Building a small business online is scary. Big businesses can easily outspend you with PPC, SEO, SMM and inbound marketing campaigns.
However, smart startup founders grimly pass around business battles on the blogosphere, charging low prices for quality product, reversing their vision, failing to voice their opinion on their podcasts, showing contempt for our product, and disrespect for our craft.
And yet, look around at the World Wide Web jungle. It’s watered by the services offered by small businesses. The technology to produce product and convert customers exists because we create codes, design services, and write web pages, blog posts, and marketing materials that generate leads and close sales. And every 350-pound gorilla company uses our products or services to thrive.
If you’re a small online business owner, you can chicken out and quit when you face your competitor in the marketing arena, or you can choose something better. Because there is something better.
In the time since I began building my content marketing business online, I’ve noticed some mindsets, traits, and abilities that make the difference between businesses that want to accelerate their sales, make a profit, and survive, and businesses that want to sell more and increase their ROI but don’t seem to have the ability to do so.
Based on my observations, here are the seven most important things small businesses need to succeed online.
This might sound too simple, but if you’re a small business owner, you know what I mean.
There’s no substitute for the love you have for your products or services. There’s no substitute for the commitment of showing up every day. There’s no substitute for the excitement of receiving an order or for the burning desire to work extra hours, to reach your prospect, to ship an order, and to make more money.
If you don’t love entrepreneurship, your product or service, and the process of getting things done, none of the rest of this really means anything.
I could have just as easily dreamed of building another Moz, Kissmetrics, or Shopify, but I chose what I loved most. Whichever business idea you dream of, it’s about refusing to do it just for the money. It’s not only about making money; it’s about changing your customer’s life for the better.
If you want to achieve that, you have to dominate your industry. You have to be the go-to person for your products or services. Be super professional at your offerings so that your customers won’t want to leave you for your competitor.
2. Attitude of service
Making money can be a tempting proposition, pursued for the sake of your own interest of becoming rich and dominating the headlines.
However, as soon as the customer clicks to order your product – the vitamin C pills, the Smartphone cover, the SEO or PR services you sell – the product becomes the focus.
Professional founders work with an attitude of serving their customers great value, yes, serving them with beautiful, durable, quality products. They also work to provide excellent customer experiences that exceed their expectations, that gratify rather than aggravate, and that are born out of the genuine attitude of serving the buyer.
Successful consultants, bloggers, and content marketers all live in service to our clients. No matter how stunning or super sexy we may find an idea, if it doesn’t serve our client, out it goes.
Why? Because we have deep love and obsession for our customers.
3. Obsession for the customer
It has always struck me as odd that many of the most serious startup founders pay more attention to selling than to their customers.
It shouldn’t be that way. Customer obsession comes first. It’s like the engine that pumps cash into your corporate account. It comes from your company’s culture, value proposition, mission, and overall vision to change your customer’s world with your product or service.
Serious visionaries are obsessed with their customers. “If you’re truly obsessed about your customers,” Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO says. “It will cover a lot of your other mistakes.”
You can’t just sell your products. You can’t just sell your services. You can’t just advertise your brand.
You need to appeal to your customers first, because they are your buyers. And you can’t see a spike in your revenue unless you’re obsessive about charming them with your brand and building quality products that will ease their lives.
4. Obsession for quality
Many small-business owners imagine that if you have a great business idea and a great vision, you’re qualified to be called an entrepreneur.
Not so fast.
Successful CEOs and entrepreneurs are not just creative; they’re producers of quality products. They understand what type of products to create in the first place, based on the feedback they get from their customers.
They also understand that their products must solve their customers’ pain points. Their products must add value to their customers’ lives and must provide great experiences for them. You can learn more about how to build a solid product by looking at how great companies like Apple, Amazon, and Starbucks did it.
If you are obsessed with quality, you can incorporate what you learn from these companies into your business culture. Beyond your product or service, you can internalise quality packaging, simple usability, prompt responsiveness to customer queries, and even quality, compelling content on your company blog.
Because in today’s digitally driven marketing world, quality blog content is king. It’s crucial for your traffic, sales, and revenue.
