As the year draws to a close, this final post is a reflection on how my business and I grew this year.

Revenue Expansion
In 2023, we broke through the revenue ceiling that we’ve hovered around for the past seven or eight years. Along with the revenue expansion, our team grew in its effectiveness and we tightened down our operations to be more efficient.

Referral Marketing Strategy
This year I also focused on developing and iterating on a referral marketing strategy. The impact of that was two good fit leads and one business opportunity. This doesn’t sound particularly impressive for a year’s worth of effort, but it’s inline with my expectations for a word-of-mouth marketing strategy for the kind of market we’re entering into (established, with long-time competitors, and customers more sensitive to risk). In other words, it’s a good outcome.

Some of how this looked in practice:

  • I joined four different volunteer groups in two large pools of clients.
  • I formed connections with people who were strategically positioned in the market networks (in this case, people who make recommendations on companies to choose).
  • I sent out a holiday card and newsletter about our team.

One critical lesson that I learned about referral marketing is that it’s messy in its ROI. The goal was to develop leads and market intelligence and I was successful in that, but what I didn’t count on were the opportunities that came out of building that network:

  • I’m talking with a market insider about developing a partnership to launch a software product.
  • I’m volunteering in a group that selects speakers for the largest show in the market. I’m a speaker and this is giving me an inside view of how speakers are selected.
  • I’ve been asked to join the board of directors for the largest organization serving our market west of the Missippi.

It’s a great start and I anticipate that I’ll see higher and higher returns as time passes.

Email List
The other marketing strategy I worked on was thought leadership through email marketing. I developed a list of 2,000 people and emailed them 1-2 times a month. That netted one good fit lead late in the year. Like the referral marketing strategy, I expect it took take some time to have its full effect because it’s dependent on trust and establishing perceived expertise- both of which take time to develop.

Evolved Thinking
My thinking evolved this year as I wrote these posts and thought about business growth. The big changes were around:

  • Understanding the need for functional differentiation. A position in the market is more than just how you are perceived as different by customers, but also operating differently than your competitors.
  • Being more sensitive to power dynamics and the importance of creating situations that provide you an advantage or insulate you against the advantage of others.
  • Seeing the essential need for innovation. It’s incredibly wasteful because most innovation fails, but it’s the only path to market leadership.

Growth Plans
I created and executed three growth plans this year. A growth plan creates both a map and a route for growth. It makes explicit the effort to support goals and exposes obstacles. I made much quicker progress because of these plans and will continue to versions 4, 5, and maybe 6 this coming year.

Hiring Book
I started working on a book on small business growth strategy earlier this year and changed to focus more tightly on early phase hiring strategy (this is why the daily blog decreased to 2x a week). It’s in progress, but it’s been helpful for me in developing my perspective on team expansion.

Apprentice Impact
In 2022, we launched an apprenticeship with the goal of helping someone from a low-income background become a web developer. In April, our apprentice graduated out of the program. In November, I received a wonderful email saying our apprentice had been hired at a financial tech company and that we helped to change the trajectory of his life (prior to his apprenticeship, he helped support both himself and his parents as a night janitor).

Leadership and Toastmasters and Rotary
This year I took on leadership positions with both my Toastmasters Club and the Rotary. It’s been fun and challenging to lead volunteers to realize a vision. Beyond developing my leadership abilities further, it’s also enhanced how I think about referral marketing. My teams are people in communities trying to improve communities. The same sort of network thinking applies and I’ve found myself pulling lessons in leadership and communities from service into the business and vice versa.

What 2024 Brings
I’m curious about the coming year. 2023 was about planting seeds and now I’m seeing the sprouts. What I think will emerge this year:

  • I’ll wrap up that book on hiring and probably start working on another.
  • I’ll dive even deeper into referral marketing and experiment more on network development.
  • I’ll iterate a lot on our strategy and our business model. Part of this will likely create the need for doing some research in the market.
  • I’ll write a lot on strategy.
  • I’ll implement some bastard form of EOS and Scaling Up, building on my own systems.
  • I’ll probably start something new.

I hope you had a great year and that you have a chance to reflect on your year also!