There are so many elements of good business that seem contradictory, even paradoxical. You have to spend money to make money; your mistakes are what help you get better; and so on. While so many fundamental aspects of successful business may not seem to go together on the surface, they still must be combined to thrive. The key here is balance.
For your business to reach its full potential, you have to find the balance between caution and risk; between heavy advertising and wasteful spending; between adapting to the market and remaining true to your values. But one of the more difficult balancing acts you will find is that between consistency and flexibility.
To give your customers the product/service they expect and fulfill the promises of your advertising, you need a high level of consistency in every aspect of the company. The quality of your product/service should remain consistently high, as well as the premium you put on customer service. Consistency is the part of a business that helps you stay true to your original mission statement and what your customers have come to expect.
While you must continue to give your customers the kind of service and products that they have come to expect, you must also be flexible to changes in your market and the needs of your customers. You want to continue to provide the same things that got you to where you are, but you must also adapt and find better ways to serve your customers. This may mean changing essential, even fundamental, elements of your business if it becomes clear that this is what the market requires.
A Little at a Time
The key to finding a healthy balance of consistency and flexibility is to improve a little at a time. Massive overhauls are not necessary every time you find a problem that should be remedied or a solution that makes things better. Take things slowly and carefully when changes must be made, and be sure to carefully monitor all key metrics that would reflect the change.
One easy way to maintain this mindset is by using a 1% rule. Try to improve each aspect of your business 1% at a time, and these small changes will incrementally add up to monumental improvements. They will also help you avoid huge mistakes, as small changes can often be undone when necessary. Be flexible enough to get better a little at a time, but remain consistent enough to give your customers the kind of service they have come to expect.
No one starts a business just for the sake of starting a business. It is a complex and consuming venture that will take all of your determination and energy just to get off the ground, and you will not go through this just for the fun of it. The reason you started a business is that you have a vision for it. You have personal and professional dreams that have led you to develop a business structure and trying to bring those dreams to life.
However, many entrepreneurs are unable to fully develop and quantify their vision, and this can cause them to lose track of the dream. In order to reach any goal, you must clearly define the goal and develop a path to get there. Even if you already have the path built within your business, the destination may still be vague and undefined.
If you want to bring the dream for your company to life, you must have a clear picture of it. You must break down the vision into specific and measurable goals, and then you can identify the ways to make the dream a reality. The following are steps to take in order to identify the components of your vision, analyze them in a practical sense and bring the vision to life.
1. Define your vision
The first step may seem relatively simple, but there is more to it than what is on the surface. You may be able to mentally envision your goals and ideas, but it can be hard to make them a reality without defining them more clearly.
Think seriously about the vision you have for the future. This will go beyond the business aspect of it and include your personal dreams and what you want out of life. Ask yourself a few questions:
- What do I dream about for the future?
- Is this a practical vision or should I aim to make it more realistic?
- How do I see this vision unfolding?
- What specific steps must be taken to begin?
2. Write your vision
Once you have a better understanding of your personal and professional vision, you need to be able to verbalize it. Writing something down makes it more real and gives you a specific, tangible example of the dream you have.
Break the dream down into smaller, achievable goals and write these down. Then take a few of the more immediate goals that can be reached in the near future and put them on Post-It notes around your desk or any other visible area.
3. Develop a strategic path
Now that you know what your vision looks like, you need to develop strategies that will bring it to life. Depending on your specific goals, these may be steps that can be taken immediately or concepts that must be worked on in the future. The idea is to lay out a path for you to bring the vision of your company into the practical world.
These three steps can help you define and analyze the dream you have for your business, but they are only the beginning. Now you have to act upon them and implement your plan in a strategic way to achieve each goal. From there, your company will be on its way to becoming the vision you had when you first decided to start a business.
There are many ways of looking at a business. To the outside world, it is a source of value and commercial interaction, but relatively meaningless in any major or impactful way. However, to the owner of a business, it is something much more important and meaningful. Some entrepreneurs think of their businesses as pets or children, and almost all of them view it as some sort of living organism.
While this metaphor can obviously not be completely accurate, a successful business does have a life cycle that can define its existence. Additionally, a small business requires much of the same care and attention that other living things need, especially in the early stages. But whether you view your business as something that is alive or just the tangible manifestation of your abstract idea, the analogy has its merits.
