Rebecca Malik is the President at 17thandRiggs.com, an online source for contemporary furniture and lighting, where she helps you create a fresh, modern space. Her site has been featured in well-known publications such as Southern Living and online with sites such as the popular Daily Candy. She is a blogger for WomenGrowBusiness.com, where she shares ecommerce and small business management tips.
As a small business owner since 2008, I’ve encountered an array of frustrations and roadblocks in running and growing my company. I must admit that my response to many of these hiccups has been more reactive than proactive. However, these hasty actions can be avoided and you can operate more effectively if you start off on solid footing. To that end, consider the following five fundamentals when in the planning stage of your business.
1. Choose a product or service that solves a problem or fills an existing void.
If you’re manufacturing a unique product or service, you have an obvious advantage when it comes to differentiating your business from similar businesses. You can also take a common product or service and put a fresh spin on it or in some way provide potential customers with a clear reason why they should choose you over the competition.
For example, there are multiple newsletter services for online businesses, and after trying several of them I have found one that, to me, is completely different from the rest and meets my newsletter needs perfectly. Mailchimp (www.mailchimp.com) has a simple, user-friendly platform that caters to small business owners who handle much of their own marketing. Simple commands and vivid graphics help you navigate through a straightforward process to create a professional-looking newsletter. Even though other newsletter companies may have more bells and whistles or perhaps a sophisticated homepage, I choose to do business with Mailchimp.
Having a company that offers something unique means you don’t have to battle with your competitors to attract customers solely on pricing. Not only will having a unique product, service or approach enable you to plan more effectively, it is a much more promising way to capture the attention of your target market and build coveted buzz.
2. Construct a clear brand image.
A clear brand message – conveniently based upon the unique product or service you’ve already developed – will greatly increase the likelihood that your potential customers will find you interesting. An interesting brand will be memorable to visitors and make them more likely to recommend your company to friends. Again I’ll use Mailchimp.com as an example, which is simple, memorable and lighthearted with a cartoon monkey mascot.
If you will be operating solely online, it is important that your website reflects its (your) personality. Your customers will be more comfortable and inclined to purchase from a person rather than a generic website. And, of course, a clear brand will give you direction in how you engage and connect with your customers and potential customers (i.e., formally vs. comically, direct marketing vs. articles and blog posts).
3. Have a strategy in place.
In my daily rush to build a business I admit I sometimes haven’t done the best job of stepping back and creating strategy instead of reacting to a situation. Sure, I created a thorough business plan at the outset but… where did I file that thing anyway?
Strategy is the all-important roadmap you use to reach your business goals. Assuming you don’t have a built in GPS system, we all know what happens if you lose the map. While I believe that strategy comes more organically to those with a unique product, service or approach, strategy should be implemented for any business. I like to set specific milestones with deadlines and create the step-by-step strategy to reach each of these milestones. This helps me to see the value of each activity in relation to reaching the important milestones and overall goal, and helps keep me motivated to stay on track.
4. Track and review.
I hope this sounds more exciting to you than it does to me because tracking your progress and using it to evaluate your strategy is vital to your success. Where have your successes stemmed from? What has caused your failures? Get specific, including assessing which marketing campaigns were most effective, which keywords brought you the most business, which products performed the best on your home page, which site sent you the most visitors, etc. Use this information to determine what is working and what is not. What elements of your strategy should continue to implement? Which should you tweak and which should you eliminate all together?
Bottom line: even if tracking and reviewing your efforts doesn’t sound exciting to all of us we can all get excited about the powerful knowledge to be gained from it.
5. Keep up the Momentum.
There are moments when things are going well, customer feedback and sales have boosted my morale and thoroughly amped up my excitement over running my own business. The excitement drives me to try new marketing ideas, become more interactive with my visitors, and simply act as a more energized and effective business owner. Then there are the times that I can barely bring myself to open my laptop let alone muster the enthusiasm to post something at all compelling on the blog. No fun!
Taking full advantage of the ups is key. Push forward and maximize that energy that it brings to you. When you do have a downer day, do your best to bring yourself back to that coveted positive zone. Perhaps read a motivational article, peruse your favorite customer comments, or review your sales from last month … do whatever it takes to overcome a desire to dwell on the negative. You are responsible for creating and maintaining the momentum that is critical to achieving your business goals.
I hope these five fundamental elements help you as you prepare to launch your business and would love to hear your strategies and insights. Please share your thoughts below!