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I’ve often wondered how it is that some businesses seem to crush it from the first day, while others start in obscurity and stay there. What makes them different?

This post is my shot at answering that question.

1. There’s No Plan!

Let’s take a hypothetical. Starting today, you have one year to build the most popular day tour business in your city or area.

How would you do it? You’d have to do a lot of marketing, that’s for sure. You’d need relationships with hotels, hostels, resellers, even airport transfer companies. You’d hire people, get branded cars, hire professional photographers, get a fantastic website, implement online booking software. You’d start spending money on Google Adwords and Facebook advertising and keep on spending until you get it right.

In that scenario, what would you do differently to what you’re doing now?

Why aren’t you doing those things? By setting a big target and a timeline, you mobilise your brain to approach the problem from a new angle. The business that you want to have – how different does it look to your current business? Is there a good reason for this?

2. Acting Small

The only way you’re going to have the business you want is to start acting like you have that business. You’ll always be limited by the space you give your company to grow. Starting acting like the owner of the business you want to have, and it will grow with you.

If I put a plant in a tiny pot, I give it no chance. In a bigger pot, it may stay small – maybe it’s just that kind of plant. But how do I know if I don’t give it the chance? No plant will thrive in a tiny pot.

No tour company will ever be successful with same-same marketing and a same-same concept. To grow, you need to keep pushing the boundaries and maintain the pressure.

Some businesses get lucky – their growth gets forced onto them because the market responds so positively to their concept that they don’t need to do anything else.

Everyone else needs to think every day about how to grow and expand their business. I’ve written a lot about smaller optimizations such as writing better tour descriptions, improving your Yelp profile or improving your Google My Business listing. There’s always something to do.

This point is about bigger changes – overhauling your branding, getting a great new website (with TourismTiger, of course), adding new tour products, building new relationships or opening a sales office downtown.

3. The Concept is Too Limiting

Maybe you know in your gut that your business is too niche to respond to a big marketing campaign.

This is why you need to think about your product. Do you have something that realistically appeals to a broad enough market for you to achieve your goals? I see a lot of tour companies that have overly narrow concepts.

Take chocolate tours. Unless you’re in a place that’s renowned for chocolate, your concept is almost definitely too small to work. Another example would be a vintage shopping tour – you’ll be loved by a small niche but largely ignored.

On the other hand, you have businesses that go after a mainstream market but do it with their own angle. Vantigo SF(opens in a new tab) took off because of their great concept of using old VW vans to offer a fun, retro ride. They put a new spin on something that already existed and opened up a new space.

If you’re working in a relatively mature market, you need a strong point of difference to be able to climb the ladder. Don’t copy the people who are already winning. Instead, find a way to present yourself differently and tackle the same mountain from a different angle.

4. Do You Have a Scarcity Mentality?

Are you avoiding getting a video done for your site, getting some pro photos, or hiring a marketing person because you’re scared of the expense?

Getting pro photos will cost you less than $1000 in nearly all cases. How many tours do you need to sell to pay that back? Hiring a part-time marketing assistant may cost you $1000/m. Once again, how many tours do you need to sell to get a return? You don’t even have to hire someone with experience – find someone in college looking for a part-time job and give them the tools they need (such as my book(opens in a new tab)).

Link your spending to the potential return it can give you!

5. Working In Your Business, Not On Your Business

Ever feel like you’re just spinning your wheels – working hard but not growing?

I’ve known countless people like this…and it’s largely because they’re doing the wrong work. Look at the businesses that are doing well, and you’ll find that most of them are focused on doing the right things.

A few thoughts:

1. Accept that your current way of doing things doesn’t work. It’s a tough thing to do, but the ability to recognize and stop listening to poor instincts is a big separating line between successful and struggling business owners. Have you ever watched The Profit or Gordon Ramsay? The owner is so insistent that they’re right that they’ll completely ignore the advice of a successful, wealthy businessman! We look at these people and think ‘how silly’ and then go back to making our own unique mistakes.

If you’re working a full week and your business is going nowhere, the buck stops with you.

2. Just do it. Just start working on your business. It’s amazing how simple this is and how impossible it seems. Ignore the barking dogs in your brain.

3. Make it the first thing you do, not the last thing you do when you get the time. The first thing I do each week after our team meeting is write a blog post, just like this one. On my desk I have a to-do list which is extraordinarily long. So long, in fact, that Swaziland is more likely to win the World Cup than I am to finish it. But, here I am writing this blog post – I say this to show you that I’m practising what I preach.

Once You Have a Plan, Keep a Regular Check on the Numbers that Matter

At TourismTiger we have a series of numbers that we’re trying to target for each quarter, ranging from email-list subscribers to sales. They’re not measured in terms of totals but in terms of a set result per week.

For example, the goal for Quarter 2, 2015 is to get to the rate of 35 mailing list subscribers per week. At the moment, we’re well short of this, but by analyzing the numbers on a weekly basis, this means I’m taking the steps to actually get there. You need to not just have a goal and an internal growth force: you need to have a road map for your journey, and you can make adjustments rapidly.

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