The first flush of New Year’s Resolutions has worn off. Are you still on task to meet your goals? Or is this going to be another year where your business runs you, instead of the other way around?
1. Ask Customers What’s Important to THEM
Talk with your existing customers — don’t just assume. In today’s environment they may have totally changed priorities.
Wendy's listening to customersTake, for example, Wendy’s. Recently they changed their ad campaigns to reflect the new economic realities of their customers, with their “3conomics” campaign. Here are some ways to do this:
* Pick up the phone and call your customers – They’ll be delighted that you called!
* Do a customer survey – One of the unsung trends for small businesses is the entry into the market of easy to use, DIY survey tools, from Survey Monkey to QuestionPro.
* Implement one of the customer feedback services on your website – Get Satisfaction and similar apps are an easy way to “listen” to what customers think.
2. Be Strategic
Small businesses are notoriously thinly funded and thinly staffed (yes, I know all about that). Consequently, we business owners get into a habit of reacting. We spend much of our time putting out fires. Instead of guiding our businesses, they “happen to us.” Here’s what I am doing about that, this year:
* Make every action create the business I want, not the business that happens — After doing some traditional strategic planning, (1) I wrote down my strategic objectives, and (2) I am visualizing my strategy in action. For me, the visualization part is crucial. I sit down in a quiet room with the door shut. I carefully visualize in my mind’s eye what my ideal business will look like. I even imagine my P&L, visualizing a number for my desired top line (sales) and bottom line (profit). It helps me focus on what I need to do and not get distracted.
* Set objectives with your employees – Earlier this year, I “sat down” with my people (OK, we did it through email), and set objectives together with them — objectives that align with the company’s goals. I have their objectives tacked to my bulletin board. I also encouraged them to print them out and post them on their own bulletin boards where they can see them to stay on track.
3. Differentiate Your Business
Even if you are in an age-old industry, you can differentiate it. Zappo’s is in an old industry — selling shoes. Yet they manage to be different from the competition, starting with the memorable name, to their storied customer service and wide selection.
I started by writing down what my business will be known for. Imagine that you are a newspaper writer, writing a story about your business. What would you say in 25 words or less to finish this phrase: “my company, a business known for ______.” I’ve decided that I want Small Business Trends to be “an online publication known for having a finger on the pulse of trends and showing business owners how to capitalize on those trends.” That’s why we started our trend series earlier this year — a series of articles designed to profile trends for 2009. While this might seem obvious, it took the act of writing that down to crystallize that I needed to widen our circle of trends articles.
4. Partner - where it makes sense
“No man is an island.” That’s especially true for small businesses. I’ve often said that I owe a lot to partners, such as Federated Media, with whom I’ve partnered on advertising sales on this site. That partnership has been responsible for helping grow my business. But too often I see vague, poorly-defined partnerships that languish — heck, I’ve been in some. One side or the other doesn’t give a partnership enough critical thought, or is too timid to ask for what they want. The half-baked effort is a colossal waste of time.
So this year I am asking prospective partners “how exactly do you see us working together?” and “what’s in it for both of us?” I am insisting that any prospective partnership be distilled down to a few bullet points. If the partnership can’t be articulated in a few short bullets, don’t spend time on it or get caught up in aimless product demos. With a recession on, none of us can afford fishing trips.