With that being said, a successful business must go through several stages of development, similar to those experienced by a human being. The following are some of the key stages in the life cycle of a business, and while each comes with its own rewards and challenges, they are all important for your company.
The embryonic stage of a business is the point at which your idea has been developed, but the business itself has not been created. A business can exist in this stage for many years, up until the time in which its brave owner decides to take the necessary steps to create an effective business plan, gather funding and bring it to life.
Now that your business idea has come to life through your efforts and ideas, it begins its existence in a state of infancy. This is usually the period in which entrepreneurs feel closest to the company and when they generally have the most involvement. You may even be the only person involved in the business at this point, and while it is still fumbling to find its way to maturity, it is most certainly alive.
This is the period in which your business begins to grow into a truly profitable enterprise. You may have already experienced some level of success in the infancy stage, but now comes success which requires you to bring in a more involved support staff. This can also be known as the manager’s stage, as it is the period in which the company grows from being your baby to a thriving business that requires more experienced management and a larger staff.
There comes a point in the life of every business in which it begins to grow up and spread its own wings. This usually happens through an explosion of growth that is usually unmanageable according to your original model, and adaptations must be made. Either you scale back and keep your business small forever, or you develop a responsible plan for manageable growth and let the company thrive.
While this is the final stage on our list, it is only the beginning for your company. It has developed into an important establishment that will continue to grow, serve customers and produce dividends for years to come.
Throughout your experience as an entrepreneur, you are likely to encounter thousands of personalities and types of people in the business world. Within a successful company, there will be several different personalities and individuals who each contribute something important, and without whom the business could not function in the same manner. This is true in any efficient company, but it can be difficult to try and emulate a formula that is so varied and complex.
Because of this, you will need to try and group people differently. You need contributions from several different perspectives and personality types, but it would be impossible to specify the exact person you need and then go out and find that person. Until effective human cloning techniques are distributed, or you develop a way to create the exact type of human you need, there are some other strategies you can use to get the right type of person.
While you may have dozens or hundreds of employees and staff members, your essential executives, managers, and support can generally be broken down into three categories. Each contributes his or her own talents, perspective, and individual personality, and all three will help make a healthy company.
This person is essentially the “do-er” of the group, and he or she will be responsible for much of the tangible, tactical and technical action that goes on within the company. The Fixer is generally an active, outgoing individual who loves a challenge and is ready to get to work from Day One. Because of The Fixer’s constant activity and action within the business, he or she will also be one of the most visible individuals and may be seen as “the face” of your company.
Your manager will be the “thinker” of the group who solves difficult problems through specific processes and tried-and-true methods. He or she will usually be a more traditional type of person who likes to apply these time-tested methods that have worked in the past to new situations and find ways to adapt processes to new problems. The Manager is a pragmatic individual who is serious but fair with employees, clients, and colleagues.
The Innovator is the creative force within your company, and this is likely the role that you will fill, as the entrepreneur. Your innovative ideas and vision for the business will drive the company and every aspect of it for the entire time that you are involved. As Innovator, you must constantly be seeking new ways to improve products/services and finding better ways to fill the needs of your customer.
Starting a small business is one of the most exciting and meaningful events in a person’s life. You will likely go through a rollercoaster of emotion throughout the process, but this is all part of the journey and worth it when done correctly.
But unfortunately, many people fail in business simply because they believe in certain myths which have mislead them. Some seminars, speakers, blogs, and marketers will lead you to believe that all you need for success in business is a bit of capital, a targeted profit projection and a strong desire. While these things are necessary when beginning the journey, they are far from all that you will need in the marathon ahead.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know what information is misleading and what is truly valuable in the world of entrepreneurial beginnings. However, there are a few keys to spotting the myths and those who are selling them. These include:
- Any information that comes with a price tag
- Unrealistic testimonials from “real people”
- Newsletters or subscriptions that charge money for “business advice”
- Anything that guarantees success in business
- Any information that sounds too good to be true
These are just a few factors that may signify bad info, but none of these are sure-fire signs of a scam or misleading information. You have to judge for yourself whether the advice you take is legitimate or is only for the profit of the person giving it. Generally, those with legitimately helpful information and good intentions do not need to (or even want to) charge to give advice and help.
