January 22, 2016

7 Steps To Running A Successful Small Business

7 Steps To Running A Successful Small Business

A collage of Kyle, Texas - home of many small businesses.

By: Sean Claes
If you have a small business, this article is for you. Heck... if you have a large company, this is still solid advice... but most folks who run large businesses have a team of people who are looking over details such as these. Owner-operator businesses, much of the time, have to learn these points as they go. Note: This is not "THE 7 Steps To Running A Successful Small Business" but below you will find seven helpful steps to move you in the right direction. Happy reading, my friend.

1. Don't Worry. Be Happy with Customers.

If you walked into a store and the person behind the counter didn't greet you, didn't smile and didn't make you feel welcome, would you tell all of your friends to go to that store? Likely not. I know that I have personally turned around and walked out of a business that didn't greet me.  

This is really Retail 101. Customer Service. Put on a happy face. The customer doesn't care that you've had a cruddy day and have your head filled with money, personnel or life problems. They came in to be served, have a positive experience and to purchase a product. Your job is to be there to happily answer questions, be a positive point in their day and make sure they walk out in a better mood than they had when they walked in. 

An example of a small business that has done this well is Austin, Texas' Amy's Ice Cream. At the core of it, it's just an expensive ice cream shop... but kids and adults alike seek this establishment out because of the culture. It's an experience each time you enter. 

Of course, there's always angry people who aren't going to be swayed by your kindness... be even kinder to them. These folks are looking for any reason not to come back... don't give them one.

2. The Power of Positive.

I can't tell you how many times I've talked with small business owners who complain about all of the things that are out of their control. What their competition is doing, who is talking ill of them on social media, all the ways the local small business support systems in their town are not serving them or can't offer what they want. And that is me as a customer. I know I don't want to walk out thinking "those poor folks are just trying to make it." I want to walk out thinking "That was nice. They have great products and are good people."

Does HEB complain about what Wal-Mart is doing? No. They talk about the great things that are happening within their walls. Their products. Their people. Their events... and how it makes like better for the customer. HEB's slogan is "Here, Everything's Better." How much more positive can you get there?

3. Accentuate Perceived Negatives.

Say the things that people are thinking. 
- Are you in a bad location? Well... you're a little hard to find, but well worth the effort. 
- Are your prices more expensive? Well... you may cost you a little bit more, but the quality of your product is vastly superior. 
- Are you a small shop with few offerings? Well... you focus on a few things, but do them amazingly well.

List out all of the things that you've heard or could be said about your business and find a way to tell it with a positive light.

4. Don't Guilt People.

I've heard the something similar to this when talking with small businesses: "Don't buy a CEO another vacation home, help us send our kids to dance lessons." That is a sure way NOT to get me to shop there. Why? Because I can say that shopping at a big box store not only helps the CEO, but it could help THOUSANDS of people send their children to dance lessons. Sure, I'll never meet them, but it's true. You employ under 10 people. They employ thousands.

5. Think ROI In All Things.

I am helping out at a small business. The customer base is small but building as people learn of the shop. Working there one Saturday, I almost had an equal number of people coming in to sell me advertisements* as I did coming in to shop. There are coupon pages, newspapers, radio, online ads, magazines, trade journals, billboards, television... you could go broke promoting yourself... and a lot of folks do. 

Think about the ROI or return on investment.. I'd suggest concentrating on one thing and doing it well instead of sprinkling your money here and there. If I throw birdseed in my front yard, a few birds will find the seed in several different places. If I set up a bird feeder, it'll all be gone at the end of the day because so many birds visit. Why? Because I provided an incentive (seed) and placed it in a place they would be sure to see it (bird feeder) instead of throwing it out and hoping something would stick.
* Side note: Nobody that wanted the business to buy an ad bought the product.. or seemed interested in it at all. If you sell advertising... try supporting the business that you're asking for money from. It works.

6. Budget For Charity.

Everybody has a cause. All of them are important. If you are a business you will be inundated with people asking for your support. Asking for money. Asking for you to sponsor their event. Do yourself a favor. Define what cause is important to you and get behind that cause. Define the amount of money you are willing to set aside this year to support that cause and don't feel bad when you can't support everything. People won't speak ill of you if you don't support something they're passionate about... and if they do... well, they probably weren't your customer to begin with. 

No rational person should find fault in "We have decided that this year we're putting our charitable contributions towards (cause). We plan our budget in January, so we'd love to see a proposal from you in December to see if it's something we can do next year."

Between you and me, out of 100 people who ask your for $$ I'm guessing less than 10 will get back to you in December.

7. Define Who You Are
This is the final point in this article, but it should be first on your list of to-dos. Do you have a solid definition of who you are as a company and what you stand for? Do you have a look and feel that is consistent? Can someone look at an ad for your business and know it's yours, no matter where they see it? 

If not, it doesn't matter how much $$ you throw at advertising, you're not creating a brand. Sit down, take some time, maybe even consult a professional, and define who you are. Who would you like to be? For what you would like to be known? 

Have you ever heard the term "Elevator Speech?" All businesses should have one. In 3-5 sentences, how would you describe your business and the services you provide? Having something like this is the blueprint to how you should market your business. 

Thanks for taking the time to read this. There is much, much more to consider than what I've pointed out above, but this is a good starting point. You started your own business with the idea to succeed, right? Well, it takes a great product that has some demand lot of work to make that happen. I want you to succeed. Hopefully you can read this and see a few things you might do differently.

About The Author:
Sean Claes has worked with Mom and Pop shops, International Corporations and the Music Industry on their branding, marketing, events and communications for more than 15 years. This article is just a sample of the observations he's made over the course of that time. For more information or to see how he might be able to help grow your business, contact him at seanclaesATseanclaesDOTcom.

More advice can be found in Claes' 52 Week of DIY Music Advice - a series he wrote between 2010-2012 - link