When you are launching and running a small business, the landscape can be fraught with obstacles. No amount of business studies classes can fully prepare you for the reality of being in business, and the multitasking required to maintain a healthy profit, steady growth and positive customer and staff relations can feel at times like you’re spinning plates. Here are 8 ways you can supercharge your small business operations, for the best possible chance of lasting success in the contemporary marketplace.
Know your competition
Before you write a business plan and set sail with your million dollar idea, you need to scope out the competition. No matter what field your business is in, research your main competitors and establish what makes them so successful. In what areas are they excelling, and where are they falling short? Social media can be a great barometer of public opinions on a company, so use it to your advantage to identify weaknesses, best practices and opportunities in the marketplace. The better you know your competition, the more easily you can identify your own competitive advantages and use this accumulated knowledge to create tailor-made marketing strategies.
Know your target market
Even more important than knowing your competition, familiarity with your target market is key for business success. You need to ascertain the demographic, geographic, psychographic and behaviouristic characteristics of the target audience, so you have a comprehensive picture of who you are selling to. Take advantage of existing market research to predict who will buy your products, use Google Trends to identify popular search terms and anticipate demand, and conduct free online surveys to get verbatim answers from potential customers about what they want.
Social media marketing
The days of giant marketing budgets, print, radio and television advertising campaigns seem to be firmly in the past. According to a survey by Clutch, over 70% of small businesses now use at least one social media platform, with Facebook being the most popular by far, followed by Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. By posting relevant content to select demographics, you can connect with your target audience and convert their interest into sales.
All about the numbers
Even if maths isn’t your forte, you will need to keep a close eye on the financial side of things to make accurate future predictions and avoid any potential disasters. Figures to keep track of include, unsurprisingly, cash flow (so that you can be sure of meeting all essential business expenses), net income, profit and loss (so that you can make projections over the long and short term) and sales figures (to track growth and quickly react to any changes). If you are selling a physical product, you will also need to keep tabs on inventory and margins to maximize turnover and profits.
Find a mentor
Successful business owners often have one important thing in common: they cite having a great mentor as a key component of their success. A recent survey of small business owners by Kabbage showed that 92% of small business owners agree that mentors have a direct impact on growth and the survival of their business. Start by figuring out what you need from a mentor – this, in turn, will help you know where to focus your search. You might feel that the expertise of an industry-specific mentor is just what you need to give your business a winning edge. Or maybe someone who is successful in a completely different field can offer their transferable skills and wisdom to help your business thrive. You can start by searching your local networks, or use sites like MicroMentor to cast a wider net.
What kind of leader are you?
As soon as you start employing people, your management style will start affecting your business. It is essential to assess and optimize your management style to maximize staff productivity, organization, and motivation. A study of small businesses in the United States tested the relationship between leadership style, organizational profitability and employee satisfaction. The findings showed that the most favorable results were associated with transformational and transactional leadership styles, with laissez-faire leadership producing less positive results.
“Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.” – David Ogilvy.
Hiring isn’t a numbers game: you need to make sure your staff is highly capable, adding value to your organization, and displaying potential for growth. You can’t afford the wasted time and money of a bad hiring choice. Creating a positive company culture, writing compelling job descriptions and including benefits like healthcare are great ways to attract top-class candidates for your position. Use social media and in-person networking to your advantage, and consider implementing a referral scheme to incentivize existing employees to bring in talent from their own networks.
Keep learning and innovating
Personal learning and staying abreast of research, trends and developments in your industry is crucial to survival and growth in business. Even if you think you know everything about running your company, ongoing innovation will give you the edge you need to continually adapt to the dynamic business landscape, reacting to market changes and responding to challenges from competitors so that you can maintain an upward trajectory. Knowledge is power!