Business Success Is a Work in Progress
Feeling like you’re treading water with your small business and not making progress towards your goals?
Or are you having trouble choosing business goals to work towards this year in the first place? We all want to be successful owners of profitable small businesses, but how do you get there from where you are?
If you want your small business to be more profitable than ever before, here are some suggestions for how to make it happen. And remember; building a successful business is a marathon, not a sprint!
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1) Focus on Customer Service
According to a survey conducted by American Express, 78% of consumers have cancelled or not made an intended purchase due to poor customer service. Other studies have shown that it takes several positive customer experiences to make up for one negative one.
Given that loyal customers are much easier to sell to, make good customer service a priority. Examine your current customer service and make the changes that need to be made to ensure that your small business is providing service superior to that of your competitors, whether it be investing in staff training, revamping your return policy, or basic improvements such as responding promptly to voice mail or email from customers.
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2) Build Word of Mouth for Your Business
Whether you operate your business in a small community or in a large urban center, word of mouth is more important than ever for business. Most consumers turn to the net to search for reviews of businesses before deciding where to shop, so building a good reputation is vital to the success of your business.
How do you get positive word of mouth? By providing good, professional service, building and monitoring your local (and online) reputation, and gaining publicity by giving back to your community by supporting/sponsoring local organizations and charities.
3) Expand Your Marketing Efforts
Effective marketing is key to increasing your sales, but you don't have to break the bank to promote your business. There are many inexpensive ways to market your products and services, including:
Creating and using a promotion kit.
Sending out promotions with your invoices.
Joining professional and/or business organizations.
Involving the newspapers in your grand openings, moves, or charity events.
Giving free workshops or classes related to your products/services.
Developing business partnerships and doing cross-promotion with complementary businesses.
Joining professional and/or business organizations.
Cold calling (yes it can still work!).
Advertising your business on your vehicle with a vehicle wrap.
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4) Build Your Online Presence with a Business Website and Social Media
I always feel like I’m shouting into the wind when I write this, but your small business really needs a website. I know, I know – you don’t have time. But creating a professional looking website can be quick and easy nowadays and your small business needs to be in the online space; Surveys by Ipsos MediaCT and Accenture indicate that more than 70 percent of consumers research purchases online before buying in a store (The Globe and Mail).
A simple website that describes who you are, what you do, and how to contact you will suffice for many small businesses. At a minimum, your site should contain:
- Your logo
- Your business name
- A summary of what you do – your products and services
- Your contact information
- Your address, including a Google Map link
- Your mission, e.g. "We make the best pizza in town…."
- Testimonials from customers
Depending on your target market, social media can be a great way to promote your business. To get started with social media see How to Create a Social Media Plan.
See also Create a Facebook Page for Your Business, Tweet About Your Business on Twitter, and Introduction to LinkedIn Social Networking Service.
5) Cut Your Business Costs
Despite government claims of "low inflation", business costs for everything from office space to vehicle expenses seem to be always on the rise, so keeping expenses in check is a crucial task for business owners.
Keeping track of expenses is time consuming and tedious, so wherever possible use technology to make the job as easy as possible. For example, there are a number of mobile apps for expense tracking, including some of the newer cloud-based accounting applications that allow you to automatically add expense information into your accounting system by snapping pictures of receipts with your mobile device.
Annually or semi-annually review your major costs, such as office space, business insurance, staffing, and vehicle expenses. If you are in an area with abundant available commercial space, think about relocating, or if you don't need a storefront convert to a home-based business.
Review your major supply costs regularly and always look for discounts or ways to pool supply purchases with other businesses to save money. Make reducing expenses part of your job description, and involve your employees.
For more ways to cut business costs see 10 Ways to Cut Business Costs.
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6) Go Mobile
If you do nothing else mobile-wise this year, you need to make sure that your online presence, including your business website, is mobile friendly, as ever-increasing numbers of people are surfing and searching with their phones – even when they’re at home.
But there are two other trends that your small business could really profit from. The first is mobile marketing. There’s a whole range of mobile-specific strategies you could be using to reach your target market with great effect, from text message advertising and mobile display ads through having an app designed for your own business.
The second is mobile payment systems. The choices for your small business are really expanding as Apple Pay and Google Wallet join the field previously dominated by Square, Intuit GoPayment and PayPal. Even Canadian Tire is getting into mobile payments. Using phones to pay is a significant convenience to customers but your small business could also realize considerable savings from being able to use a mobile POS system.
7) Use the Cloud
There is no doubt that Cloud computing has leveled the playing field for startup businesses, but the serious advantages that using the cloud provides for “ordinary” established businesses is not always discussed.
Cost savings and access from anywhere are the biggest advantages to moving some of your business processes to the cloud. If, for instance, your business changes from a desktop small business accounting program to a cloud-based accounting application, you would no longer have to install desktop software (saving IT costs for installation, backups, etc.) and you can access your business accounts from anywhere, including from mobile devices (in fact, most small business accounting software vendors have moved to the cloud and no longer offer desktop software).
There are some disadvantages to cloud computing too, of course, but if you haven’t starting using cloud storage and/or applications yet, make this the year that you at least investigate its potential.
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8) Find and Keep the Right Employees
Attracting and retaining the right employees is one of the most important things you can do with your business. While hiring and training employees every other week might be business as usual for a fast-food restaurant, most successful businesses rely on hiring quality staff and keeping them for the long term.
For information on attracting the best employees see Top 10 Ways to Attract Quality Employees, 7 Ways to Make Employee Recruitment Easier, and 6 Ways to Keep Your Employees Happy.
9) Update Your Business Plan
You did make a business plan before starting your business, right? Right? A business plan is vital for startup businesses for many reasons, including testing the viability of your business idea and securing debt or equity financing.
If you haven't made a business plan it is not too late. Successful established businesses update their business plan annually to review accomplishments (or lack thereof) and decide on new goals or directions.
The financial health of your business is summarized by the income statement, the cash flow projection and the balance sheet, which are contained in the financial section of the business plan. From these you can determine ways to make your business more profitable by increasing sales and/or reducing losses or cutting expenses. If you want your business to be more successful you need a plan for how to get there.
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10) Wealth Is Useless Without Health
No one goes to the grave wishing they had spent more time in the office. Too many business owners sacrifice their mental and physical health, family relationships, and friends in pursuit of their business goals.
Don't be one of them – find an acceptable level of work-life balance. Getting enough sleep, taking time for family and friends, and getting regular exercise will help you stay healthy and allow you and your business to prosper over the long term.
Make This Your Best Year Ever
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this article, it’s this; success is not a given. If you want your small business to be more successful this year, you need to make the necessary changes to bring that about.
That work may be as simple as investing in a new tool or as difficult as changing your thinking about some of your business processes. But you haven’t brought your business this far to just let it stagnate, have you? Here’s to your best year ever!