Are your small business’ sales declining or stagnating? Are you having problems maintaining a healthy cash flow? Here are five things you can do now to put some oil in your operations and some gas in your sales.
Based on the results of several small business surveys (such as this one by NFIB), the biggest headache for small business owners going into 2011 is weak sales. With little cash flow to draw on, it is therefore a given that the emphasis, for many small business owners, will not be so much about growth, but more about how their businesses can do what they are already doing- just better.
And this is a very good thing… Consumers these days are hungry for quality- not just quality products and services, but also quality relationships and experiences. Those businesses that can heed the call are the ones better positioned to succeed in the new year.
Here are five tips to improve the way you run your small business and ultimately increase sales. Some of these tips may seem to be common sense, others not, but all of them are vital if you want your business to succeed.
1. Be an opportunist: Use this time to re-evaluate and take stock of your operations. Take the opportunity, now when things are quieter, to consider your business’ core operations. In practice this means several things. It includes analyzing your inventory management (do you have tons of materials or product in stock that aren’t moving, or do you run out of vital items?); your cash flow management (are you in touch with the money moving in and out of your business, are you frequently experiencing cash shortfalls?); and the use of resources (how are you allocating workers’ time, how efficiently are you using your equipment, materials, utilities?). Moreover, are you using metrics and analytics to ensure that your operations are both efficient and successful?
After going through this process you may be surprised by how much can be improved, even with little effort, by changing the way your business operates or by expanding the knowledge that you and your workers bring in to the business via seminars or coursework.
2. Focus on the quality of your product or service. As I mentioned above, product and service quality has never been more important. But how do you know where to start? The answer is: two ways- market research and employee input. Regarding the first, the process does not have to to be costly. You can gain vital insight simply by asking your customers how they feel they can be better served- whether by more traditional means, such as phone calls and customer satisfaction surveys, or by “newer” methods, such as crowdsourcing via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or your business’ website.
But this is only one half of the picture; the other half involves asking your employees for input. After all, they are on the front line- working with customers, products, and equipment. Even that part-time, seasonal worker may have good idea you never would have come up with on your own.
3. Cultivate customer relationships. In one of my previous posts, I mentioned several ways businesses can work to improve their relationships with customers and gain customer loyalty- even in a tough buyer’s market. I cannot emphasize it enough how vital this is to your business’ bottom line and ultimately, its longevity.
4. Re-evaluate your marketing campaign. Now is the time to consider your marketing initiatives. In particular, you should determine if your current and potential customers are being properly informed about your products and/or services. Are you developing a focused and targeted social networking campaign, and are you using tools to help measure its effectiveness? Have you established an online presence in the right places? If you own a brick and mortar shop, are you taking advantage of location-based applications, services, and games?
5. Create partnerships with other businesses. As a small business owner, you do not have to be a operating on a virtual island. There is definitely more power in numbers, and small businesses can harness this power in several key ways to increase brand awareness, buying power, and sales. Some good examples of business partnerships include:
National and local business alliances- With a business alliance, member businesses pool their purchases to get volume-based discounts usually reserved for bigger corporations. (To find a local business alliance near you go here).
Community-based coalitions- Local businesses within a given community join forces in a “Shop Local” campaign and work together to revitalize the area. (For more information, see the Main Street National Trust).
Mutual promotions- In this case, two or more businesses agree to promote the products and/or services of the other.
In short, by focusing on what is important and by taking advantage of some strategic positioning, you can give you small business a much-needed boost in the new year.