Tips for Small Business Owners:
1. Maintain your organisation
Proper documentation, time management, and the automation of repetitive tasks can mean the difference between a boom and a bust.
- Maintain accurate business financial records: Record every transaction (customer billings and vendor payments) into the appropriate account at least once a week and keep an eye on the bottom line. For bookkeeping and tax purposes, keep copies of all invoices, cash receipts, and cash payments.
- Establish (and stick to) deadlines: Using project management software, you can stay on top of administrative tasks by setting deadlines, assigning tasks to employees, and uploading documentation to a central repository.
- Think ahead: Use social media scheduling software to plan your social media campaigns ahead of time. Follow up with new leads using email marketing automation. Use Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams to communicate with your team quickly. There is no need for a meeting if something can be explained in an email.
2. Learn to be adaptable
Slow movers struggle to avoid becoming obsolete because agile businesses can quickly pivot in response to changing market conditions. Lean into your data and be willing to pivot. Listen to customer feedback and don’t be too set in your ways.
Assume you’ve conducted interviews with potential customers and discovered that your product isn’t well-received or that the market for it is too small. Don’t cling to a failed business concept. If your current business model or pricing strategy isn’t working, be open to changing it.
If your website isn’t getting enough traffic, you may need to abandon your favourite outdated WordPress template in favour of a more responsive design.
3. Automate as much as possible
Automating repetitive tasks saves time and ensures that minor details do not slip through the cracks. Have you recently met a potential client at a networking event? Use your CRM tool to send emails to new leads who visit your website or to automatically follow up with new contacts within 24 hours. Automate your day-to-day bookkeeping with accounting software to save time on data entry.
Recover abandoned shopping carts by sending an automated email to persuade customers to finish their purchases. Learn how to automate payroll management in Excel if you don’t use payroll software.
Can’t provide customer service around the clock? Set up a chatbot on your website to respond to customer inquiries after hours.
4. Keep a personal touch
Small businesses, especially if you have a small team or run the company yourself, are uniquely positioned to provide a personal touch. Thank you notes that are handwritten go a long way. Alternatively, you can include a small gift with the purchase or offer freebies in exchange for reviews.
Make notes of personal details for each customer in your CRM tool so you can provide more high-touch personalizations. Assume you are a jeweller who recently sold a custom engagement ring. After the couple marries, you can send a simple wedding gift and a discount offer for a future purchase.
5. Safeguard your intellectual property
Intellectual property refers to the intangible assets — trademarks, copyrights, and patents — that distinguish your ecommerce business from the competition.
This includes things like designs, business ideas, and trade secrets for a small business. If a competitor attempts to imitate your product, they may reduce your market share and harm your reputation. If you decide to register a trademark or apply for a patent, it is best to seek the assistance of an attorney to make sense of the legalese and avoid making minor errors (e.g., omissions in descriptions or drawings, missing deadlines) that can result in your request being denied.
6. Have a fantastic website
Your website is the hub of your business; it’s where new leads discover your products and, unless you have a physical store, it’s the only way for people to buy from you.
Consider it sacred. Keep the design simple and clean — limit the number of colours, banner ads, and pop-ups — and invest time in proper SEO. Put some serious thought into branding before you build a website. Branding establishes trust and distinguishes you from your competitors.
Declare your brand’s value proposition right away so that first-time visitors understand what you’re offering. Consider the search engine DuckDuckGo. Its homepage simply states: “Search the web without being tracked” — a worthy appeal to today’s data-conscious consumers.
Use high-quality images (stock photos do not inspire trust) and hire a professional to photograph all of your products. In addition, write detailed product descriptions that emphasise product benefits, highlight key features, and, where possible, tell a story.
For example, why is bergamot such a wonderful scent? What does the amethyst stone represent? What is the background of Chinese tea?
7. Create original content
Post one-of-a-kind photos of your company and its employees on social media — people prefer human faces and real, behind-the-scenes footage to stock photos or videos.
Assume you own a bakery. Film your cooking process to bring people into the kitchen. Rather than hiring models from an agency, create unique lookbooks featuring your female friends as models to show a variety of body shapes and skin tones if you own a clothing label.
If you’re an interior designer who specialises in small spaces, start a YouTube channel or start a podcast to share DIY tips for renters. Find ways to be authentic, share your expertise, and tell your company’s story.
Web analytics, social media analytics, CRM, and financial analytics all provide insight into business performance.
For example, whether or not your website converts leads, how many potential customers you attract each month, whether or not people like your social media content, and whether or not you’re spending more money than you’re bringing in.
These are critical details to understand. In fact, 67% of small businesses spend over $10,000 per year on analytics. You can’t improve something if you can’t measure it.
If you’re intimidated by analytics, here are a few places to start:
- Use CRM data to better understand your customers: What are their purchasing patterns? What is the typical order value? What are they most likely to buy next?
- Examine the health of your website: What is the overall bounce rate of your website? Which product pages convert the most and least? Use heat maps to identify areas on your website where people tend to hover.
- Determine whether social media is beneficial to you: which posts receive the most/least engagement? What is the ROI of shoppable social media posts?
9. Reduce expenses as needed
Cost control is essential for survival, especially in the early stages of running an online business. Create a baseline to compare actual expenses to planned expenses. Budget variances allow you to see where your estimates are correct and where they are incorrect. Take a look at where you got off track. What can you slash?
Because you don’t use the software as much as you thought you would, you might be able to find a different supplier or purchase video editing software from another vendor that offers usage-based pricing. Take a ruthless approach to eliminating inefficiencies such as redundant/duplicate processes, underutilised software, or unreasonable vendor price markups.
