All the places as a business owner, you have to make a lot of decisions about how and where you spend your hard earned money. With so many areas of your business demanding resources, you might feel like you can’t afford to spend money on costly strategies that might not even lead to growth.
Prepare for growth from day one: When somebody is building their business I counsel them to focus early on digital automation and self-service. You may feel because your business is small, you can get away with just hiring an individual to handle customer phone calls and emails. But it is better in the long run to have the right model in place so as the business grows, your processes can adapt and grow in an incremental way, not in a linear way.
If you begin by bringing more people on board to handle the increased load, you’ll naturally have to continue to throw more people at it as the business grows (which is what most companies do). Setting the initial infrastructure up with the future in mind is a wise approach that could avoid painful procedural changes down the line.
Sometimes we make business far harder than it is. We over-think our strategy, complicate our product line, worry too much about our staff.
All of these are important issues to be sure, but they pale into insignificance compared to the one area of business that contributes most to success.
I have mentored literally thousands of business owners and almost every time I see a business not performing it is primarily because they are not spending enough hours in the day on the sales process. Either refining how they sell or getting out there and getting face to face with potential customers.
If you’re an established business you should spend at least 30% of your day on the sales process or connecting with customers.
When you spend most of your time selling opportunities quickly arise. Door open. Checks get written. Good things happen. When you stay in your office talking to your staff, pontificating over product details, admin and minutiae you may progress your business, but you won’t greatly increase your revenue.
Only going out there and asking more people to buy your stuff will make a real difference in the long run. All else is tinkering at the peripheries of success.
Sit down and work out what the average amount of time is your people are spending each week either directly selling or on improving the sales process. Then set a goal to triple it, starting next week.
You may say you’re too busy. You may protest that you have too many other things to do. But if you can just bring yourself to drop these excuses and try this technique, you will be stunned at how quickly your business improves.
And don’t put up with any resistance from your sales staff about being pushed and held accountable either. Any sales person that isn’t completely happy to have their performance closely monitored should be fired. Sales is too important not to have a constant magnifying glass on it. Sales should be the absolute center of what your company does, every single day. Ignore it at your peril. As the founder of IBM, Thomas Watson once remarked, “Nothing happens until somebody sells something.”
If you’re not happy with how fast your business is growing, this is the area you should focus on, first, second and third. Get out there and ask more people for money. It may sound crude, but ultimately an obsession with sales is at the heart of all sustained business growth.
To build brand awareness and reputation, you can…
Brand: You need to start with a strong brand identity that your customers can identify with. Your brand must not only communicate a message, but also inform, motivate and deliver as promised. The better your brand is at keeping its promises, the better your brand is at being trusted.
Learning Relationships: Organizations that implement learning relationships are better able to understand and anticipate a customer’s unique needs. Learning organizations understand that great customer experiences start with listening to the customer to learn instead of talking to the customer to sell.
Customers in a learning relationship experience a heightened sense of vendor awareness and are more likely to be loyal because their vendor understands their needs.
Use technology to connect in positive and collaborative ways: Customer connections that engender loyalty deliver a seamless experience across channels and touch points while demonstrating integrity and interest.
Publish and engage on social media sites. Creating a presence for your business on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and others is a great way to get the word out about your products, services, employees, values, mission, etc.
Create original content. When you create original content, your customers not only notice—they also remember. You likely already act as the person customers and employees reach out to when they need help, so why not share your expertise on a company blog, LinkedIn post, or YouTube video?
Build an email marketing list (and send value to your subscribers). Thanks to smartphones, email has become one of the primary ways companies communicate with current and prospective customers. Are you reaching out to your customers via email? Volunteering to speak at local or industry events is a great way to connect with other businesses and future customers. All you need to do is be proactive, be organized, and be confident in the value you can give to others. Recommended reading: 12 Steps to Break Into Public Speaking and Build Your Brand by Scott Gerber
Help solve problems. Your customers come to you because you offer a solution to one (or some) of their problems. Leveraging yourself as a problem-solver on your blog, on Facebook, or in person does not require an investment of your money—all it requires is your time and your ability to present yourself as authentic.
Learn (and remember) the names of your customers. People like doing business with people. Take time to learn the names of your customers. Show them you care.
Hiring employees is definitely an investment, but hiring the wrong employees will cost you more money in the long run.
Offer loyalty discounts. Launching a loyalty program might cost some money in the beginning, but once you have it in place, your customers will likely end up spending more and visiting you more often than they might have before you had anything in place.
Your customers have opinions about your products, services, and the experience you offer. Inviting them to share their opinions with you is a great and inexpensive way to get valuable information that can help keep you in business.
Send handwritten thank you cards. The world moves fast these days. A personal, handwritten note can go a long way. Your customers will notice, appreciate, and remember the time you spent to personally thank them for their business.
Join the local chamber of commerce. Networking can be a powerful and inexpensive way to meet other people in your community. As a small business owner, you should be taking the time to put yourself out there in front of other people who can send business your way.
Hire an intern. If you need to be spending more time on customer service, launching that new website, or improving upon products, it might be beneficial to hire a high school or college student looking to gain some experience in your field.
Offer a free seminar. Offering free education to others is another great way to build a reputation for yourself and your business. It’s also a great way to connect with people who might be interested in doing business with you.
Offer a free webinar. Hosting a free webinar is also a great way to connect with potential customers, especially if the majority of your business comes from areas outside of your city, state, or country.
Talk (and listen) to your existing clients. As mentioned earlier, your existing customers likely have a lot of insight to share with you. Talk to them. It doesn’t cost you a penny.
Make someone’s day. Sometimes the smallest act of kindness can make the biggest impact. Try to think of an inexpensive way to make someone’s day better. It might not lead to instant business, but as they say, “what goes around comes around!”
Ask your customers to fill out surveys. Thanks to services like Survey Monkey and Google forms, it doesn’t take much time or money to create and launch a survey these days. Consider creating one for your customers, and use the free information you get from them to make changes that matter.
Run a test on your website. Whether you make manual changes to your site or use something more strategic and robust, the value of a good website test is still evident. This strategy can be especially useful for businesses that sell actual products or services online.
Pay attention to what your competition is doing. Thanks to Google, it’s never been easier to get an idea of what your competition is doing right or wrong. Spend time using free sites like Google to get a leg up on your competitors.
Build a team of volunteer “beta” testers. Everyone likes early access and being a part of something “exclusive.” Reach out to your most loyal customers and invite them to become part of an elite group of people that always get first dibs on new products or concepts.
Meet with other business owners. As mentioned earlier, other business owners can be a good source of new business for you. Spend time developing relationships with other business owners in your city or community.
Work on the front lines for a day. A little “hands on” experience never hurt anyone. If you’re wondering why your customers aren’t buying a certain product or staying longer at your business, work the front lines for a day.
Let your current employees do the talking. If you are growing but you don’t have the time or resources available to search for the right talent to add to your team, make sure you spend time connecting with your employees. They likely have a few people in mind who would be perfect additions to your team.
Ask your customers for help. Your customers can also help you find the right people you need. Don’t be afraid to put the word out that you’re looking for help. You can even offer them discounts in exchange for referrals!
Use the mobile and the web. Instead of relying on traditional sometimes-costly recruiting methods, there are a lot of great mobile and web tools you can use (LinkedIn, Snagajob, etc). as free or inexpensive ways to recruit new employees. You can also use technology as an enticement. If you’re using an employee scheduling app (ours is free), you’re a more attractive business than one that still uses paper.