Starting your own small business can be an exciting journey, but it can also be quite challenging, and there’s one challenge that many small business owners don’t see coming: a lack of practical information. You see, most of the advice you’ll find out there is designed for big companies and people with fancy business degrees. But as a small business owner, you need advice that’s straightforward and tailored to your unique needs.
Here’s the deal: Business advice isn’t one-size-fits-all. Small businesses like yours face different problems and opportunities compared to large corporations.So, in this blog, we’ll give you easy-to-understand advice to help you navigate the ups and downs of running a small business.
Turning your business plan into a living guide
Your business plan is like a map for your small business. Just like architects don’t toss their building plans once construction begins and teachers don’t ignore their curriculums after the school year starts, you shouldn’t create a business plan and forget about it.
Instead, think of your business plan as a living document that changes and grows with your business. Here’s how to create and maintain this essential guide:
Team Portrait: Start by gathering your team and reflecting on their backgrounds, passions, skills, and talents. The more details you gather about your team members, the better. Your team is more than just their professional roles; it’s about who they are as individuals.
Past Clients and Services: Have your team list all the clients they’ve worked with in the past, including those from part-time jobs and volunteer work. Also, document the specific services they’ve provided. This exercise can reveal overlaps and synergies that could lead to new markets for your business.
External Analysis: Describe your position in the market and study your main competitors. Try to anticipate upcoming market trends. As a small business, you can adapt quickly to trends that align with your strengths.
Recent Business Developments: Keep track of the last 18 months of your business journey, noting both positive and negative developments. This helps you stay aware of your progress and areas that may need improvement.
By thoroughly following these steps, your business plan will become more than just a plan; it will become a unique map of your team’s skills, experiences, strengths, and networks. It will show what your company can offer that’s distinct from others in the market.
Seeing your business through your customer’s eyes
Understanding the real value of your product or service is essential for your business to thrive. Imagine you have a shop that sells picture frames, mounts, and glass. Seems straightforward, right? But what are your customers truly buying? They’re not just purchasing frames and glass; they’re investing in preserving cherished memories.
The core message here is that comprehending what your product means to your customers is crucial for business growth. Small businesses often limit themselves by not fully grasping the depth of what they offer, which can restrict their earnings.
Consider our picture framing shop again. A savvy owner knows they provide more than frames and explores ways to enhance that value. They might offer scrapbooking classes, photo preservation services, or host art exhibitions, expanding both revenue and their customer base.
Now, think about your own small business. Customers likely see value in ways you haven’t explored. Seek feedback from them to understand why they value your business.
Your business likely has untapped potential too. To uncover it, be analytical. Consider services, products, information, customers, and knowledge (S.P.I.C.K) you could offer but aren’t. This analysis might reveal opportunities to provide more, leading to increased revenue.
Protecting and profiting from your ideas
Your most valuable asset in your business might not be your money, your products, or your equipment. It’s likely something called “intellectual property” or “IP.”
So, what is intellectual property? Think of it as a treasure chest filled with your business’s unique ideas and creations. This can include new inventions, smart processes, or one-of-a-kind designs. It’s like a library where all your creative work is stored.
Why is this library so important? First, it acts like a shield to protect your special ideas from others who might want to copy them. If someone tries to steal your clever invention, your IP can help you stop them. Second, it’s like a golden ticket that lets you share your ideas with others and make money from them. You can either let others use your ideas for a fee or even sell them as valuable assets.
Your IP falls into four categories:
- Copyright: This automatically covers anything you create, like books, documents, or artwork. It’s like putting your name on your work to show it’s yours.
- Trademark: Think of it as a special symbol for your business, like a logo or a catchy slogan. But you need to legally register it and renew it every ten years.
- Patent: If you’ve invented something entirely new, like a groundbreaking gadget, a patent can protect it from being used by others without your permission.
- Design Rights: Imagine you’ve created something with a unique or eye-catching appearance, like a stylish chair. Design rights prevent others from copying how your item looks
Knowing what’s in your intellectual property treasure chest is crucial. It’s like having a map to the power of your business. It helps safeguard your ideas and can even bring in extra income. So, take a close look at your intellectual property—it might be your most precious asset!