Payroll is likely to be your most expensive expense. Is there anything you can delegate to a qualified professional that will allow you to take on a more strategic role in the business?
10. Reduce your distractions
To collaborate with others and create focused to-do lists on a daily basis, use project management software. Also, stay true to your original business goal. Try not to be everything to everyone.
Naturally, you’d like to expand your product line and enter new markets in the future, but if you’re still developing your go-to-market strategy and haven’t launched yet, don’t get sidetracked by pipe dreams.
Finally, for maximum productivity, productivity experts recommend working in one-hour increments with a 15-minute break.
11. Prioritize customer service
Most industries, particularly retail, compete on the basis of the customer experience rather than the product. Make it simple for your customers to contact you via social media, messaging apps, email, or phone.
Remember that a small business should be easily accessible. There is no reason to present yourself as a faceless corporation. Keep your customers informed of the process and manage their expectations if orders take time to fill or you’re creating a custom item.
If a customer complains, use active listening to understand their concerns, investigate the root cause, and provide a solution that is meaningful to them.
12. Provide memorable experiences
Excellent customer service increases your customers’ lifetime value and helps you attract and retain new customers. Indeed, 86% of consumers believe that a positive customer experience can convert them from one-time buyers to loyal customers.
Manage people’s expectations as well. You have limited resources and scalability as a small business. You probably can’t provide 24-hour customer service or a two-day turnaround on custom items. What you can do is resolve issues quickly, deliver a consistently excellent product, and provide personalised support.
13. Consider omnichannel
“Omnichannel” is more than just a corporate buzzword for Fortune 500 companies dealing with big data analytics. Consider providing a unified experience across all of your marketing channels.
This can be as simple as making sure your branding is consistent across all of your social media channels and that your website is mobile-friendly. However, try not to overextend yourself. While meeting customers where they are is preferable, don’t try to be present on every channel. Concentrate on a few channels to provide the best possible experience on each.
14. Research your competitors
Your competitors are aware of something you are not, and vice versa. Studying your competitors allows you to define your competitive advantage while also identifying your weaknesses in comparison to your competitors. Examine their tagline, value proposition, and products or services.
Here are some things to keep an eye out for:
- Digital marketing plan: Take a look at their website and social media accounts. How do they get visitors and leads? What do they post on Facebook? What kind of content do they distribute?
- Audience: Who is their intended audience? Is there any overlap between your customer base and mine?
- Weaknesses and strengths: Where do they shine? What are their weaknesses? What can you improve on?
15. Discover your niche
When compared to large corporations, small businesses have fewer resources and can only offer a limited range of products. Specialization is your best bet, especially if you are a sole proprietor providing a service, because it allows you to iterate a compelling value proposition and define a target market more effectively.
For example, “on-demand coaching for mid-career professionals looking to make a change” is a clear value proposition that defines the audience, the service, and why people should choose your company over others.
16. Provide excellent customer service
Personalized, prompt, and friendly customer service is the best. To respond to common customer inquiries with ease and professionalism, use templates or scripts.
Check that the language you use to address your customers in emails and chats is consistent with your overall brand voice.
For example, if your brand voice is chatty and easygoing, avoid being overly formal. Chatbots, FAQs, and knowledge bases are excellent ways to provide your customers with useful resources that will allow them to troubleshoot issues without having to call or email you.
17. Form a strong team
Businesses, especially in the early stages, live and die by the strength of their workforce. Find people who genuinely care about the success of the company and aren’t just looking for work. Some people don’t understand the unique spirit of working at a startup — the opportunity to make an impact and watch the company grow — so find those who do.
Assess their passion for their field in addition to their talent and skill set. Did they do any research on your company before the interview? Do they show enthusiasm when discussing their previous work experience?
Rather than accepting generic cover letters, vet quality candidates by creating a form with customised questions for each job application. This also creates a barrier to entry, preventing you from being inundated with resumes. Ask specific questions about the competencies and soft skills that you value.
Considering hiring a developer? Inquire about the most difficult API or software bug they’ve resolved. Considering hiring a marketer? Request that they write 300 words about their most successful marketing campaign.
18. Keep up with marketing trends.
Long-form video is on the rise. Never repost Instagram content on TikTok because the audiences are not the same. One-to-one marketing has emerged as the new standard for personalising the customer experience.
These are just a few of the most recent content marketing trends that small business owners must be aware of or risk falling behind.
Furthermore, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google are constantly changing their algorithms, so if you run paid ads, stay up to date on the latest developments as this can affect ad visibility and reach.
19. Be enthusiastic about your company
The ability to persuade people to work for them, invest in their startup, and try their product is the most important skill of an entrepreneur. You must be able to champion a product you believe in while also weathering the highs and lows of running a business.
Never lose sight of why you started your business in the first place — maybe you had a nagging small business idea that kept you awake at night, you noticed a gap in the market, or you wanted to share your expertise by offering your services to businesses or individuals in need.
Before starting a business, set realistic expectations for yourself and decide if you’re willing to persevere.
20. Have a good time
Don’t, however, take everything too seriously. Running a business should be enjoyable. If those things are important to you, it should be an opportunity to pursue your passion, achieve financial independence, and spend more time with your family.
It may not appear that way at first when you’re working 70-hour weeks to keep things afloat, but your hard work will pay off.
The Last Word
Depending on the type of business you run, each entrepreneur’s definition of success will differ. Owners of businesses should set regular goals that evolve as the company grows.
An early-stage startup, for example, may want to have positive cash flow within one year, whereas an established business may want to increase word-of-mouth referrals or enter new markets.