helped us boost our online presence, and because of its locally-sourced content, we have become more ingrained in our community. This has helped introduce us to the local businesses that are highlighted on the blog – who potentially need event space through our Events division – and locals who enjoy our content.
We also established Brooklyn Experiential, which stemmed from working on an outdoor project with the use of outdoor advertising on one of our buildings and led to a partnership where we now create large-scale experiential activations for our clients in Detroit and beyond. It's all about rolling with the punches and diversifying as you grow.
Also, as supporters of our local arts community, we know many artists throughout the city. This has helped us develop a division strictly revolving around art and murals, called Brooklyn Hand-Painted. It allows our clients to collaborate with local artists to tell their story in artful, unique ways in mural form.
To reiterate, in each example above, we leverage connections into more connections, which leads to more opportunity for us and our partners.
Keeping up with trends is essential in evolving your business as well. You should keep track of all the asks that clients make, even ones that you can't fulfill. This allows you to evaluate how you could accomplish these tasks in the future or look to see if other clients might benefit from similar types of services. This presents an opportunity to tap your network to see how they approach similar requests and compare how you can improve.
It is also important to track year-over-year data on businesses that relate to or impact your industry to see how things are changing in those sectors and have a better idea of how they might impact your business. This will allow you to make more informed decisions in the future when you start to see similar changes or effects. Tracking these types of industry trends are vital.
Many strategies can help strengthen and diversify your business. Just remember to stay true to who you are while remaining flexible to the changes in clients and industry.
As you continue trying to find new customers, remember that there are people out there trying to find you. Make it easier for them to connect.
Three years ago, I made a deal with myself - I wanted to have $100,000 saved when I'm 25. But I didn't mind if it didn't happen until the day before my 26th birthday.
One of my biggest priorities in life has always been to save as much money as possible — and I owe much of that to my parents, who made sure I had a strong financial education at a young age.
My dad even helped me start a vending machine business when I was nine. The experience taught me essential skills like how to pitch a business, cope with rejection and open a checking and savings account.
For the past three years, I've never made more than $80,000. About a year ago, I reviewed my rate of savings and investments and realized that I was on track to save $100,000. With only a car loan away from being debt free, I've got another year and $10K to go!
I want to acknowledge that privilege is a key part of my story. I'm white, I come from a middle-class family, and I was able to graduate college without any debt. All these things helped a great deal.
But my parents didn't raise me with a silver spoon. Paying for college was a collaborative process. We'd sit down at least twice a year to discuss how we were going to pay for the next semester. The first question they'd always ask me was: "How much can you contribute?"
I've been fortunate. But it also takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and responsibility to save and maximize your earnings. Feeling motivated and knowing that I'll be prepared for whatever life throws my way fuels my drive to keep making smart financial decisions. Here's how I'm getting to $100K.
- I side-hustled
This kick-started my journey towards six-figures. In addition to saving the majority of my 9-5 salary, my first year of freelance social media marketing made me quite a bit of cash that I could immediately save. I was able to establish both a SEP IRA and a fully-funded emergency fund with my earnings.
2. I started investing early
Knowing that compound interest is so important, I wanted to start investing early to have my money work for me. Once I started my first big-girl job, I opened my first Roth IRA. Starting to save for retirement at age 22, I was able to max out my Roth each year and also contribute to aSEP IRA and a non-retirement investment account. My first job out of school had a 401(k), but you couldn't contribute until you were there at least a year. Knowing I wasn't planning on staying long — I was at that job for a year and a few months — I opened a Roth 401(k) and then rolled my earnings to my Roth IRA.
3. I negotiated salary offers and raises
Negotiating should be a collaboration, not a confrontation. Growing up, I watched my father sit on hold, patiently waiting to negotiate our cable and phone bills. Negotiation was always part of my life, and I grew up with parents who knew how to do it. So when I was offered my first social media freelance gig, I negotiated over $10k more than they offered. And after achieving a 20% bump at my first 9-5, I negotiated $20k more than what was offered at my next job. And $10k more at the next job. If negotiating for raises freaks you out, here's a guide that can help.
4. I've automated my savings
Automating your money not only makes your life easier, but it makes you feel like the percentage you're saving just doesn't exist. I have 26% of each paycheck automatically deposited into a high-yield savings account. This savings account is purposefully at a different bank than my day-to-day checking account, so I'm less likely to withdraw from it and less likely to think about it. This "set it and forget it" level of financial freedom was something I worked hard for -- through money diarying, budgeting, and conscious spending. So now, my savings amount is completely on autopilot.
At the age of 24, I know that I am on the right track to make my goal a reality. Inspired by my own journey, I wanted to help women everywhere to have that same feeling of confidence that financial education gives — and get information from someone who isn't an old, rich white dude. As a money speaker and coach, I run Her First $100K, a financial literacy platform for millennial women on the path to get their first $100K too.
It's possible to achieve your first $100K — whether that's debt paid off, earned, saved, invested, or something else. With intentional strategies and focus, you've got this!