The Marathon Ahead
The fact is, there are no sure-fire strategies or guaranteed techniques for quick success in business. Business is not a sprint; it is a marathon that will be full of ups, downs, trials, and challenges. But luckily, it will also include excitement, education, fun, and friends. Eventually, with a little bit of luck– and a lot of perseverance– it may also include great success.
It may seem cliché to say that “business is all about relationships,” but there is a reason clichés like this exist. Business is, in fact, all about the relationships you build from your partners and investors to your staff and employees to customers and vendors. Every business interaction is also a personal interaction, and you should capitalize on every opportunity to strengthen relationships in every area of business.
One of the key relationships– and one that is often overlooked– is that with your vendors and suppliers. Entrepreneurs rightly focus largely on relationships with customers and clients, but your vendors provide the fundamental materials that make your business possible. For many small businesses, relationships with vendors consist of a monthly transaction– a routine in which there is little to no improvement in the relationship.
While your company may be able to survive with this type of mentality, you would be missing a key opportunity for growth and branding. The vendors and suppliers with whom you work provide the chance for cooperative growth, as they have a vested interest in the success of your business. As your company expands, the business you give them grows as well, and you should use this to your advantage.
The best way to strengthen vendor relationships and capitalize on the opportunities therein is through affiliate and incentive programs. These programs not only reward vendors for their business, they also encourage competition and increased business with performance-based incentives.
In case you are inexperienced in building affiliate programs, here is a step-by-step guide:
- Begin building your program from the perspective of the vendor. What would they want to gain? What rewards would encourage business?
- Create a program that is generous towards vendors, specifically encouraging new business and increased performance.
- Develop an email campaign to let all current and potential vendors know about the benefits of your new program.
- Develop a clear and concise tracking system that the vendors can view. Allowing vendors to see their own– and others’– contributions and progress will encourage competition.
- Create monthly bonuses, programs and additional incentives to encourage further performance, enrollment, and participation.
Try to think of vendor relationships similarly to your customer relationships. Keep things exciting; encourage further business, and take advantage of every opportunity to strengthen the relationship.
As an entrepreneur, you likely have your plate full, from the time the sun comes up until the time your head hits the pillow. Starting your own business is one of the most rewarding possible career paths, but running your business takes more time and effort than any traditional job ever could. In addition to developing and improving a quality product/service, you also need effective marketing strategies to get the word out about your business.
Luckily, the marketing of your brand does not need to be one of the more time-consuming elements of building a successful business. You will need stronger outreach and more efforts geared towards marketing early on, but if your startup marketing is done correctly, it should begin to create its own organic growth. This guide is designed to go over a few of the simple marketing techniques that will help your startup reach the right audience and successfully grow into a thriving company.
One of the fundamental keys to marketing success is defining your audience. Your first step should be to research potential customers, focusing on how your service or product will fill a need for them.
- Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and try to understand what they would want from your business.
- Study your competitors’ methods and try to determine how they effectively reach the same type of customers whom you hope to gain.
Once you have identified your target market, the next step will be reaching out to them. Remember that effective marketing is essentially an exercise in communication. Your marketing efforts should speak to potential customers, not at them.
The worst thing a company can do is to gain a customer’s business then immediately abandon them once the transaction is complete. Your current customers have already purchased your product, and these are the people– or at least the demographic– that are most likely to purchase it in the future.
There are three types of follow-ups which can help to show your customers that you plan to build a real relationship with them.
- In Person – You should try to meet customers face-to-face as soon and often as possible.
- Over the Phone – Follow-up calls should be conducted soon after business is transacted to go over details, answer questions and foster a relationship.
- Email / Letter – Thank you letters and emails will go a long way in showing the customer that they are important. The choice of paper or digital may be based on a number of factors, and there are instances when both are good.
Businesses are constantly scrambling to engage and convert new customers. Successful companies need efficient marketing, customer outreach, and sales to let people know about the company and bring in their business. Unfortunately, far too many businesses focus entirely on attracting new customers, and they fail to nurture and retain the customer relationships that they already have.
