Running a business has its ups and downs, its rewards and lurches. If there is one variable that all businesses have in common that contributes to its success or failure, it is people – your customers, your employees, the community you surround yourself with and you. If you know these people and their needs well and you keep them happy, they come to you and they support your business. And if you know your own talents and knowledge well, make sure you are leveraging that to benefit your business. Do you want to see your small business grow? Do you want to see the bottom line increase? Here are four people-centered areas to focus on for your small business’s success.
Know Your Customers
Do you know what your customers really need and does your product or service address that need? As small business owners, we come up with great ideas that we love and are sure will benefit people. That is why we are passionate about our businesses, right? However, just because you love your idea and your friends and family all say it is great does not mean your target audience will love it. For example, last week I saw a chocolate brand from a local startup in the coffee shop of a graduate business school. I love chocolate so I bought a large bar – their only size. When I bit into it, pop-rock candies started popping in my mouth. It was strange. I gave pieces of it to my colleagues without telling them about the surprise coming their way and we all laughed as each person scrunched up their nose and rejected my offer of another piece. I threw the remainder in the trash. Potential customers in that location are highly educated individuals aged thirty and up and probably have more sophisticated tastes. Some simple customer inquiries would have told the business that that was not their crowd for this chocolate bar or that they needed to modify their product for that audience.
Talk to your customers. Continuously ask them about their needs, how they address them and how your product or service fits into that equation. Sticking with the same example, the chocolate brand could have talked to customers and found out that the thirty-and-up, higher-income crowd wants a small afternoon treat that is a bit more refined – maybe dark chocolate with coffee bean nibs or sea salt in a single-serving size.
Hire the Right People and Keep Them Happy
This seems so obvious but how many times have you walked into a restaurant and faced terrible service, called a customer care center and received wrong information from a disinterested rep or received an e-mail from someone’s secretary full of grammatical and spelling errors? Estimates for what turnover really costs a business are all over the board but it is common sense that training periods are expensive so keeping them to a minimum by retaining good staff is preferred. Additionally, a constant flow of staff in and out the door does damage to a team’s morale and productivity.
Much like a business should match their product to their target audience and know that audience well, a business should also hire people who fit in well with the business in terms of culture and skill and then should keep up to date on employees’ needs. To start, what is your business culture? Are you and your staff upbeat, risk-taking and happy to work overtime? If that is a culture you want to maintain, make sure you are hiring people who are excited by that environment or else you might feel like you hired a slacker when really that person just is not a fit. Additionally, you may only be hiring someone to run a cash register or answer phones but do not take basic skills for granted. Your people are your business and if you hire a receptionist who has a big smile and friendly demeanor but cannot multitask, you probably will not be pleased with that person’s work and that person will not find joy in the stress of phones ringing while two people are on call waiting and a customer is on their way in the door. Find that smiling gem who can juggle e-mails, calls, and walk-ins and has a minor post-it note and spreadsheet obsession.
Advertise for Free
Sponsored Facebook posts? Ads in local print publications? Billboards? Brochures? Sound familiar? Typical advertising methods are expensive and not always even effective. You know that getting your name out there to the right people is important and worth an ad budget but what if you can do some of that for free? Are you an expert in a field related to your business? Write articles on it and get them published in the right places online with mentions of your business. Is your business unique and newsworthy? Position yourself to get interviewed by media outlets. A quick browse through CNN’s African Start-up page will show you plenty of folks from small markets who got free global advertising. If a laundry service in Kampala, Uganda can get international recognition on CNN, you probably can get noticed by your local newspaper.
Surround Yourself with Other Small Business Owners
According to Tim Sanders, bestselling author and former Yahoo! exec, “Your network is your net worth.” Though no one knows more about your business than you, there are plenty of people who may know more about bookkeeping, business law, or how to deal with a high-maintenance customer. A nearby business owner might also have an eye on your storefront when you are not around or might think of you when they hear of a great opportunity in your industry. When you create a community of people around you who have knowledge and experience relevant to your business and they care about your success, chances are those relationships will bear great fruits. The cost of many of those benefits is simply watching out for those in your network and offering your knowledge and maybe an occasional business connection in return.
Recently, I walked into an acquaintance’s coffee house. The barista had a line of customers out the door and could not hold herself together. I watched as she dropped coffee and cookies on the floor, messed up orders and swayed as she gazed at the cash register and tried to run people’s credit cards. She was not in a good state. Customers disapprovingly looked at her lack of professionalism and a number of them walked out rolling their eyes. Where was the owner? Well, she owns a couple of coffee houses and was not at that one on that day. I shot her a quick message and she sent in another barista immediately. That particular business owner had previously shared her experiences and knowledge with me and when I saw her employee chipping away at her business’s good reputation, I took action because that person became a part of my business network and I care about her success.
At the end of the day, know your customers, know your employees, and get creative in ways that bring the right people in the door and keep them coming back. Also, do not forget to take advantage of your own expertise and find creative ways to market your business by leveraging people’s interest in your unique knowledge or your business’s newsworthiness. Lastly, remember that a community of supportive individuals can be a wealth of information and experience on the above-mentioned topics and others as well as can be great watchdogs when you are not around.