When you own a small business, it can seem like time is a scarce resource. You have a lot on your mind and you’re wearing quite a few hats. Maybe you’re trying to do everything yourself to keep hiring down and profits positive, therefore you’re always working. And, while you may be an expert in whatever your business focuses on, many entrepreneurs prefer to come up with ideas instead of running things.
If you look at small businesses that are faltering, the problem can likely be pinned down to three areas: Planning, maintaining and growing a customer base, and employee issues. While it can feel like these things take too much time, addressing issues properly rather than avoiding them altogether will help your business prosper.
Mistake #1: Fail to Plan
Many small business owners start out following their instincts and listening to their hunches. But the most successful businesses are directed by good, solid planning, not seat-of-the-pants decision-making. There’s truth to the saying “If you don’t know where you’re going you’ll never get there.”
Most importantly – define the purpose of the business. Then set goals and develop strategies to reach them. Write them down, along with who will be responsible, whether it’s you or an employee. Consider both short-term and long-term goals. Revisit your plan annually to see if the business is achieving objectives and to make changes as your business grows.
A good business plan includes financial goals. Still, some businesses operate without a budget. To be profitable, a small business owner needs to create an annual budget to meet goals and objectives. It is also important to set realistic goals. Many owners start out expecting big profits almost immediately and are disappointed when that hope doesn’t come to fruition. It’s best to set smaller financial goals that are more attainable.
Mistake #2: Not Capitalizing on Marketing
For many, marketing is a never-ending headache. Getting your name out there and customers through the door must be attended to continuously.
Understand your market.
The first thing you must do is understand your market. Who could use your product or service? What are the demographics?
Identify what sets you apart.
Why should they come to you instead of the shop down the road? Maybe your business offers better quality. All things being equal it could be the customer service is what your customers like best about your business.
Develop the message and voice.
Take note of what you need to get across to your market to get their attention and fill their needs. Identify the voice or tone as well; a more professional vocabulary might be good for talking to doctors, but a more relaxed tone could be most effective with young mothers, for instance.
Figure out how to reach your market.
Getting in front of millennials is different than reaching senior citizens. With a younger target audience, social media might be paramount. With seniors, while older individuals are using social media to a degree, direct mail might be the best way to get their attention. With any target market, chances are good you’ll have to reach out in several ways.
Keep an eye on the market.
Watch for trends so you can adapt as necessary in how you market to your audience. Changing trends could also affect how you do business in general.
Mistake #3: Poor Employee Management
Unless you’re a consultant, you need employees. If you’re killing yourself trying to do everything, it’s probably time to hire help. Here are some basic guidelines to consider.
A wise business owner will hire a person to fit the job, not someone who is fit to be your best friend. Surround yourself with people who see things differently than you do. You won’t be pushed out of your comfort zone to find better solutions if everyone sees the world just like you do. Hire people who are stronger in the areas you are weak in.
Focus on your staff.
Employees are the most important asset of any business, so think of them as a target market. Treat them with respect and make sure they feel valued. Honor their achievements, perhaps with an employee of the month program. Have pizza brought in when they have to work late on a major project. Hand out bonuses or gift certificates at the end of every year.
Set clear goals.
Individual employees should know what is expected of them. Schedule one-on-one meetings to go over what their job goals are, how they are doing along the way, and let them voice any concerns they may have. Give praise where it is due, but also let them know they are accountable and that they understand where improvement is needed.
Running a small business is not an easy task. But with focus, thought and follow-through, common mistakes can be avoided so your business can thrive.