The Small Business Success Guide

We all hear about the alarming statistics stating spectacular rates of failure for small business in Australia. The numbers are enough to scare off most budding entrepreneurs. Surprisingly, we hear little about the key success factors. Those things, which done well, could help your small business flourish.

I talked to Margie Sheedy, author of The Small Business Success Guide, to discuss the keys to the successful operation of a small business. Her insight, as both an entrepreneur, and a small business journalist with more than 20 years experience under her belt, will prove valuable for all small business, regardless of the industry.

KP: What do you believe are the keys to owning and operating a small business?

Margie Sheedy:

Owing a small business is a spectacularly individual adventure. You’ll have different levels of entrepreneurial experience from the small business owner next to you. What is universal is that you’re expected to know a lot about everything in business, from marketing and managing staff to cashflow and customers, often straight away.

So one of the major keys to being a successful small business owner is opening yourself up to finding trustworthy, practical ideas, and then putting them into a plan. As a business owner myself, I know how time-consuming this can be. That’s why I wrote The Small Business Success Guide in a question and answer format, so that all the information you need is in one easy-to-understand resource.

KP: Why are these ‘success keys’ so important to the running of the business?

Margie Sheedy:

Getting the right advice means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can hit the ground running. You also will be giving yourself the time to think strategically about your business (working on, not just in your business). That way, you’ll know exactly why you do certain things, and how you could do them smarter, not harder.

KP: From your experience, where do you believe most business owners get it wrong?

Margie Sheedy:

Most people start a small business without having anything written down. They think that having a vision in their heads is enough. But when your business playing field changes – for example, there could be a lull in sales, production prices might go up or your customers’ tastes may change – you won’t have any articulated strategies to help you and your team weather the storm.

On the flip-side, when things are going well you will also have problems. You might need finance to grow or you may want to sell your business. Even the most generous bank manager or business purchaser will want to see why your business is worth the investment. And they’ll need more than your word to seal the deal.

KP: Many entrepreneurs are wearing many hats, and can feel overwhelmed, what can they do to overcome this situation?

Margie Sheedy:

Realise that you can’t do it all. Start to think of yourself as the brain surgeon of your business, and value your time. Would you pay a brain surgeon to mop up after an operation? Consider enlisting the help of others to do some of the more menial tasks in your business.

If you think you can’t afford to outsource anything, or you like wearing all your hats, you will burn yourself out. Instead, learn to delegate so that you have time to seriously look at your business’ future direction.

Another way to take the stress out of wearing many hats is to plan your day in chunks of time. Allocate several times a day to answer calls. Stick to your schedule, not someone else’s. Then at the end of the day, you’ll feel a sense of achievement because you’ll have actually got a few things done and not spent it chasing your tail.

And finally, be aware of your stress levels. Recognise how stress affects you physically. When things feel overwhelming, make a conscious effort to stop, take a deep breath and calmly go for a walk to clear your head. It will be time well spent!

KP: Despite many claiming the Global Financial Crisis to be over, many business owners are still facing challenges, what is your advice to them?

Margie Sheedy:

Address the worst things first. In The Small Business Success Guide, I quote Dr. Graham Godbee of the Macquarie Graduate School of Management: he calls this your ‘triage strategy’. What sort of injury (major challenges) is your business encountering? Are you bleeding internally or just in need of a band-aid solution? Look at what’s caused the injury, and how you can fix it. Here are a couple of tips.

* Keep a firm eye on your cash flow so that you know exactly where your business is at financially, and how much time you have before any financial challenges make things more serious.

* Nurture your existing customers. It’s six times more profitable to sell to an existing customer than to find new ones. So foster relationships and give great customer service: after all, it’s your customers, clients and suppliers who will sustain you through tough times.

* Talk to your team. How do they think your business can do things better? Use their brain power to help you work out some solutions to your challenges. By engaging them, you’ll be motivating your team. A healthy business, after all, is somewhere people like to go to every day.

