Tips For Small Business – The Dos and Don’ts

In today’s tough economy with layoffs and slow economic growth, many people are looking to start their own small businesses. Over 600,000 new businesses were started last year. An alarming number of these businesses fail within the first year. The main reason: lack of money. Another significant reason: poor advertising and marketing. There are those lucky few companies that develop a great product or idea and can manage great success without a lot of advertising. But for the rest of them, they have to do significant marketing. In my experience I’ve seen some good ideas go to waste due to poor advertising and marketing efforts. Small businesses don’t need to suffer as much as popular belief would tell you. You could actually be successful in a short amount of time if you follow some steps and learn from other’s mistakes.

Here are some common mistakes that I have seen:

Inconsistent branding. I have seen new companies suffer from major identity crisis by not having a consistent brand. No logo and different names everywhere. You don’t have to be Starbucks to have a solid brand. In this one case, their web page, Facebook page, and Twitter account all had different company names and no logo. It was very difficult to establish what the actual name of the company was. In fact, the owner’s business card had a @yahoo email address. Nothing says “I’m a small unestablished business” like a freemail address on your card. His DBA even had a different name on it. It would be the same as introducing yourself to every person you meet with a different name. Establish the brand and be consistent with it, everywhere. Get help from a professional graphic designer to help you design and build a logo and identity. Just because you own a copy of Microsoft Publisher does not mean you’re a graphic designer. Let a professional do it. They know what a good logo and identity can do.

Another one, no marketing at all. Just simply relying on the premise of “build it and they will come” doesn’t work. Word-of-mouth advertising can only work so well. Not to be confused with Social Networking word-of-mouth, which we’ll talk about in a minute. I have seen a company with no web site and virtually no web presence at all and relied primarily on referrals. They couldn’t understand why their growth was so stagnant. Today’s small businesses have to market in the space where their customers reside, which for most businesses is on the internet. The Yellow Pages are all but dead. People these days go to the internet first to look for business and product information. That’s why the large companies are there! Sites such as Yelp are a great place to find information about local businesses. Even despite their recent legal issues, there is still some great information on their site. You have to get your word out to the masses. Build your presence. Build it where your customers reside. Get a good web site. Work on your search engine optimization so you come up high in search results. As mentioned above, get a good graphic designer involved.

Some best approaches:

Just because you’re small, doesn’t mean you have to act and think small. Developing a consistent brand, as discussed above, is not just for big companies. Your brand is your identity. It’s who you are. Make a strong statement. Be aggressive with your marketing. Get involved in social networking. It’s not just for big companies. Many small companies have shown great success with Facebook and Twitter strategies. A Los Angeles-based bakery called Kiss My Bundt is a great success story using social media to build their business. Over 75% of internet users are involved in some form of social media. Once again, your audience is there. According to a recent study conducted by ROI Research, over 33% of Twitter users talk about a brand at least once a week. 32% give recommendations and 30% seek advice or recommendations. With over 100 million users on Twitter, that’s a lot of brand talk. That’s real word-of-mouth advertising and that’s just on Twitter. Facebook is now the #1 visited website on the internet. With close to half a billion users, imagine how much talk about brands there is on Facebook. Build a Facebook fan page (or Like page as some like to call them) and engage yourself with your audience. Make sure your customers are talking about you, but obviously saying good things. One of the great things about social media is it allows you to listen in to your customers comments and engage with them and respond to the negative comments as they happen.

Spread your message as far as you can. Take advantage of free press releases and free blog posting sites. Use HARO (Help a Reporter Out). You never know what kind of exposure you can get from one of the reporters.

Some of the worst approaches

See Inconsistent branding example mentioned above. When the owner of this business was calling on new prospects, many of which were old contacts he had, he wasn’t even using the company name. He was introducing the company with his name because even he had no idea what his brand was and thought his name had more weight than his company.

