Growing a manufacturing business isn’t easy. And rarely is the challenge harder than it is for smaller manufacturers, where hard-pressed senior management must spread themselves thinly across multiple activities—handling finances, marketing, product development, quality control, human resources and much more.
In such circumstances, it’s all too easy to get bogged down in day-to-day detail and firefighting, and lose sight of the bigger picture. Which is, of course, growth.
So how can management best grow a manufacturing business? Focusing on these six often-overlooked success secrets might help.
1. Work ‘on’ your business, not ‘in’ your business
The first move in growing a manufacturing business is to free up time to spend on growth-related activities. Carve out dedicated space in the diary that’s free from day-to-day detail—and make sure that other people who central to the business’s growth do the same.
Delegate the detail. Hold ‘growth focused’ planning and product development meetings, at which attendance is mandatory—never mind dealing with the latest dilemma.
Visit trade shows and exhibitions. Network. Explore new technologies. In short, think strategy, not operations.
2. Know what you’re good at—and get better at it
The next step in growing a manufacturing business is to identify your core competency or competencies—in other words, those things your manufacturing business is good at (or better still, excels at). Short lead times? Exacting tolerances? Product design? Customer service?
Whatever the skill set, growing a manufacturing business will be easier if senior management understand what the business is good at, and then work to not only market that message to potential customers, but also invest in becoming even better at the competencies in question.
If you're looking for ways to market your message, you might be interested in one of our recent blogs - Grow your manufacturing business: 3 ways to leverage the Internet.
3. What can you learn from competitors?
Third, know your competitors—not just those businesses in the same industry, but also (critically) those businesses that also excel at what your business excels at. That’s because these are your real competitors—the manufacturing business that customers think are most similar to your own business.
What else do these competitors excel at? Where are their weaknesses? What mistakes have they made? And what can you learn from them—helping you to grow your own manufacturing business?
4. Adopt growth-related KPIs
“You get what you measure,” goes the saying. And in many areas of business, KPIs help managements to navigate towards the goals that they have set for their businesses.
But when it comes to growing a manufacturing business, there are often KPI blind spots. Are you actually measuring—and monitoring—growth-related KPIs? New customer ‘wins’, for instance. New products and services? New markets or application areas? The number of growth-related meetings and projects?
If you what get is what you measure, then start measuring growth.
5. Invest in new technology
Growing a manufacturing business requires investment in new technology. But another common blind spot is seeing that new investment solely in terms of factory-floor production equipment—that is investment, goes the logic, and everything else is a cost, to be deferred or avoided.
Don’t think that way. New IT systems add fresh customer-facing capabilities, for instance, and can help with growth-related activities such as Customer Relationship Management.
Likewise, investment in Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things can power growth. Plus, it’s always easier to grow a manufacturing business when the R&D and technical functions have budgets that allow them to investment 3D CAD systems, additive manufacturing (also known as ‘3D printing’), and simulation software.
If you’re interested in new technology, you might want to check out my recent blog - 5 innovative manufacturing technologies heading your way.
6. Exploit available network opportunities
Finally, don’t forget the role that networking can play in growing a manufacturing business.
From online forums and groups such as LinkedIn to local chambers of commerce and government-facilitated ‘best practice sharing’ schemes, there are plenty of opportunities for manufacturers to come into contact with other manufacturers—and with potential customers, or sources of knowledge on new capabilities, new markets, and new technologies.
The bottom line
So there we have it—the six often-overlooked secrets of growing a manufacturing business.
What’s holding you back?