As I talk to small businesses, there is a very common set of things they should all be doing, remarkably common.
So here they are:
- Doing what they currently do 10% better. Even if what they are doing is sub-optimal, doing it cheaper, faster, better, must be of benefit, and is usually very low hanging fruit indeed.
- Get your digital house in order. Websites, blogs, social media, all consume resources, but worse, most SME’s treat them as one-off activities, items to be ticked off a list and left till next year, or left to the pimply faced intern to do in their spare time. Wrong. You need a strategy, allocated resources, and the capability to do all this stuff, it is after all the window to the world, and is not an optional expense, it is an investment in commercial longevity.
- Sort out who your current high performance customers are, and build relationship s with them. They will not necessarily be the biggest, they may be the least cost, highest gross margin %, have most potential, be the ones who are prepared to engage with you on more than a transactional level, whatever it is, engage, as it is far easier to extract another dollar of revenue from an existing customer that find and extract from a new one.
- Understand the market segments you work in, and which deliver you the best returns, and work the segment harder. This may be similar to the best customer list, but it may not. It is really all about understanding the characteristics of the type of customer to whom you can add the best value with your product and service offerings.
- Actively seek and work for referrals. The cheapest form of marketing is to have an existing customer refer someone to you, so be creative about seeking referrals, and reward the referrers. Oh, and ask for them, most do not ask, but if your customers are happy with you, 9 times in 10, they are happy to give you referrals, they just do not think of it on their own, and you have to make it worth their time.
- Create and leverage alliances. If you are running a shoe shop, it makes sense to be working with the dress shop around the corner to cross-refer, co-promote, and collaborate to build a customer base loyal to you both. Halves the marketing costs, and leverages the dollars you do spend.
- Create and leverage data bases. Capture every transaction, and do something with it, follow up, see if the buyer is happy with the purchase, send a “thank you for your business” card, ensure the product met expectations, provide an offer for the upcoming birthday, etc, etc, etc. It is now so cheap to build and leverage databases that it is insane for small businesses not to be doing it.
- Keep your eyes open for opportunities. Most small business operators are so engrossed in the day to day bun-fight that they do not take the time, or make the effort to look around, see what their competitors are doing, look at the trends in your market, and those adjacent to you, look at the evolving technologies that may impact, or be of use, see who is going well, and who is going broke, and understand why, etc, etc. Opportunities usually come from unexpected places, and you have to be ready for them when they do.
- Measure, measure, measure. Understand your costs, not just of your products, and the stuff clearly articulated by an invoice, but the often subtle or hidden ones, customer acquisition costs, wasted time in the office, using untrained staff, breakdowns in the factory, etc, etc. Some measures will be more enlightening that others, and you need to be cognizant of the costs of collecting and analyzing the data to give you the measures, but rather than not measuring, do it for a while and determine if there is a value to the continued measurement and leverage the data gives you, then continue, or leave it if the return is not worth the effort, or the opportunity cost is too high.
- Work on why you do stuff, rather than just what you do, and how you do it. I considered making this number one on the list, but it is a bit esoteric, so it is here, with a link to Simon Sinek’s presentation that in my view should be compulsory viewing for small business people. Watch it, think about it, and act on it.
- Do something different, now. Pick from the list, and do something about it. I could go on about planning, assembling resources and capabilities, and all the other consultant stuff, but for small businesses people, the primary task is to act, watch how it works, and be prepared to change direction quickly if necessary, and move ahead again.
Oh, and a last one, so important that it is on its own, WATCH THE CASH!