Posted: February 15, 2012
Small business, big success
Here are some steps to help build the bottom lineJay Dirkmaat
In this challenging economy, small businesses across Colorado must be hypervigilant about customer service, marketing mixes and efficiencies to establish a strong foundation for success. Taking a page from successful small businesses, there are several critical steps you can take now to improve operations and build the bottom line.
• Provide exceptional service. It's a basic rule of business, but making customer service a living and breathing part of your business and going out of your way to treat people exceptionally brings great rewards. If you provide a special personal touch, move swiftly to address changing market demands and respond quickly to your customers' needs, your business will stand out from the competition.
• Become a master marketer. Whether you've been established for 10 years or you're just starting out, having a solid and well-researched marketing plan is essential to your future success. As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail. A marketing plan is a simple document that specifically answers who you are, what you do, who needs what you offer, how you plan to get customers, when you plan to do it and how you should pay for it. This type of outline lets everyone in your organization clearly understand your direction. And, it enables you to build your business and avoid the "marketing idea of the week" syndrome that can plague small businesses.
• Build an online presence. Three quarters of the U.S. population uses the Internet, many of whom rely on it for researching information. Equally compelling, seven out of 10 Internet users shop online. Not having a website or email address can be a liability. Knowing this, the question is: how can you afford not to have a website?
• Talk to your vendors. Make sure you're utilizing all of the resources available to you. For example, when you receive Comcast Business Class Internet, the company also offers a web hosting Starter Package for free. The Starter Package allows you to register a domain name, build a professional 3-page website, create newsletters, and gather site traffic analytics and more. With Business Class Internet, Comcast customers also receive Microsoft's suite of services, including Outlook, SharePoint, Exchange and Off-Site and Mobile access.
• Take stock of your image. Have you assessed what your business looks like? Take your website, business cards, brochures, flyers or anything else you may distribute and put them side by side. Is it clear what products or services you provide? Does your company brand shine through? Do your materials set you apart from your competitors? It's always a good idea to stop, evaluate and reflect on your current position and determine if adjustments need to be made. Your image is a reflection of your professionalism, organization, reliability and standards.
• Get people to talk about you. To drive customers to you, a cohesive advertising, marketing and public relations plan can differentiate your business and make the difference between marginally profitable and wildly successful. Public relations comprise publicity as well as other engagement activities such as community participation, public speaking, media commentary and more. Positioning your business as a local leader helps generate and retain customers.
• Recognize your strengths, weaknesses and build a network to compensate. As a small business owner you're a rainmaker, idea generator and decision maker. To bring new ideas to the table, you might consider an advisory board who can counsel you on critical issues. Your informal board of directors can help you navigate difficult circumstances, be an honest voice, support you as you take a leap to the next level or just be a sounding board. The most effective advisory board will be a group of professionals who bring a wide range of skills, experience and diversity to your company. Don't forget to reciprocate and offer your time and expertise to others.
• Establish strategic alliances. One of the fastest growing trends in business today is the increasing number of strategic alliances that are being forged. Strategic alliances are a way to work with others towards a common goal while not losing individuality. Strategic alliances increase market penetration, enhance competitiveness, boost marketability and reduce costs. Many companies participating in alliances report that has much as 18 percent of their revenues come from alliances.
• Work smarter, not harder. Finally, as a small or mid-sized business owner, your business card title might as well read President and CEO, Chief Financial Officer, CMO, CTO and executive assistant. From top to bottom, you have your eye on all facets of the business. As your business grows, you'll need to look hard at where you spend your time. Increasing trust in those you hire and learning when to outsource can have a powerful impact on your bottom line.
Growing your business to its full potential is a process that takes time and dedication. But, it's well worth it. By having a laser-like focus on these few key areas, you can drive profitable growth and achieve big success in the years ahead.
Jay Dirkmaat is Vice President of Comcast business services in Colorado and New Mexico. In addition to his work with businesses ranging from start-ups to large corporations, Dirkmaat manages the Comcast Community Partners program, a resource that provides nonprofit organizations with deeply discounted services and technology solutions that save time, increase productivity and offer more value. Active in the community, Dirkmaat volunteers for Operation Christmas, Habitat for Humanity and the MDA telethon.