Small business growth hurdles
Although I am calling this small business growth hurdles it actually applies to any business small or large. It is about keeping to your core strengths and not letting them go. This is something every business needs to stay aware of. Being I have never run a large business my knowledge there doesn’t apply beyond working at some of the best large companies in the world. My focus here is on common mistakes business owners make and that can cripple, if not kill, your business. I am going to cover six of the items that I have not only come across but done myself in the past five years. I have overcome each of these and each has taught me several valuable lessons and made us stronger.
Not leading by example
Business owners wear all the hats, in the beginning, they are 100% involved, and 100% committed to the business’ success. As business owners we often see ourselves being pulled in many directions that we either will let things slip or give them to someone and often never check in on them as we expect the person to come to us if there is a problem – this rarely happens. As the business owner whether you are directly or indirectly working on a task you need to be actively involved and committed to its success and not waiting to be reactive; always be proactive. Losing sight of this can cause upset customers, loss of revenue, make your team members wonder if things are going the way they should, or question the existence of the organization.
Not enforcing the employee manual
When a business opens up often there is no employee manual and one is quickly added to meet a problem that came up. I did the exact opposite in having an employee manual before we officially received our business license. Over the past twenty years of employment, I had taken the ideas of every company I had worked for and created my own based on what I thought was the right thing to do as well as making certain the items I didn’t like don’t happen. It is here that you have to enforce the employee manual for everyone and not just when it is convenient to do so. You need to enforce the employee manual not to be a jerk but to build and define the culture of the company and keep its overall stability.
Not defining your ideal customer correctly
We all know our ideal customer is one that we ever talk to, that hands us tons of cash and recommends us to everyone so they also fall into that mold. Yeah, not! That is not your ideal customer (in my mind). Our ideal customer is (note: this is not even close to everything – just the five of our twenty items that define our ideal client to work with):
- Actively involved – you are not hiring us to run your company. We are an asset, tool, virtual employee of your organization. You are the decision maker and can either take or ignore our advice (see more on this one below as well).
- Open to listening – Yes, you are the boss but you are hiring us to be your guiding light for everything digital (and some print). You don’t have to take the advice but listening and talking about not only helps us learn your needs, goals, timelines, and expectations but also will help you grow your business. It is when there is no listening, between you and us, that business relationships fail and falter.
- Realize – the internet is more than just something you have to be on and that even though Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. are free doesn’t mean the internet is free. The internet can, and should, fuel your growth to build your brand online so that people when they need your services, think of you. You might spend $500 or more in marketing each month but don’t expect to instantly make a million dollars for that investment. It’s a long-term play and that play is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. There is no “get rich quick” scheme or everyone would be doing it.
- Not stuffy – We are a company that involves Nerf guns, darts, beer, lots of coffee, fun, and a team experience. Communication is key and we do not do suits and ties. We believe in a stress-free, honest, hard work, and a huge quality of life outside of work environment. We want you to be fun as well with the same goal of growing your business.
- Marriage – We’re not asking you to marry us but going on the communication process every business relationship is a marriage. If one side communicates and the other doesn’t it will fail. If neither side communicates it will fail. If both sides communicate but do not give 100% it will fail. Yes, there will be turbulent times but we have to be empathetic and communicate. The more you communicate the more objectives and expectations are learned. Not only does the marriage become stronger but it becomes so strong that you are both actively looking to help the marriage grow even stronger.
We have a different hiring process but we know that is changing and evolving on a daily basis. It is changing as we have learned some people are slick talkers, are just looking for a paycheck, or don’t fit the culture of the company. Like I said earlier our culture is unique and not the normal experience people run into. That is not only what sets us apart but makes our techniques the best they can be.
Not investing enough in marketing & branding
For a marketing company, this one is where we’ve done very poorly. Only in the last year have we started to focus on getting our word out about our products and services. What we have been doing is:
- We had been doing quarterly newsletters and now we have a monthly newsletter
- We never spent money on paid ads and now we do
- We never invested in pay-per-click on Google or Bing even though we have been a Google and Bing Partners for over five years and now we do
- We have tried billboards, newspapers, movie theatre spots, television commercials, and radio and lost money each time we did that. It’s just not where our customers are, yet for some of our customers, it works very well.
We had always had a flyer but that will only get you so far. We had always purchased “swag” to giveaway and that over the years has never created a return on investment. It has only cost us money. Buying and passing out Snickers, Three Musketeers, and another candy has returned value.
Having a plan, and sticking to it
Many will start without a long-term plan. They have the short-term plan of doing X but no idea of adding Y and Z to the overall mix. When we started, we thought about everything we could and built a plan of when and how to implement it. Over the years the plan has changed many times. We have added products and features as well as removed products from what we offer. This has happened not only based on client needs but because they didn’t truly fit our overall goal of helping other small businesses grow. Often, we see our growth happen the most when we remove a service rather than add. This is due to our having a developer mindset and being agile to change. Change isn’t a failure it is an improvement. Often for marketing companies, they will invest months, even years, on a marketing campaign. They will always be a “success” as so much has been invested in it. By being agile we can quickly start and change with a small investment so even when it wasn’t a success, we can easily accept it, admit it, and move forward. By being agile it easier for us to help not only ourselves but the small businesses we serve to grow as well.
Each week I sit at the local coffee shop, Uptown Café, on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning (depending on client demands) and evaluate what in the past week has worked or hasn’t worked. From there I make adjustments to meet the changing market conditions of our clients. It is this weekly recap, that lasts two hours (no actual start/stop time is ever set), that I know has helped us grow and continues to make us stronger on a daily basis.