* Be honest about your own strengths and weaknesses, and commit yourself to doing things differently if your management style is part of the problem.

* Ask for outside help from advisers you trust, such as your accountant or solicitor or business adviser. Remember, a dumb question is only dumb if you don’t ask it.

Karen L. Paiyo is an Australian Small Business Counsellor, supporting and nurturing the spirit of entrepreneurship in the Asia Pacific Region. Karen empowers small business owners by transferring to them the skills and expertise needed to help them take their business ideas from creative concept to profitable reality, faster and with less risk.

Breaking Down Business Planning Roadblocks

Kicking & Screaming

Most business owners and department managers know they “should” have a plan. Yet in all my 25 years of helping business owners and managers grow their businesses, just four of my clients possessed a written plan, and only one was actually using it. Why do so many business owners skip this crucial step? Some common explanations I’ve heard go something like:

“I don’t need funding, so I don’t need a business plan.”
“My plan is going to change anyway, so why should I waste my time creating it?”
“It will take too much time.”
“I started to and found it overwhelming.”
“I didn’t start a business to do the types of things I did when I worked for someone else.”
“I don’t want a big company. I don’t want employees.” (I just created a J.O.B. for myself.)
“I don’t know which planning program to use; there are so many out there.”
“It’s expensive to plan and I need to spend my money on other things.”
“I don’t need to plan; I just want to work in my business.”

Does any of that sound familiar? For the most part, “winging it” from day to day works-until it doesn’t. Many business owners learn this the hard way. Whether at the $60,000 per year income level or at the $30 million level, without a plan, a business or its owner will eventually crash. Owners or managers will often agree to use a plan if someone else creates it for them. That’s a BIG no-no in my book. It’s important for business owners to gain the experience of the planning process. At least once, they must tackle the questions they’ve put off answering. Otherwise they run the risk of never gaining real clarity regarding the direction of their business.

The Care and Feeding of Business Owners & Managers

As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Clients who come to me for help with their strategic plan are often feeling a “pain”. It is a common experience, often necessary to compel them to take a “drink” from the strategic planning process. Here are a few common “pains” my clients have reported:

They’re not attracting their ideal clients and are sick and tired of working with jerks.
They need to be making more money.
Their spouse informed them that if they don’t spend more time together, they’ll file for a divorce.
Their spouse wants them to get a “real job”.
They’re retiring from a job in “x” years and want to have an immediate income at that time.
They’re retiring in “x” years and want all the work, time, and money they invested in their business to be their nest egg.
They’ve discovered that a business isn’t just a place to work, but an entity to grow.
“Someone” told them they had to create a plan.
“Someone” told them that their marketing is “all over the place”.
They need help managing their company or department.
They became an “accidental” business owner or were promoted suddenly, and need help fast.
They’re turning 50 and want to examine the next 30 years of their business with someone who isn’t as vested in the business as they are.
They want to work one day per month because they want to start a non-profit.

These and many other possible “pains” or problems will hopefully lead a business owner to re-evaluate the need for planning. But where to begin? The task of planning can seem monumental. Luckily, there is a one-page process which makes planning not only exciting, but simple and straightforward.

When the Light Bulb Flickers

When someone seeks my services, they often need more clients, better clients, or more money. In determining what is hindering their growth, we find they have no vision, mission, objectives, or strategies written down. They usually have no action plan, marketing plan, or financial plan, either. Here are some reasons they’ve given for finally taking the planning plunge:

“My original business vision was thrown to the wind and all I’ve been doing is looking at ‘today’.”
“I realized that the business I envisioned is not what I have, and I don’t like the business I have.”
“I read Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited and realized I need systems.”
“I’m getting older. I want to get top dollar for my business in (5, 10, or 20) years, and I know I need to have a turn-key business. My business is anything but turn-key.”
“I’m getting bored of running my company, and want to get it ready to sell/hire a CEO.”
“I have tried to grow my business for the last two years and what I’ve done isn’t working.”
“I want to start my business right; I know I need a plan.”
“I want to earn more money.”
“I’m frazzled. I network and market all the time and am not seeing the results I once saw.”
“I am creating a new position within the company. I need to bring the concept to my boss in an organized way.”
“Although I work for a company, I’m paid on commission, and I need a plan to expand.”
“I want to open a branch office, but I can’t see having two unorganized offices. I need the first office organized, and systems created before I start the second.”
“I don’t like my business model but don’t know what to change or how to do it.”
“My business does not have an inner brand, niche, or focus.”

