by Liberty Stembridge, Finance Columnist
Published in Finance on 11th December, 2018
Data should be the basis on which you build your business strategy. A good business strategy outlines specific goals that are in line with their company values and implements ways to measure and track those goals.
Data should inform your everyday decision-making, but too many small business owners essentially ignore their data by failing to properly integrate their findings into their business plan.
Make sure you have goals set out that specify exactly what you want to achieve, and then set out the metrics for each goal. Demonstrate how you will analyse your data and how often, and how you'll make changes to your business plan when the data indicates that you should. This helps to keep your business data-driven and data-informed.
Not everyone is a born salesman, and that's okay - your expertise probably lies elsewhere. Marketing is a vital part of any business strategy, however - it's essentially how potential customers find you. It's easy to convince yourself that marketing isn't worth the time or money in the beginning, but that is one of the most common pitfalls small business owners get trapped in.
Why would a large company with an established customer base need marketing more than a small business that's still growing? You should be investing in marketing your business from day one to attract as many customers as possible. If you don't know the first thing about marketing or social media or SEO, don't let your own lack of knowledge get in the way of your success.
If you've got the money, hire a professional. It might not be appealing at first, since the urge to do everything yourself can be tempting and professional help can be pricey, but it is worth it in the long run. A professional marketer, freelance or otherwise, will be able to analyse your business critically and set up a marketing strategy, unbiased by any personal feelings you might have towards your business.
If you can't afford to hire a marketer right away, invest some time in reading a few books on marketing, or even just a few online articles, to get a grasp on the basics and then implement those ideas that you find. It's surprising how well some of the smallest, most basic marketing tactics can work.
In slight contradiction to the first point, it is possible to get too wrapped up in the numbers of it all and end up being consumed by your business data, and forget what your business is actually for - to provide for your customers. Cold hard data can give you a lot of insight and direction but it isn't necessarily going to keep your customers happy, or coming back. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that growth in your data is the sole indicator of success.
You also need to consider how well your employees are doing, and whether your customers are generally satisfied with the service they receive. Your company image and brand is not built by your growth or data, it's built from the way you treat the people you interact with. If you get a steady stream of new customers, but none of them stay loyal to you, you're inevitably going to plateau. In fact, to expect your business to continually grow is almost ludicrous, as nothing can grow exponentially all the time. You will hit hard times, and it is in those times that your attention and focus on people will really pay off.
Gather feedback from your customers as much as possible. If they're unhappy about a certain aspect of your business, consider changing it. Take their feedback seriously, after all, these people are the reason you can afford to run a business in the first place. Make it easy for them to get help and give feedback when they need to, many customers really appreciate when a business has a simple method of getting help for any issues that arise, and are much more likely to return if they trust that you care about their satisfaction.
Many small businesses owners get to a point where their business has well and truly lifted off, but they are still struggling to make ends meet. This is often because you have mispriced your product or services. This can take a real toll on your business, and you can quickly start to lose money and burn out from the amount of work. When pricing your product or service, you need to not only think about what you're providing and it's value, but also of any overheads, you need to pay such as salary, accommodation and other expenses.
While raising your prices is often a good move financially, it can put customers off, so don't suddenly escalate them too high. Raise the price for new customers and see what the reaction is. If you're suddenly getting significantly fewer purchases or bookings, you've probably gone too high and need to lower it again.
Flexibility and creative thinking are key to creating a thriving small business. Without them, you'll likely crumble the minute you hit any sort of roadblock. It's all very well to create a detailed business plan, but if you stick to it religiously and without any flexibility, you'll find yourself falling behind or getting stuck.
Learn to relax and go with the flow a bit. For some people this is easier said than done, so it may be worthwhile to get outside help every once in a while. Surrounding yourself with creative people who can come up with innovative solutions to any problems that may arise will help you improvise and overcome yourself.
As anyone who's ever had an overbearing boss will tell you, micromanaging is the absolute worst. It's a natural instinct to want to know what's going on and control every aspect of your business, after all, it is your business, but this is ultimately unhelpful. You hired your employees to do their job, and now you have to trust that they are going to do it. Looking over everyone's shoulder and telling them what to do, or worse, doing it yourself unnecessarily, will be annoying at best and result in a failed business at worst.
Start outsourcing to other people, stop running everything yourself. Take a step back and trust that other people will be able to do their jobs. If your staff aren't doing their jobs correctly, fire them and get someone new in. If you don't have any staff, don't be afraid to hire freelancers to take on some of your work like designing logos, marketing your business or writing copy.