Expand Your Business: 5 Tips for Sustainable Growth

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Perennial Seller" by Ryan Holiday. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to expand your business but aren’t sure which strategy is best to adopt? How can you grow your business without putting too much strain on your resources?

The most sustainable way to expand your business is to focus on building and growing a loyal relationship network. Further, your relationship with your fans must be more than transactional—it should be for life.

In this article, we’ll first discuss the benefits of having a loyal network of followers, and then provide five tips for accruing one.

The Benefits of a Loyal Following

The ideal situation to have is a loyal following of people who love your work and will buy every single thing you produce. This community can help you expand your business by spreading word of mouth for each additional work you produce. This way you don’t start from anything like you did with your first work.

Examples:

  • Lady Gaga has her “Little Monsters.” Star Wars has a following of loyal diehards that will consume anything Star Wars-related.
  • Contrast this to the average romantic comedy or otherwise famous actors like Charlie Sheen. They get some draw based on marketing, but little staying power that drives business for the next work.

Any creator needs only “1,000 True Fans” to make a living. If you produce enough regular work, then a thousand true fans will be enough to support your business.

A direct relationship with your following also lets you learn what they want and target your next creation.

Building a Platform

A platform is the combination of tools, relationships, access, and audience to spread your creative work repeatedly over the course of the business.

“Platform is not a stepping stone. It’s the finish line.” – Casey Neistat

Just like creative work, everyone wants a following, but few want to put in the effort to make one.

1) Prefer Email as Your Platform

Ideally, you have a direct relationship with your followers, through a medium you control.

Using gatekeepers like social media or SEO is tenuous. Policies change, companies go bankrupt, consumer preferences change. If you built your following on MySpace and never transitioned to a new service, too bad.

Per the Lindy rule, what has lasted a long time is likely to continue lasting. Thus Ryan Holiday promotes an email list above all. 

How do you build an email list? 

  • Collect emails in your physical performances (comedy club performances, art exhibitions).
  • Create members-only resources or events.
  • Run sweepstakes or contests.
  • Do a swap with another person’s complementary email list.
  • Promise a great service.
  • Put a link in your email signature.
  • Post online asking your friends/family to join your list.

2) Build Your Network

Cultivate your network. Cheesy line: “Your network is your net worth.”

Suggestions:

  • Never dismiss anyone. You don’t know who will help you one day with your business (and people hold grudges for life). Treat everyone like they could put you on the front page of the New York Times.
  • Play the long game. Don’t worry about selecting people who can help you this second. Establish a relationship that can one day benefit both of you.
  • Focus on pre-VIPs. Find people who aren’t well known yet, but should be.
  • The best time to start was yesterday. Business relationships are built over multiple interactions over time, not instantaneously.

3) Update Your Previous Work

Don’t forget to continue updating your previous works. Keep your work fresh and relevant.

  • Software companies need to continuously update their products.
  • Authors issue updated editions.
  • Comedians cull material from their act every year, or start anew every year.

Redistribute your previous works onto new media

  • Musicians went from vinyl to cassettes to CDs to MP3s to Spotify (and back to vinyl again).
  • Restaurants can adopt credit cards and online booking.

4) Reach New Audiences

Reach new audiences by collaborating with businesses in orthogonal/complementary fields.

  • Floyd Mayweather on Dancing with the Stars.

Create something novel outside your traditional work. “One for Them, One for Me” strategy.

  • If you’re normally funny, create something serious.
  • If you normally write long editorials, create something short and viral.
  • Experiment with crazy things that might be a new direction for your career.

Find ways of promoting your work through alternative media.

  • Bands selling T-shirts.
  • After selling a book, conduct live events, conferences, memberships.

Translate your work into different languages.

5) Expand Your Trade

Consider doing a new trade that gives you more leverage or accrues surprising value to you.

In creative businesses, much of the money isn’t in the royalties or sales. Someone like Jay Z makes more money from fashion lines/product endorsements/concerts than from selling music. The music becomes a branding device and audience builder for other more profitable works.

Tactics:

  • Sell your expertise to followers – speak, teach, consult on your area of expertise.
  • Use your skills to find the next great creators. Invest in other people’s work (directly, by creating a record label, buy up copyright to undervalued works).
  • Cut out the middlemen (like a label or a VC) – invest in yourself.
  • Where can your expertise or audience be valuable?

What are other people in my field afraid to do? What do they look down on? This might be an easy opportunity to expand your business.

Expand Your Business: 5 Tips for Sustainable Growth

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Here's what you'll find in our full Perennial Seller summary:

  • How to create enduring products with a loyal following
  • Why word of mouth is the only marketing channel that endures time
  • What to do after you've created a great work

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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