Back in 2000, with a year-old business of my own, I had the opportunity to attend a one-day planning program which helped me to create a plan on a single page. This plan would encompass all of the plans mentioned above. As a participant, I realized the importance of planning strategically before attempting execution or implementation. Today, my clients use that same methodology to bring greater success to their businesses. And when someone wants me to create the plan for them, I do it with them. My clients are present during the process, learning a system that can be reused in the future to make their lives easier-and more profitable-in the long run.

Lessons To Turn Around Local Business Marketing

All small businesses catering to the real world ought to get started by focusing within a local area on a small niche market. There is a continuous demand around the world for effective strategies for marketing local business to the community. Regardless of this large number of businesses searching for ways to market within their local area, most end up failing. Why is this happening? How is it that so many well intentioned business people fail marketing their business?

Marketing Local Business Effectively Succeeds

Are these indications that local business marketing is not effective? Is it because business people, although qualified professionals, are not capable of carrying out local marketing tasks successfully? Local marketing is really about establishing your business presence within a specific area, getting eager buyers shopping for what you offer to recognize and respect your brand. Traditionally, there have been numerous ways to market locally, such as radio and TV advertising, telemarketing and print advertising including magazines, newspapers and Yellow Pages. With the advent of the Internet, however, traditional marketing is waning in effectiveness because consumers no longer respond to intrusive advertising.

Even though all of these methods continue to be effective to a smaller degree, we have found it much more affordable and effective to advertise our business online. Marketing local business online is a broad topic comprised of different strategies. Yes, everybody today has a website. Regardless how pretty your website looks, the true tests of effectiveness are the number and quality of the leads your website produces. How many eager buyers shopping for what you offer contacted you last month because of your website?

Start Marketing Local Business To Nurture Prospects

For starters, not every visitor to your website is immediately prepared to buy. Email marketing targeted at local businesses is a good way for people to continue learning about your business. Social media marketing is also powerful at promoting your brand in your community. Individuals more closely relate to businesses within their community than from dissimilar geographical locations. Additionally, we are a very visual culture and video is a fantastic way to tell your business story to a local audience. Becoming familiar with these facts helps you to take advantage of and use the strength of marketing local business online.

Search engine marketing is also readily directed at specific geographic areas and regions. Considering the simplicity of this strategy, in addition to effectiveness and affordability, it is the first I recommend that you consider implementing these days. Pay-Per-Click advertising is also readily directed geographically, but due to cost you need to allocate additional marketing budget. Last but not least, increase your website traffic with effective search engine optimization and basic back-linking techniques. SEO is really about publishing the rich, relevant and rewarding content search engine users seek. Back links are testimonials elsewhere on the Internet endorsing your business by putting a link to your website on their website.

Many people question the effectiveness of search engine optimization for local business marketing. Basically, anticipating the key words and phrases that eager buyers type into the search engines allows you to be found wherever they look. Google facilitates this through Local Business Results and Google Places. Yahoo! and Bing are also eager to provide local results because all search engines recognize that millions of eager buyers are searching to buy locally.

Marketing Local Business Speaks To Your Community

Marketing your business is essential if you want any new business from your community. When you fully understand and implement some of these techniques, then your business will profit from local customers. Every business is different and one size never fits all. Try these techniques marketing local business online and determine which combination best profits your business. Besides that, understanding the strategies and options available enable you to plan effective local marketing that best benefits your local business.