Do you feel 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 toward this year in the first place? Every entrepreneur wants to own a successful and profitable business, but it's not always clear how to get there.
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.
Focus on Customer Service
According to a study by NewVoiceMedia, 51% of customers will not repeat business with a company after a bad service experience. Other studies have shown that it takes several positive customer experiences to make up for one negative one.
Given that loyal customers make a much easier sell, 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. You may need to invest in staff training, revamp your return policy, or make basic improvements such as responding promptly to voicemails or emails from customers.
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. 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 through your support and sponsorship of local organizations and charities.
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 organizations
- Involving the newspapers in your grand openings, moves, or charity events
- Giving free workshops or classes related to your products or services
- Developing business partnerships and doing cross-promotion with complementary businesses
- Cold calling (yes it can still work)
- Advertising your business on your vehicle with a vehicle wrap
Build Your Online Presence
Creating a professional-looking website can be quick and easy nowadays, and your small business needs to be in the online space. Research from the E-commerce Wiki indicates that 88% of consumers now research purchases online before purchasing in a store.
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 Maps 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 as well. Establishing a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is standard for most businesses these days.
Cut Your Business Costs
Business costs for everything from office space to vehicle expenses seem to always be 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 try using new technology to make the job as easy as possible. For example, there are a number of mobile apps for expense tracking, including many 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.
Conduct annual or even semi-annual reviews of your major expenses, such as office space, business insurance, staffing, and vehicle expenses. Where can you trim? If you are in an area with an abundance of available commercial space, perhaps you could think about relocating. If you don't even need a storefront, you could 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 company culture.
If you do nothing else with mobile technology this year, you need to make sure that your online presence, including your business website, is mobile friendly. Increasing numbers of people are surfing and searching with their phones—even when they’re at home.
But there are two other trends that could benefit your small business. The first is mobile marketing. There are myriad mobile-specific strategies you could be using to reach your target market with great effect, from text message advertising and mobile display ads to having your own business app designed.
Mobile payment systems represent your other opportunity. Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Venmo, Square, Intuit GoPayment, Paypal—the choices for paying by phone are now endless. Offering pay-by-phone services is a significant convenience to customers, but your small business could also realize considerable savings from being able to use a mobile POS system.
Get in the Cloud
There is no doubt that cloud computing has leveled the playing field for startup businesses, but the serious advantages of using the cloud 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, updates, etc.) and you can access your business accounts from anywhere, including from mobile devices.
There are some disadvantages to cloud computing, of course, but if you haven’t started using cloud storage and applications yet, make this the year that you at least investigate its potential.
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.
Update Your Business Plan
You did make a business plan before starting your business, 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 one, it's 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 there you can determine ways to make your business more profitable by increasing sales, reducing losses, or cutting expenses. If you want your business to be more successful, you need a plan for how to get there.
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
Here's the big takeaway: 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 challenging as changing your thinking about some of your business processes. But you haven’t brought your business this far only to let it stagnate, have you? Make the next year your best year yet.