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ATD Blog

Winning Talent Development Firms Establish Their Growth Plan

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

In this, the penultimate blog in this series about winning strategies for building and growing your talent development firm, I will address just what a growth plan should include if you want to move up rather than sideways or even down. Most of the previous 10 articles in this series offer insights into the actions you must take to grow your business. From understanding the industry, where you fit into it, and what exactly it is you want and need to establishing an operating system, creating a sales and marketing system, serving your customers, and recognizing what’s on the horizon for the industry, I’ve covered many critical elements to moving your business forward and up.

This article will focus on putting together a framework that considers all these elements as you determine how to proceed. Let’s start by identifying the growth strategy pathways—that is, what options are open to you and how you can most effectively leverage your experiences and expertise as you move forward. Each of the five strategic pathways to growth comprises two approaches. It is unlikely that you can take both approaches simultaneously, or even concentrate on more than a couple of strategic pathways at a time, so you’ll need to establish what will work best for your situation. Each of the following growth strategies embodies one or more choices you will need to make:

  • Organic vs. Inorganic Growth: Growth through expansion of your own company or by acquiring others.
  • Customer Expansion vs. Penetration: Extending your reach to new customers and markets or going deeper into your current ones.
  • Restricted vs. Expanded Distribution: Focusing on your existing sales channels or finding new ones.
  • Existing vs. New Products: Enhancing your current product or service offerings or creating new ones.
  • Top vs. Bottom Lines: Focusing on revenue generation or expense and margin management.

None of these choices is necessarily right or wrong or good or bad. Rather, they represent options for you to consider, based on your experience and assuming relatively limited resources, which is typical of most smaller firms. In other words, how can you take what you already have and leverage it into what you want and need to grow your business?


There are ways to accelerate your growth within each of these options. For instance, you could entertain growing your sales team and distribution partnerships, creating new thought leadership, improving internal operational excellence, increasing your marketing investment, or extending your product lines.

But make no mistake: Growth can be painful unless you understand and embrace it. First, you need to define what it means for you. Second, plan your business around your chosen pathway(s) over a realistic amount of time. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t created in a day,” so be patient. Third, learn from your successes and mistakes and adjust your growth strategy accordingly. Most importantly, define, plan, and learn in the context of your competitive landscape, where you fit into it, and how it is evolving.

About the Author

Steve Cohen is founder and principal of the Strategic Leadership Collaborative, a private consulting practice focused on business strategy and development. A 40+ year veteran of the talent development industry, largely on the supplier side, he has demonstrated a proven track record for building equity by growing top and bottom-line performance for eight different consulting enterprises in the education and training industry he has either founded and/or led. He has been called on to consult with numerous firms needing strategic planning guidance, business coaching, and board advisory services.

His first book, The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm, was published by ATD in 2017. His recent follow-up, 12 Winning Strategies for Building a Talent Development Firm is now available on Amazon.

He can be reached at: 952.942.7291 or [email protected].

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