In the first few years of business, small companies come up against a lot of different challenges, and they can feel insurmountable. In fact, many common business problems and challenges are actually fixable, if you take a step back, focus on the pain points, and re-think your strategy.
1. Finding Customers
For small businesses, finding customers can be particularly difficult. How do you know what to prioritize and where to allocate resources?
Solution: Finding customers starts with figuring out who is your ideal customer. You need to make sure you're spreading the word to the right people. Craft a picture of what your target customers look like, what they do, and where they spend time online. Make a profile of them, the more specific the better. With these profiles, you can create content to get in front of your target customers where they spend time and with the right messages.
2. Increasing Brand Awareness
If your customers don't know who you are, they can't buy from you. There are strategies for spreading the word about your brand and building a great reputation that you can start right away.
PR: Public relations is less about paying for a spot in a news blog, and more about focusing your voice and finding your place in the market.
Co-marketing: Partnering with another brand will help you inherit some of their image and reputation and create brand evangelists outside your circle. It's a fantastic way to gain a large volume of new contacts alongside your organic marketing efforts.
Blogging: Running a consistently high-quality blog will also help you build brand awareness. Not only does a blog help drive traffic to your website and convert that traffic into leads, helps establish your authority, and builds your email list.
3. Building an Email List
In order to move prospects along their buyer's journey to eventually becoming your customer, you need to build trust by staying top of mind and providing value consistently. That starts with getting prospects into your email list.
Solution: Do not purchase email lists. Build your own list with subscribers who voluntarily opt-in and give you their email address. By creating content that encourages people to subscribe, like a great blog or newsletter, you will have the right material to attract customers. You also need to enable the website functionality to capture the customer's email address.
4. Lead Generation
Most small businesses struggle to generate enough leads to keep the business growing. A successful lead generation engine is what turns website visitors into prospective customers and provides a steady stream of sales prospects.
Solution: First, optimize your existing website for conversions. Your website is the most important tool you have for turning prospects into customers. Look through your website and ask yourself:
Do each of your webpages clearly guide visitors to take action, or do they leave them wondering what to do next?
Are you pulling the submissions from your forms into your contact database?
Are you pointing your campaigns to a specific point on your website?
Do you have a call to action on each of your blog posts? (Do you have a blog at all?)
Prioritize the most popular pages on your website first, like the homepage, "About" page, "Contact Us" page, and maybe one or two of your most popular blog posts. Then, implement conversion tools such as Pop-ups, Hello bars, or Slide-ins. Finally, be sure to take advantage of free lead management software and apps for startups.
5. Delighting Customers Customer satisfaction is a great goal, but customer delight is even better. After all, delighted customers are the ones who buy from you again, write testimonials and refer you to people they know. To do this, you must surpass expectations and deliver an unmatched experience.
Solution: To be successful and deliver customer delight, your organization needs to be customer centric and committed to service.
Understand what your customers need - so you can anticipate their needs and have solutions ready
Be clear up front about your capabilities
Deliver on your promises
Find ways to go above and beyond
Monitor satisfaction and improve the customer experience
6. Hiring Talented People You need an excellent team that understands your vision and supports your efforts. Hiring is often one of the biggest challenges for small businesses, especially since it's expensive and complex. Finding and hiring the right people, especially people who are really excited about what you're doing, matters.
Solution: Don’t settle for good employees when you can find great ones, even if it takes longer. It's the great employees that will help your company get to the next level. Just like you created customer personas, build personas for each job. Make sure each description includes similarities for company culture and service orientation. Next, spend time attracting candidates to your company's brand and make them interested in you. This creates a pipeline to fill open jobs.
7. Managing Workflow Once you have the people in place, you want to ensure that your team has the processes and tools to do good work and do it efficiently. How do you focus on the business while ensuring that everyone working in the business has what they need?
Solution: Create feedback loops and you will increase efficiency and improve satisfaction.
Frequent one-on-one meetings with direct reports
Asking about challenges they face, and empowering them to design solutions
Employee satisfaction surveys
Remember to keep an open mind about feedback. Some amazing ideas and innovations can emerge from difficulties.
8. Financial Planning Your ability to provide additional resources and tools will depend upon your access to cash. In other words, it all comes down to sales and profits. Thus, the challenge is to improve efficiency and invest in your business without spending outside your means.
Solution: Making good decisions based on solid financial planning is the key. Every business will be different, but you'll want to use business credit wisely, cut costs where possible, and manage cash flow by staying on top of invoices and bookkeeping. Use accountants and financial advisors to help analyze your financial situation and make good decisions.
9. Scaling As your business grows, knowing what to scale, when and by how much is one of the keys to long term success. This is a tricky one, especially since every situation is different. You'll see this problem arise in all areas of business: in product development, in marketing and content creation, in hiring, and so on.
Solution: There isn't one answer here. Each business will be different, depending upon its finances, growth curve, resources, and even the leader's skills. Use your long term financial plan, and identify the bottlenecks. Get creative, think outside the box, find solutions. Then get down to the specifics. Always remember to evaluate if it's working, and adjust if needed.