I'm an advocate for growth and expansion, but I feel it's time to address a common misbelief I hear from a lot of small businesses across Canada that are dreaming of going to Toronto, all for the purpose of trying to "get in."
If you ask these companies, they would tell you that is where the opportunity is to expand their business and that once they are in Toronto, they will get even more business because "that's the way it works there."
None of this is true, but companies choose to believe it because it's easy. It's easy to tell someone your plans for growth are to "break into Toronto." It's easy to convince yourself that once you get into Toronto, it's going to become easier, that you will be able to charge more and that your business will flourish if you can just get in.
I would wager that if you're experiencing difficulties growing, the root cause comes back to innovation and marketing, and until you fix those two issues, don't even bother trying to enter into a marketplace that is more competitive than your own.
Reinvent your product or service first
Most companies are selling commodities and wonder why there are no bites in their own city. I hear things like, "People don't like to spend money here" or "People in Toronto buy so much faster than they do over here." That's just not true.
If you're experiencing those difficulties in your own city, things won't get easier in Toronto. There's so much more noise and competition in Toronto that if your product or service isn't significantly more beneficial to the marketplace, don't bother even thinking about it. If you don't have a competitive advantage, don't bother trying to compete. You're going to waste a lot of time and money.
Start by taking a step back, and with your team, explore ways to make what you do less of a commodity and more valuable in the eyes of the consumer. For instance, if you're a consulting firm and wanted to be more remarkable, you could explore a number of unique innovation strategies to get you there.
Create conversation by developing something that solves a common problem. For example, Deloitte & Touche created Bullfighter, a software application that searches documents for jargon, overworked terms and unnecessarily complicated sentences and removes or replaces them with more applicable terms.
Develop a new voice and become an expert in a new field. For example, Jakob Nielsen founded the "discount usability engineering" movement for fast and cheap improvements of user interfaces.
Fixing what's broken, such as providing a truly personal user experience for the customer. For example, where the bank industry is very cold and institutionalized, Commerce Bank set up locations in retail spaces, opened seven days a week and removed all teller windows to create a more personal experience for their clients.
Fix your marketing
If you have a remarkable product or service, that doesn't mean you're going to have an easy time promoting or selling it. This is where a lot of people believe they need to "get out" of their city because people there just "don't get it." Sorry to tell you, if you can't figure it out at home, taking it on the road to Toronto isn't going make it any easier.
To help you out in developing a marketing approach to get your remarkable product or service in front of the right people, create answers to these seven questions:
Whom are you trying to reach? The smaller the circle, the better, because they are the early adopters and will carry your message into the marketplace for you.
How will this circle become aware of what you have to offer? What are you going to do to get them to use your product or service?
What kind of story are you going to tell and spread through this circle? You can't just go into the market with a product or service and not have a story that captivates the reason for its existence and your reason for believing in it.
Does this story actually resonate with your circle?
What are the fears or objections that this group would have to using your product or service?
How will you get this circle to take action and not put you off? How can you get them using your product or service as fast as possible?
How will you support your circle in sharing their experiences with their peers, colleagues and friends?
Expanding into Toronto is not the solution to your desires for growth. Focus less on going after the bigger market and shift your energy to solving a much bigger issue first – reinventing your product or service and fixing your marketing. If you still think getting into Toronto is more important than that … then I wish you luck! You're going to need it.
Ryan Caligiuri is a growth strategist and founder of #bizbookaweek, a movement that challenges professionals to read a business book a week in order to gain a clear, powerful advantage over the majority of people who don't take the time to read. Join the movement at bizbookaweek.com.