It’s never been easier to start a business.
Particularly with the internet, social media and the sharing economy there are no longer costly barriers to entry. You no longer need a huge budget, or dedicated office space on a five-year lease to run a reputable business.
Many entrepreneurs and small business owners are drawn to starting their own businesses by the flexibility and freedom it provides. Many times, that freedom they seek from what they perceive as the bureaucratic practices which slow larger organisations down.
However, the downside of such flexibility and agility is that the need for processes are often overlooked, and the overall outcome is that money is left on the table.
To make sure you make the most of all the opportunities you come across, it’s worth taking a moment to review some key areas in your business.
So, is your Small Business doing these 7 things?
1. Are you consistently generating AND converting leads?
To have a sustainable business, you need to have a consistent pipeline of sales.
Part of creating that pipeline is making sure you constantly generate leads, which are then converted into sales and paying clients.
There are many different ways to generate leads. Raising awareness of your brand through the consistent creation of relevant content on your website and social media is a great way to make sure your products and services stay in your audience’s consciousness.
Other ways to generate leads include having a system to get referrals from existing or past clients; attending networking events regularly; and attending industry shows and conferences.
Most successful businesses will do a combination of these in some form or another. How do you ensure there is a steady stream of incoming leads?
2. Do you have a system for following up with prospects and existing clients?
A common gaffe with small businesses is a failure to follow up with people who have already expressed an interest in their products and services.
Phone calls go unanswered, messages aren’t replied to, quotes and proposals are not sent for days – no, weeks! – after the original enquiry was made.
If someone has taken the trouble to phone, email or contact your business in some way, it means they are interested AND motivated to buy. Warm leads are the easiest sales to make; these are people who already want to buy what you sell. Why miss out on the opportunity to turn this prospect into a customer, provide the service you know you are brilliant at, and make some sales in the process?
Make sure your business phone, emails and social media channels are checked regularly, and any messages responded to. These days, there are a variety of ways people can make enquiries, so don’t miss out on a sale because you haven’t checked the inbox for your Facebook page for a month!
Respond promptly when providing quotes and proposals, and after giving a decent amount of time for it to be reviewed and considered, follow up with an offer to answer any questions they may have.
3. Do you have a website?
In this digital age, having an online storefront and distribution channel where people can learn more about your products and services, and – this is the crucial bit – PAY for them – is essential.
If you are just starting out, I wouldn’t suggest developing a website as the very first task you undertake. But there are many other ways you can do this, such as having a business page on Facebook.
Also, websites do not have to be elaborate and all-encompassing; many businesses could effectively conduct their core activities with a well planned and developed landing page, or with a simple but efficient five-page website.
These days, platforms like WordPress have thought of practically everything and are so well evolved that they have plug-ins to cover functions ranging from blogs and videos, to product / sales pages and the ability to take payments.
4. Can you take card payments?
Surprising, but yes, there are still brick-and-mortar businesses that cannot process card payments!
I experienced this recently. On my way to visit a sick friend, I stopped at a flower shop. To my surprise, they cheerfully informed me they didn’t take card payments, and directed me to the nearest cash machine.
And it struck me. If measured, I bet THAT is the point they lose many customers.
I’m sure that business is doing well – at least, enough to cover the cost of their premises – but it would do even better if there wasn’t a risk of losing custom every time a prospect who has taken the time to come into their shop is directed back outside to a cash machine.
And the thing is, they have no excuse for not being able to take process card payments. A few years ago, it was a long-winded process that could only be done through your business bank account provider.
Time has moved on, and with providers such as iZettle, Stripe and PayPal for Business, processing payments either through a PIN entry device or on an iPad has become quite painless.
And with increased competition in the payments landscape, banks have upped their game too, and now strive to make the process of setting up card processing easier for small merchants.
5. Do you have a system to fulfil customer orders?
In other words, how do you manage demand, for your products and services?
6. Do you provide excellent customer service?
In today’s marketplace, your small business needs a way to standout, so it can attract clientele.
When you think of competition, you probably go straight to thinking about how to make your pricing competitive. And while benchmarking the prices of your offering against those charged by others in your field is important, prices isn’t necessarily the only differentiator.
The quality of customer service you offer can mean that, while your audience knows your prices aren’t the lowest, they are happy to pay them anyway.
A perfect example of this from a big business is John Lewis. The reason I am a loyal customer who buys items ranging from electronics and cameras, to Fitbits and office equipment? Their customer service is second to none, and I know that if I ever have an issue with purchases, it will be resolved in a prompt and courteous fashion.
7. Do you track and follow up on unpaid invoices?
Seems obvious, but do you make sure invoices are issued when they should be every month, or as soon as you finish a job for a client?
Software such as Xero and quickbooks are user-friendly and make tasks such as creating and tracking invoices easier for you and your accountant.
And when you have sent the invoices, do you make sure you follow up if it isn’t paid promptly?
This can be a sensitive one, because people are uncomfortable talking about money. Yes, even when you have completed a brief and your invoice is still outstanding!
But, if your business is to maintain the level of cash flow it needs to survive and thrive, this is one discomfort you need to get over quickly.
Get used to sending out firm but courteous payment reminders, and don’t be afraid to have a face-to-face or phone conversation with a client about a breach of payment terms.
You owe it to yourself to do so; you’ve worked too hard to leave your money in other people’s hands.