5. Compelling content
You may have a brilliant idea. You may have gotten the perfect product/market fit. But, if you don’t devote yourself to the butt-in-chair time needed to produce a significant quantity of compelling content on your company blog, you won’t get where you want to go.
To a great degree, writing compelling content is a skill that can be cultivated. As a small business owner, you can devote some time to practice the art, ingrain writing into your schedule, and write every day to master the craft, or dig deep into freelance marketplaces to find a superb content creator.
Compelling content does more than just amuse your clients. Compelling content can change your life. After writing this viral post on this amazing platform, I received a dozen praises from readers across the globe. I also got a couple of writing gigs.
The blog post went viral not only because the story appealed to its intended audience, but also because the conversational tone and writing style are so engaging and entertaining … the reader feels compelled to share it.
Writing compelling posts has nothing to do with your degree, your experience, or whether or not you’re a native English speaker. It’s about how you make readers feel. That’s why every writer – just like every entrepreneur – must be creative, imaginative, and innovative.
Innovation is critical for your business growth for a number of reasons.
First, innovation develops customer value. Your customers are always in need of a product that will ease their lives, and once they get it, they move on to something else – something easier, newer, or simpler. As Steve Jobs put it, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them,” the Apple founder opined. “By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
Second, innovation is vital for your traffic, sales, and revenue. New ideas, new products, and new stories are what always get the most attention. “The arrogance of success,” according to William Pollard, “is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”
Third, innovation-active businesses are more productive and generate more jobs than non-innovation-active businesses, according to a recent data by Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
But, building new products from your new ideas is risky. There’s a good chance that you’ll fail. Still, you must do it. You must double up on your experimentation. Bezos says, “If you double the number of experiments you do per year, you’re going to double your inventiveness.”
You’ll see wonders if you consistently innovate.
One of the tough things about growing a startup is that the path you walk is one you make yourself.
There’s no one to tell you how you should work, no one to tell you which direction to go, no one to tell you when to go for a break, no one to tell you when to work extra hours, and no one to tell you when to say no and when you need to be where.
That’s one of the fantastic things about running your own business. But, sometimes Fantastic is also Difficult. You might open your e-commerce shop today, work for an hour, check your email, and retreat for the day.
But, can you come back to do exactly the same thing tomorrow? Can you do it again the day after tomorrow, and again the day after that, and again, and again? Consistently?
That’s the difficult part. And that’s where many entrepreneurs are getting it all wrong. Building a thriving business is not about working for extra hours today and not working the next day.
It’s about doing the work that matters consistently. It’s about showing up every day. It’s about minimalism, not complexity.
So roll up your sleeves and keep working. “For the future,” as Paul Wellstone puts it, “belongs to those who are passionate and work hard.”
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Simple Strategies For Financing Your Small Business
Below is some useful information on simple strategies to finance your small business.
So, you have found your passion and now want to start a small business? One of the first steps to fiscal success is to look for simple ways to finance your new venture. This might sound difficult and you might not know exactly where to start, but it can be done with the right know-how and tips.
You could start by looking for small business funding online. There is also the option of attracting an “angel investor” or crowdfunding, but if you are just starting out it is best to keep things simple. Below is some useful information on simple strategies to finance your small business.
Look for small business-specific loans
There are financial companies in South Africa that are geared specifically towards helping small businesses. They believe that small businesses are making a difference in the country and are building a better solution by striving for excellence. Simply put, these financial companies want to help you reach your goals of success.
You will have to meet certain criteria for some of these companies, such as having at least three of the most recent months of bank statements for the company to scrutinise. You will be scored according to the performance of your company, but if you are just starting out, the process will be slightly different. If you look for small business funding online, you will need to find out the stipulations, such as having been in business for at least a year, earning R500 000 annually and being based in South Africa.
Try out crowdfunding
Through crowdfunding sites such as Indiegogo or the South African version Candystick, you will have access to thousands of investors who could help fund your business. One of the benefits of crowdfunding is that many of the contributors are not necessarily interested in acquiring equity in your company but simply want to get their hands on your product.
You will need to ensure that your crowdfunding campaign will attract investors and contributors. An effective way to draw the attention of investors is to offer an incentive, such as sending the first 100 people to contribute funds a sample of the product you are planning to make in your small business.