Every effective marketing strategy begins with analyzing your current customer base. These are people who have already bought your product or engaged your services, and they provide the clearest information on the type of people who should be targeted for future business. But this information is not only useful for statistical data– the people who have used your business in the past are the most likely to use it again in the future.
Understanding Customer Retention
Customer retention is the ability of a brand or business to retain customers through a set of activities, strategies, and actions geared towards customer satisfaction and repeat business. It is an essential part of good business, and it begins at the very first contact between a company and a customer then lasts throughout the entire life of the relationship.
Retention has been shown to have a direct correlation with the profitability of a business. Since retaining current customers is often simpler and cheaper than acquiring new ones, most successful businesses put a premium on customer retention.
How to Retain Customers
There are many factors that are directly related to successful customer retention, and it is not only dependent upon the specific product or service provided. Customer satisfaction is the measurement that is most closely related to retention, and a high level of satisfaction can be achieved with a quality product/service, exceptional customer service, a focus on customer relationships and several other factors.
Some of the most effective strategies for keeping happy customers and earning repeat business include:
- Constant Contact: Simply staying in touch can be the most efficient way of maintaining a good relationship. You should try to stay in contact with your customer base through email, phone, newsletters, social media and any other means that are necessary and appropriate.
- Inside Access: Your current customers should always be offered the best deals, rates, and specials. They should feel as though being your customer makes them part of a special club with inside access to the best parts of the business.
- Professional Integrity: As in any aspect of a business, professional integrity can be the most important element of customer retention. Do what you say; say what you mean, and always uphold any promises and guarantees made to customers. Simple honesty and integrity will do more for your customer relationships than any clever marketing or special deals ever could.
Today we’ll talk about shameless self-promotion. That’s right, I said it! Shameless! After all, we are learning from Paris Hilton here.
It’s all about self-promotion! Self-promotion comes in many forms and you can use different tactics to get your name out there. Look at politicians! Talk about self-promotion and in some not so discreet ways, at that. But, seriously, consider some of the major superstars we all know. Madonna, Donald Trump, Howard Stern and Bill Clinton, just to name a few.
We all self promote. Did you raise your hand in class to show the teacher you knew the answer? Of course! That’s self-promotion. This is the kind of self-promotion we are talking about. With dignity, class and the knowledge to back it up. If you self-promote only to prove you don’t really know what you’re talking about, you’re going to lose business.
Natural self-promoters are the former and I want to tell you about the three major traits they have and use to build themselves and their businesses.
1.The first is position. You need to position yourself around people who can make a difference in your life. You need to do this frequently. You need to wake up every morning and ask yourself “Who can I meet today who will make a difference in my success?” In fact, go a step further, write it in big, bold letters and tape it on your bathroom mirror.
Who can help me meet my goals?
Is it a prospective customer/client? A colleague with contacts? An association with key members who may become prospects?
Don’t settle into interacting with the people who are the easiest to access. You need to reach outside your comfort zone and there you will find a wealth of new connections that will bring you great success
2.Now, let’s talk about Style. No, this doesn’t mean you need an Armani suit to bring in more business (though, let’s be honest-it wouldn’t hurt) J What this really means is how are you different from your competitors and others in your industry. What makes you memorable with customers?
If you are meeting a lot of people and they don’t remember you once you leave the room, you have a serious problem! This means you have an opportunity to present yourself in a more memorable way.
There are lots of little subtle changes you can make. Reassess your:
- Business cards
- Company message
- Your picture
- Your wording
Maybe even, your hairstyle (of course, now we’re back to the expensive suit, but it really works!)
You get the idea. There are lots of little ways you can work on making your image and business more successful. Also, consider how you sound on the phone and how you great people at meetings or other events. Think about your 30-sec elevator speech.
3.The third trait of natural promoters is repetition. You can’t say it once and leave it at that. Successful self-promoters say it as many times as they need until they get a response. Would you remember a commercial for Coca-Cola if you only saw it once, no! You see it over and over and eventually you head out to the store.
You, also, have to make multiple impressions on those you are networking with in order to build brand awareness. Repetition is in direct connection with positioning. Once you find people to network with, reach out and find hundreds more who can help in your success as well.