Increasingly in the media, fund managers and other commentators are discussing how investors should be wary of dividend favourites like the big banks, and start looking at growth businesses instead.

With the economy in the doldrums, businesses with growth potential can continue delivering returns to your portfolio even when your average Australian business – like retailers, grocers, or insurers – might be expected to struggle.

Here are three of my top picks to buy right now:

Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd (ASX: FLT) is the company behind the eponymous travel agency, which has diverse multinational operations and currently yields 4.2%, fully franked. Traditionally the business attracts a lot of scepticism with various investors predicting that the model will become obsolete. Yet shares are up 284% in the past decade, before dividends.

Looking to the future, investors will find a lot to like, including a massive cash balance, international expansion both organically and via acquisition, brand diversification, as well as a number of innovations. Approximately half of Flight Centre’s Total Transaction Value (TTV) is earned overseas and that percentage will grow as the company expands. Flight Centre looks like great value and has decent growth ahead as well as great foreign currency diversification. I’d invest a hypothetical $4,000 into Flight Centre.

Sirtex Medical Limited (ASX: SRX) is the biotechnology company behind the Selective Internal Radiation Therapy (SIRT) treatment for inoperable liver cancer. Shares fell recently after growth in sales slowed, although this was potentially an overreaction from the market given that Sirtex currently sells to less than 2% of its addressable market.

Sales of Sirtex’s ‘SIR-Spheres’ are driven by a number of factors including an ageing population and affordability of treatments, as well as expansion in the potential uses of SIR-Spheres through additional research. The biggest near term driver however is certification in additional markets, like the recent Medical Device License grant for sales into Canada. Like Flight Centre above and Xero below, Sirtex carries no significant debt.

Sirtex shares have been quite volatile, but with such a small market share, the company has a long growth runway ahead that will likely reward the patient investor. I would also invest a hypothetical $4,000 into Sirtex.

XERO FPO NZX (ASX: XRO) comes last as it is the highest risk, although the business itself carries a lot of potential. A cloud software provider, Xero’s potential comes from the fact that it pays just once to acquire a customer, yet customers stick around for 7 years (on average), paying Xero’s subscription fees all that time. Customer losses are very low, at around 1%, and the company is expanding rapidly in the UK and US, which are its biggest target markets.

Like Sirtex and Flight Centre, Xero has no debt and comes with ample international opportunity. Currently a majority of sales come domestically as opposed to internationally, although in five years the opposite will likely be true. With enough cash to see the company through to break-even point and no debt, several key risks are mitigated and Xero looks to have a bright future ahead. I would invest a hypothetical $2,000 into Xero today.

Before buying any of these shares today however, you should know that The Motley Fool's renowned dividend investing guru recently revealed his newest buy recommendation and a short list of 3 Best Dividend Buys Now - and they could be an even better opportunity than Flight Centre, Sirtex, or Xero.

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Motley Fool contributor Sean O'Neill owns shares of Flight Centre Travel Group Limited, Sirtex Medical Limited, and Xero. The Motley Fool Australia owns shares of Xero. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.