Be sure to read all the terms and conditions to find out if you have to pay any fees to the crowdfunding website to join or maintain your campaign.
Run a pre-sale campaign
If you already have a product, you can run a pre-sale campaign to earn funds to finance your small business. This way, you can keep the entirety of the money you earn and use it to build your business and make more of your product for new and returning customers.
A pre-sale campaign means that you will sell prototypes or early versions of your product through a PR (public relations) campaign, attracting new customers and benefitting from the traffic that it will draw to your website. You might end up selling all of your prototype products, which is fantastic as this revenue will allow you to build more and improve your profits. Be sure that you have enough product for the sale or you could arrange an exclusive event for a select few customers before you the official release of your product.
Ask friends and family
This might not sound like the best idea, but asking friends and family to invest in your business can often lead to success. You could ask a close friend or a family member who supports your vision to provide a percentage of money to help fund your business, with strict plans in place to repay them with interest.
Before you approach anyone asking for a loan, you will need to have a sound business plan in place, as well as a legally drawn up contract stating how and when you plan to repay the loan. This will reduce the likelihood of unpleasant surprises and shows your investors that you take their money and trust seriously.
You will need to seriously consider how the arrangement will be structured. Are you offering them an investment in your small business or is it a loan? This will affect the repayment options as well as the risk involved for them.
Explore all options
As a small business, start by looking for small business funding online and for small business loans in South Africa, then move onto the more creative outlets. If you explore all of your options, you will soon find the perfect solution to build your small business.
The best way to start is with a small business loan, as this is the most reliable way to gain funding and use other ways as secondary sources when the time comes to grow your venture. Remember to have a business plan in place first before you apply for any loans, whether it is from friends, family or a financial institution.
How Small Businesses Can Give Back Without Breaking The Bank
If you are not sure how to start giving back, below are some top tips on how to do just that… without breaking the bank.
As a small business owner, you might think that charitable giving is impossible on your small budget. But, this is not true. You can donate to a charity or contribute to a fundraiser, even if you have a startup or small business budget. You just have to be creative about it.
In today’s world, more and more consumers care deeply about social causes, which means that you need to seek ways to incorporate giving back into your business strategy. If you are not sure how to start giving back, below are some top tips on how to do just that… without breaking the bank.
Encourage your team to volunteer
You will see many calls from charities, such as MSF, to donate time and resources. One way to give back without breaking the bank is by encouraging your team to volunteer and offering paid time off as an incentive for them to volunteer at a charity.
You can give your employees a specific amount of time each month or quarter for volunteer work, and you will soon notice morale improving. It will also increase your community involvement and visibility in your community. You will have to ask your team which days they would prefer to volunteer, as many people might prefer the weekend over a Monday or other weekday.
Use your talents
Giving back does not always have to mean making a monetary donation. You can use the talents of the people in your business to give back to clients, or you can offer your services pro bono to charities that could use them.
For example, if you are a marketing agency, you can offer to upgrade a charity’s website or write content for their social media pages. If you are a financial business, offer a free day of accounting services to a charity that desperately needs some bookkeeping help.
Using your talents costs you nothing but can help to make a significant impact on the cause that is closest to your heart.
Set up a collection jar in the office
If you have chosen a charity, such as MSF to donate to, it can be difficult to find the funds in a small business. A simple but effective way to collect some funds is to set up a collection jar in the office for employees to contribute to.
Be sure that your collection jar is placed in a high traffic area of the office, such as in the kitchen or on the way to the coffee machine. You can make it fun by running a competition of who can donate the most and offering a prize, or you could ask those who bring in their own lunches to donate what they would have spent on purchasing a lunch that day. Be sure that your staff never feel forced into giving a large amount of money, but remind them the jar is for a good cause.
Launch a charity drive
If money and time are in short supply in your small business, you can still give back by launching a charity drive. You can collect anything from books and clothes for children, tinned food and bedding for an animal shelter or even tinned goods for a soup kitchen.
Be sure to choose a charity that everyone in your office agrees with supporting, otherwise it will be difficult to encourage everyone to take part. Take it one step further and ask your local community to contribute to your charity drive. Set up a place in your office where people can drop items off and offer them a thank you card or note so that they feel appreciated. Make posts on your social media platforms before, during and after the drive, and ensure that you share photographs of your company donating the goods to your chosen charity.