How small businesses can turn size into strength
Your small business can actually be a powerful advantage. It’s true that it can be challenging to compete with big, powerful companies trying to dominate the market. However, as a small business, you have something they don’t: agility. You can turn your size into an advantage with a concept called the “OODA Loop,” which stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
First, start by observing. Small businesses can react quickly to new trends. But you can only act on trends if you know about them. So, stay alert and keep an eye out for changes, shifts in behavior, and new opportunities in your industry.
Once you’ve spotted these shifts and opportunities, orient your business towards them. How can you position yourself to take advantage of them?
Now, it’s decision time. This is where being small is a big plus. Unlike larger companies, you don’t need endless approvals or layers of management to make decisions. Be quick and decisive. If you see an opportunity, go for it! Launch that new product, start that innovative service, or kick off that marketing campaign.
Thanks to the OODA loop, you can identify an opportunity, position your business for it, decide to act, and make it happen faster than your larger competitors can even schedule their first meeting.
So, maybe size does matter, but not in the way you might think. Being small can be your secret weapon if you use it wisely and act swiftly.
Teamwork: The foundation of a successful business
The success of your business depends on your team. If you’re running a small business, you’ve likely spent time choosing the right people. But remember, just as they support your business, you need to support them.
In simple terms, your business is only as strong as your team. Happy workers are more productive. So, how can you keep them happy?
Reward them beyond just salary. Offer team-building activities like weekly office lunches or occasional BBQs. Perks like yoga classes, meditation, and fresh fruit also promote health. If you’re on a tight budget, sweeten lower salaries with profit-sharing, stock options, or growth opportunities within the company. This ensures their commitment to your success.
Employee rewards don’t have to be expensive. Schedule team lunches or run skill-sharing sessions. Promoting from within is a great incentive. It shows you value their growth and is often cost-effective. Support your team, and they’ll support your business. It’s that simple.
Nurturing client connections
Maintaining strong client relationships is akin to keeping the spark alive in a romantic partnership. In the initial stages, you put in effort with gestures like flowers, chocolates, and romantic dinners to win your partner’s heart. However, if you neglect the relationship, it can grow mundane over time. This principle applies to your clients too – you must keep things fresh!
To ensure client satisfaction, don’t forsake your long-term clients while pursuing new ones. After each project, solicit feedback from long-term clients and act on their suggestions. Offer appreciative feedback as well, even if it’s just a note expressing your enjoyment of working together.
Maintain a balanced relationship. You needn’t always say yes to every client request. Politely decline impractical demands and provide constructive criticism when needed. Remember, they hired you for your expertise, not just to agree with them.
Carefully choose your point of contact within a client’s organization. It’s best to collaborate directly with decision-makers to avoid delays and misunderstandings.
While partnering with big clients may seem appealing, exercise caution. Large firms can exert influence, so ensure fair contract terms. If the contract is loaded with complex legal jargon, consult a lawyer before signing.
Lastly, don’t force a client relationship if it doesn’t feel right. Just as you wouldn’t continue dating someone without chemistry, avoid working with clients that don’t excite you. Keeping the spark alive in client relationships ensures they remain rewarding and fulfilling.
The magic of storytelling
Sharing your story can boost your business. Remember the magic of “Once upon a time”? It’s not just for kids; adults love stories too. Your story can help sell your business. So, what’s your business story?
In simple terms, it tells who you are, what you do, and where you come from. It includes inspiration, challenges, successes, and dreams.
Decide which parts of your story to share with customers. Turn those into a short, authentic narrative. Ensure your marketing reflects your story. For instance, if you’re a hairstylist, and your punk rock past inspired your salon, highlight that on your website and social media.
Here’s a twist: Your business story isn’t just for customers. It reminds you what makes you unique and helps build a strong brand.
As a business owner, live your story. Keep your story clear, and your small business will likely have a happy ending.
In conclusion, small businesses possess the power to achieve great things. Armed with agility, flexibility, and an unwavering passion, your compact enterprise can emerge as a formidable force in a competitive market. By staying true to your distinct business vision and sharing your personal story, your potential to forge meaningful connections with customers and clients knows no bounds. Embrace the advantages of your small package, because it can be your greatest asset in the bustling marketplace.
Inspired by a book “Simple Tips, Smart Ideas”; Erica Wolfe-Murray”