As a small business owner wearing many hats, it’s important to take a step back, look at the big picture and continuously work on your business rather than in you business. Working in your business means performing the core functions that your business is built upon. Working on your business means ensuring you have systems, strategies and goals in place so that you can effectively analyze the results you are getting and gather the necessary information to change and improve your performance.
Here are ten tips to help you work on your business:
1. Get comfortable with your numbers. A common mistake for small business owners is to view finances through an emotional lens, meaning they either look at them with fear when times are tight or delight when business is booming. But looking at finances from an emotional standpoint means you will miss important information such as what and why things are working or not working. Instead be open and inquisitive with your numbers. When you’re constantly curious – in both good times and bad – you will always be learning and thinking constructively on how you can improve your business.
2. Know your assumptions. It’s important to clearly define and understand the things you hope will happen with your business, so that you can monitor your results and adjust accordingly. If you aren’t reaching your projected numbers you can then compare the actual results to your assumptions and see what needs to be changed.
3. Don’t force results. Rather than try forcing a certain result, consider the factors that created those results and see how they can be changed and how that in turn creates a new result. When you play with the factors, you’re able to learn and adapt to what is working and not working and understand why.
4. Continuity of sales. Making the initial sale is only the first step. Once you have converted a prospect into a customer, you must then work to keep them as a customer. It’s far more cost-effective to retain customers than it is to gain new ones. Bundled packages, loyalty rewards programs, referral systems are all great ways to keep customers engaged in your business.
5. Consistent marketing. Marketing is the relationship your business has with your customers – advertising, promotions and sales are all functions of marketing. Make sure you are sending out a consistent message. Line up your promotional material, business cards, e-mail signatures and online profiles and make sure they are consistent.
6. If you’re taking to everyone, you’re talking to no one. Fear of missing out on some customers is a common mistake in marketing. But the whole point of effective marketing for small businesses is to exclude some people. Laser in on your target market and talk only to them. You will inevitably attract other people as well, but they are not your focus. Don’t get distracted and try to widen your net until you have dominated your niche target market.
7. Connect with your customers. One advantage small business owners have over large corporations is the ability to create a personal connection with their customers. People connect with stories, passion, and people going after their dreams. Make sure you are sharing yours with your customers. A powerful way to stay in a daily conversation with your customers is through social media. Find out what social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest) your customers are on and connect with them there.
8. Your business is not about you. Your business exists to make a difference in lives of your customer. This means you must think not in terms of why you want to sell your service/product to them but why they want to become a customer and how you are going to make their life better.
9. Ready time. There will be times when the phone isn’t ringing and you don’t feel busy. This is your ready time. When business isn’t actually busy, get ready for when you are busy. Make sure you have all your systems in place, promotional material printed and ready to go, iron out all the kinks so when business picks up you are organized and prepared.
10. Just take the next step. Planning, strategizing and goal-setting are all essential to your business’ growth. However, they can also feel overwhelming, especially if you are a solo entrepreneur or just starting out. Always remember to just take the next time. Your vision and direction will continue to change as you and your business grow.
Michelle Shemilt is the founder of Nudy Patooty, an eco-friendly undershirt line for women that protects women’s clothes from everyday damage and reduces dry-cleaning costs.
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.