The 4 Keys to Sustainably Scale Your Online Business from Priceline.com Co-Founder
I was having a deep conversation with my friend and co-author of, SCALE: 7 Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back, Jeff Hoffman.
Jeff is perhaps best known in the business world for being one of the co-founders of Priceline.com. As you can imagine, when the conversation turned to scaling online businesses I was paying close attention. After all, Jeff and the priceline.com team scaled from zero in sales to over $1 billion in gross revenues in less than 4 years (and you thought it was hard to maintain your 50-200% growth rate!)
Here is a summary of some of the most important keys we talked about.
Key #1: Test, discover, and optimize your proven systems for exploding sales.
What is your top producer of new leads?
What are your bottom 50% of lead generation activities?
Do you even track your numbers accurately enough to know the answer?
One of the first places we look to help our business coaching clients with online businesses scale is to systematically analyze which of their lead generation and lead conversion tactics are in fact their “winners” and how could they scale them up.
And where do we help them find the time, energy, and money to scale these proven winners? By starving their bottom performers.
Sounds obvious I know, but in my experience it is something that fewer than 5% of online companies systematically and strategically do.
And when you find your winners, then you have to systematize them so that you consistently apply and use them across your company, not just in a random, haphazard way. Not only will this help you rapidly grow your sales, but it will protect your business by capturing the know-how in systems that your business owns.
Finally, have you gone about with a series of A/B tests to test out various elements? One tool I love for this that we use on our website is “Optimizely”. Our marketing director Keith loves how easy it is to let him test various elements on the page.
For example, we’re currently in the process of testing the color of the “Free Video Training Course” button we use on our website. The last element we tested gave us 10% better response from the exact same lead flow.
It’s this kind of rigorous, continual testing that helps you refine your site and maximize sales. Best of all, generally it costs very little to do it, so all increases to gross profit flow to your bottom line.
Key #2: Streamline operations so you free up the cash flow to reinvest in grow.
There is something in finance called your “Sustainable Growth Rate”, which as applied to your online business says that your cash flow (not just your “income” or “profit”), is the biggest restrictor of growth for your business. (This is simplified we know, but after 20 years of building and scaling over $1 billion of online businesses we think we’ve earned the right to simplify when it brings the essence of a critical concept to the forefront.)
What this means is that you don’t just have to think about “sales” but you really need to think about “cash flow”. Specifically, how do you increase your cash flow and speed up the pace at which you convert sales into cash (i.e. collections) and reduce the operational costs you have.
One of the most important keys increase your Sustainable Growth Rate is to speed up your “cycles”:
- Your production cycle: The time it takes you to produce your product or service.
- Your collections cycle: The time it takes you to collect on a sale once it’s been made.
- Your sales cycle: The time it takes to turn a prospect into a customer who’s purchased.
When you increase your Sustainable Growth Rate you’ll no longer have to settle for less growth than you are are capable of simply because you don’t have the cash on hand to seize those opportunities.
Key #3: If you don’t innovate you will get marginalized.
Whether this innovation is:
- New products that you source (ideally proprietary products), or
- New ways to reduce inefficiencies, or
- New ways of connecting with your customers and marketplace, or
- New ways of adding value to your clients lives.
If you don’t innovate in your online business you will eventually be marginalized by your competitors. Whether your competitors are the Amazon.com’s of the world or the other independent sites out there who are constantly on the lookout for innovations they can model and implement in their own businesses, you’ve got to find ways to innovate to stay ahead.
I’ve spent hours talking with Jeff and comparing notes about how we both are reading the world and looking for new trends and patterns.
Here is my favorite question that Jeff’s taught me to regularly ask myself that’s helped me read the world and stay ahead of changes that otherwise might blindside me: “What can I do today that I couldn’t do yesterday?” As your answers come, grab onto the kernels of breakthrough ideas that come from looking at the world different than everyone else.
Key #4: Apply the best of time-tested direct marketing strategies to your online business to massively explode your growth!
Too many people in the online business world today have forgotten to apply the decades old secrets of direct mail that have been proven to work time and time again.
This includes things like:
- The first element to test and focus on getting right is the list (i.e. the target market you’re going after.)
- Test, test, test! What headlines to use, what colors, what price points, etc.
- Grabbing their attention by speaking directly to your prospect’s biggest hot buttons.
- Building credibility for people to listen seriously to your message.
- Building your list.