If you are a small business owner, you are accustomed to working hard every day with limited resources in order to reach your dreams. Whether you are a manufacturer of food and beverage products or an owner of a coffee shop, restaurant, small hotel or foodservice establishment, you understand the challenges small businesses face as they seek growth. This article aims to provide you with some suggestions on how to grow your business effectively, by drawing on your strengths and mitigating your weaknesses..
One of the great strengths of small businesses is their potential for the type of explosive growth that larger corporations cannot deliver. Small businesses have the freedom to move quickly to offer new products and services. Larger businesses, in fact, will often try to mimic this flexibility by spinning off divisions or units and creating smaller, separate entities.
What small businesses typically lack are the infrastructure, the systems and procedures, and the management talent of larger, more established companies. There are ways to make up for these deficiencies, however. For instance, hiring a seasoned executive to implement a solid structure, or hiring a third party firm on an interim basis can be a modest investment that provides a tremendous return.
By using your strengths as a small business owner to your advantage and searching for innovative ways to compensate for your weaknesses, you will be able to defend your market against larger, more capitalized competitors.
Here are some of the actions you may want to consider:
- Hire passionate people with a positive attitude–then train them in your business.
- Identify sources of capital with which to fund growth.
- Conduct low budget, “below the line” marketing (often in addition to any media or “above the line” marketing which are already in your marketing plan).
- Seek advice and guidance from people who have accomplished similar feats as those that you are trying to achieve, both internally and externally.
- Focus on your customer’s needs, and develop programs to meet those desires.
The most important component of a small business is its people. This may sound cliché; however, because small firms have fewer staff, each individual comprises a large part of the business. For example, in a 10-person firm, each individual represents 10% of the business. Ensure that each employee is representing your business in the manner you desire. Unlike a big company, one wrong hire can damage a small business significantly.
Most small businesses–particularly in the early stages–lack access to capital. Your local Small Business Administration can help you identify sources of capital. You should also develop a solid relationship with your local banker–I recommend several banking relationships–and ask for credit or asset-backed loans. If you are willing to give up equity in your small business, then venture capital firms can provide growth funding as well as offer sound business advice. Finally, do not overlook friends and family, who may understand your character and dreams better than banks or finance companies do.
Some of the best marketing ideas cost nothing or very little. If you have a restaurant or coffee shop, then you understand that word-of-mouth is the best form of marketing. Conduct a direct mail campaign to prospective customers, utilize outdoor media to enhance product/brand awareness, or have an “Open House” at your place of business and invite the media. These ideas cost very little but provide good exposure for your small business.
The old saying, “Plan your work, work your plan,” is obvious and simplistic and yet frequently ignored. If you have a business plan with a detailed financial analysis, and you track that plan regularly to ensure you are on course, then you are well ahead of the majority of small business owners in this country. Many examples of business plans can be found on the Internet, and business plan writers are plentiful.
There are probably people in your industry who understand your business and can offer their support and counsel. Lunch with a luminary in your industry, or simply another small business owner with more experience, can improve the way you run your company or at least offer new ideas for growth.
Your paying customers deserve the best service or product your business can provide. How do you understand the needs of your customers? Just ask. Conduct a brief survey and ask your customers to leave it as they exit your business. You would be surprised at how few business owners actually ask customers about their service levels.
By implementing some of these ideas, and managing your business creatively, your small business will grow, your employees and investors will be satisfied, your customer base will grow and become more loyal, and you will achieve your aspirations.
–Peter M. Guyer
Peter M. Guyer is the Founder and President of ATHENA MARKETING INTERNATIONAL (athenaintl.com), an international marketing, consulting and business development firm serving food and beverage manufacturers. Tel. (206) 749-9255.