Use your voice
If you know about a cause, such as the outbreak of Ebola in the DRC in 2017, then as a business you can use your voice to make people aware of it. You can create a social media campaign for a charity or join in their advocacy, lobbying, letter writing, and other efforts.
By adding your voice to theirs, their cause becomes louder and it is likely that more people will be interested in donating to them. For example, you could set up a Facebook page for your local animal shelter and create informative posts about pet health for their followers to share. Or you could post blogs to your company website detailing the needs of a local homeless shelter and how people can help them.
You do not have to stick with monetary donations when helping a charity, although these are much appreciated. You can look for creative ways to give back without breaking the bank. As a small business, it is important to build your presence with consumers, and helping a charity is an effective way to do so.
You can encourage your team to volunteer, use your skills to help your chosen cause or you could set up a collection jar in the office. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is creative and in line with what your employees can achieve.
The Importance Of Training In A Small Business
Having happy and satisfied employees is great for business and will put you two steps ahead of your competition.
As a small business owner, you might not think that training your staff is as important as it would be in a larger company. This is where you are wrong. A small business is still a business and, in order to be successful, you will need to have staff that understand their roles and their responsibilities completely.
They should also be trained in other aspects that do not relate to their position, such as computer literacy and general administrative duties. Skills development facilitation is an effective way to ensure that your employees perform to their highest levels and feel appreciated and valued in your company.
It can help to address weaknesses
While you are not trying to make your employees feel bad about their performances, training programmes can help them (and yourself as the business owner) to address any weaknesses they might have.
By addressing these weaknesses, you can find ways to improve their skills, such as sending them on computer courses or communication courses. Training your staff also allows everyone to be elevated to the same level of competency, making for a more productive and proficient business. Any employees who feel they have weaknesses will be able to improve their skills and reach the same level as the other employees.
Employee performance will improve
If weaknesses and shortcomings are addressed during skills development facilitation courses, this will obviously help to improve your employees’ overall performance levels. You should be sure to send employees on relevant courses that are targeted to their roles and responsibilities so their departments can improve too.
Your staff might be feeling unmotivated or overwhelmed, and a training programme can help to improve their confidence and performance. Improved employee performance is a huge positive for a small business, as it will mean a faster turn-around time and projects being met on-time and within the client budget. Training your staff in their areas of expertise is a sure-fire way to boost their confidence and performance levels.
It can provide direction
If you have a department that is not operating at its full capacity, then a training programme might be the perfect tool to help this department reach its full potential and find direction. Having direction when working in a small business is vital to any employee, as it helps them to be productive and reach business goals.
You can choose from a range of skills to train your staff in, such as computer skills or office administration skills, targeting a certain department that might help with direction in their work. Skills development facilitation can also help those employees who are not sure of their roles or whose skills are too “general” to fit into one department.
If you only have a few employees, sending them on training courses can help to show them what roles and responsibilities in the company are.
Training provides consistency
Sending your employees on skills programmes will ensure that everyone who works in your business has the same level of experience and expertise. This consistency is particularly important when it comes to policies and procedures, as all employees need to be aware of the expectations and procedures within the company.
Putting all staff members through the same basic training will ensure that everyone has the same exposure to every department, which can help the office run smoothly and improve employee relations. Having consistency in your office means that everyone is operating at the same levels and that your business is able to finish projects at a much quicker rate than before the training. Be sure that you also look into more targeted courses for your different departments.
It gives you an edge on the competition
Human capital and skills can help a small business to get an edge on the competition. This is especially true if your entire workforce has been trained in their fields and has received the same training across the board.
Having an edge on the competition is not only beneficial to you as the business owner, but will help your staff to have a sense of pride in their work and can even help to retain your talented employees. Being able to outdo your competitors relies heavily on the abilities of your employees, which means that you should take your training programmes seriously. If you want to be a success, put the needs of your staff first and see how quickly your business improves.
Happy employees means better business
Sending your employees on training programmes can help immensely with job performance, employee retention, office consistency and addressing any weaknesses there might be. Your employees will feel valued and respected, which, in turn, will improve their loyalty to your company and help with quicker turnaround times.
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