If your business made it this far into 2020, congratulations!

In January, you thought you understood your customers, markets, and opportunities, and how to grow your business. Then, seemingly overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted all your plans for the year.

How have your customers changed since then, and what can you do to serve them and expand your business? What we can see of 2021 is still murky. What further disruptions await?

Against that backdrop, there are some basic steps you can depend on as you figure out where and how to grow your business in the year ahead.


Start developing your growth plan by thinking through your best and most likely ways to grow. In general, there are three ways to grow your business. You can work on creating and developing opportunities in the marketplace with current and new prospective customers. That’s called market development. Alternatively, product development focuses on what you sell. Finally, over the last several months we’ve all heard about the importance of pivoting your businesses. Those major changes to what your business is and does fall under a third set of growth options: business transformation.

Using these three categories, you can begin developing one or more of nine potential directions for growth in 2021.


Target current customers. Sell more of what you currently offer to those already buying from you.

Grab share from your competitors. Take business from prospects who are currently doing business with competitors.

Open new markets. Begin selling what you currently offer to new industries, markets, and geographies.

Convert those who use alternative products/services. Incentivize potential customers to switch to your offerings.

Sell through new channels. Introduce your offerings into new sales channels, whether they’re external or internal to your organization.


Enhance existing products. Increase sales by offering a modified version of what you currently sell.

Create new products. Grow your sales by providing new marketplace offerings.


Acquire growth. Purchase a competitor to grow your customer and revenue base.

Change the business model. Revamp your go-to-market approach to fundamentally change the nature of what you offer and how you take it to market.

As you consider these growth options, which ones seem most realistic for your business? Do you play to the strengths that your business has always demonstrated and do more of that? Is it time to shift to areas with greater opportunity that push you to develop new capabilities or pursue new paths?


After selecting one—or maybe a couple—of these potential growth directions, you can use the following steps to imagine new ideas and possibilities.

Use the growth direction you selected as a basis for imagining what your organization might do to take advantage of growth. Consider the following.

1. What initial ideas do we have for growing?

2. How do we see other companies in our industry using the growth strategy we’re considering? How can we adapt those ideas for our business?

3. What examples do we see of companies employing this path for growth outside of our industry? What could we do to develop these ideas for our business?

4. What completely unexpected things could we do to grow in this way? If they seem far-fetched, how can we make them more realistic for us?

The goal is to generate 60 to 70 ideas. You read that right! It may seem like a lot, but you can use the questions, especially numbers 2 and 3, to find examples from other businesses. Then, you can rank the ideas by the kind of impact they might have and by how realistic it is to pursue them. Narrow down your big list of possibilities so that you’re left with a handful of the strongest possible growth ideas for your organization.


Within this scope, what else can you do to maximize your 2021 growth potential?

Test your ideas before you go all in. Ideally, you want to understand current and potential customer perceptions about your brand and other brands they consider, and about what causes customers to try new brands in your market. Asking customers, formally or informally, is one way to do this. Creating a pilot program or testing something is an even better way to understand these perceptions. Start developing a pilot based on the data you have available. Remember: Any trends you could depend on before 2020 may no longer hold.

Boost awareness and interest among prospects. Are you planning to target competitors’ customers and/or other non-users? If you are, it’s crucial that you create stronger awareness of your brand. You can rely on traditional methods (advertising, marketing communications, sales outreach, etc.). You should also explore online tools that can grow awareness and interest for your business. Buyers do most, if not all, of their product research before they contact you. Make it easy for them to find out about your brand as they look for information online.

Improve the experience for customers. Look at the experience you offer customers. What do they have to go through to find out about your business? To buy from you? To get a problem resolved? Wherever you find that you’re not making the customer experience both simple and wonderful, you need to take action. Determine how you can make the experience of using your brand a delightful experience that customers may not even expect.

Free up salesperson time and improve productivity. If direct selling is important for your growth, streamline the processes and steps salespeople use. Challenge anything that wastes time or presents problems. Is each step necessary for delivering value for customers, or are salespeople handling unimportant tasks that limit time with new prospects? Consider using technology for qualifying prospects, and doing some follow-up to create more sales time.


Now’s the time to identify your best opportunities to grow in 2021. Use the approaches highlighted here to focus your direction, expand your thinking about innovative opportunities, and enhance your customer interactions. All of those are vital to making 2021 a success for your business.

Mike Brown is the founder of The Brainzooming Group and a frequent keynote presenter in marketing best practices, innovation, strategy, branding and building brand awareness, and social media. Additionally, he authors the daily Brainzooming blog ( on strategy, creativity, and innovation, reaching readers in nearly 200 countries.

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