Other suggestions to build your business

Network as much as possible. Attend local networking events. Check meetup.com for events in your area. Tell everyone you know that you’ve started a business and ask for referrals. Maybe even offer a referral fee or reward program for referrals. Customer loyalty programs are great way to encourage repeat business. Social network site Foursquare is making this easy. Expose your business as much as possible. Be thorough. Get everything in place before you launch, for example your website, your business plan, and your marketing strategy. Be prepared to hit the ground running and think big! Think and act like a bigger company would. That includes heavy exposure and marketing. A company with the best product in the world will fail if no one knows it’s there. Write blogs that demonstrate you’re an expert in your industry. Write press releases to tell the world you’re there. You never know where it might get picked up. Then, follow through on what you promise. Deliver what is expected and more. Under promise and over deliver. Run you business with honesty and integrity. This one I can’t stress enough. Especially in the beginning, dishonest practices will absolutely kill your business. Negative words will spread faster than positive words and your business will be dead before it can get started. Cheaters never prosper!

So Mr. and Mrs. Small Business Owner, don’t be afraid to make that dream of being a business owner a reality. But please do it right! Don’t be a negative statistic. Market yourself correctly! Build a solid and consistent brand. Get involved in social media. Encourage your customers to tell others about how great you are. Spread your word. If you don’t know how to do it, seek out workshops, seminars, or even consultants. Use whatever resources you can to help you succeed.

Small Business Achievement – Thinking Through Pre-Action Not Reaction

You want to be one step ahead. Small business leaders often need to work incredibly hard to maintain everything. Reaction to events is commonplace, but it is pre-action that is truly the way to grow your small business. Pre-action is a great strategy to grow your small business.

Anybody can react to a situation. The truly exceptional people will take positive, preemptive action: pre-action. You want to take action before your competitors. Rather than reacting to market conditions, you want to predict marketing conditions. By taking the correct action before your competition does, you will create a competitive advantage for yourself.

How can you do this? Educate yourself about your industry. Stay knowledgeable about trends. You can do this by doing research yourself, hiring a researcher, or directly asking your clients. Let me provide you an example of how I did this for the creation of my Aspirations book.

I directed my book designer by providing them a general theme for the creation of sample book covers. I really liked one more than the others, but I am market focused. I wanted to create a book cover that people would like. A reactive person would have published a book with a specific book cover, and if it did not work, they would have tried another cover.

I created a simple website and slides of the various samples that I had. I emailed my client and potential clients and had them participate in an online survey. I showed the slide to my business college students and had them comment as well. People appreciated the opportunity to participate in the creation of a book. With their comments I was able to make a pre-action oriented decision.

By substituting pre-action steps for reactive, you are creating a powerful strategy to grow your small business.

Steps to Starting a Small Business – Market Research

Getting enough information on your target market of potential customers is vital to starting a business that will produce income. Making guesses on what the customer really wants will not bring you very far, so it’s important to do some digging and get the answers directly from them through market research which is an important steps to starting a small business.

Some of the following questions to ask in order to device effective strategies:

  • Who is going to buy your product or service?
  • What kind of people are they? (buyer, influencer or end user)
  • How big is the market? (Competitor’s annual sales would give you an estimate)
  • How will market trends going to affect your business?
  • Does your business has any unique selling point?
  • Is the need for your product or service currently not being met?
  • Is the market already saturated?

Why do it?

You will not be able to sell something or services that has no demand. Knowing what the market is looking for and so that you can present it in a new twist, drives the need for a market research. The advantage of small businesses is that they are close to their customer and can easily get information on their purchasing habits.

How to do it?

Most of the big companies spend huge amounts of money on elaborate surveys from renowned researchers to determine if their products or services will appeal to customers at a price they are willing to pay. But for small business owners on a tight budget, there are other means to collect the key data needed without having to spend a fortune.

3 ways to collect information:

  • Get business school students to collect data at the mall.
  • Look for financial data and statistics in local library.
  • Join trade association not only to access market research they have conducted but do the networking there as well.

Do I need any ongoing market research while running the business?

Yes, this is how you gather information to evolve and adapt to the changes in market trends.

3 types of methods:

  • Keep a close watch on what your competitor is doing.
  • Install point-of-sales software to track sales or services trend.
  • Put up customer suggestion box where they can write suggestions.

Every business needs to conduct market research, it is a crucial steps to starting a small business, and tight budgets are no excuse for omitting a research plan. By starting out with some easily accessible resources, you can begin to develop better marketing strategies that can position you for market growth.