With 2013 underway, small business owners are firming up their resolutions – deciding what actions they’ll take in the New Year to make their businesses more successful. Here are three resolutions that top many entrepreneurs’ lists, along with advice on how to achieve them.
1. Growth. Many small business owners are eager to add to that bottom line. And even in a difficult economy, it can be done. But it’s critical to first put pen to paper, says Chris Hylen, vice president and general manager of Intuit Payment Solutions. “Map out a plan for where you want your business to go in 2013 and how you plan to get there,” says Hylen. He suggests setting a revenue or customer goal.
That’s what Clare Schexnyder did. She’s the founder and CEO of Oh Baby! Fitness, which offers pre- and-postnatal exercise classes. Schexnyder’s company currently operates only in Georgia, but in 2013 she plans to expand to 25 states.
To accomplish that, Schexnyder has to avoid the costly franchise business model and traditional brick-and-mortar fitness studio. So she’s created partnerships with hospitals and health clubs, and runs her classes there. This keeps Schexnyder’s overhead low and her finances in check, which is critical for her to expand. “I operate this business on a cash basis,” says Schexnyder. “I don’t do loans; I pay my bills as soon as they hit my desk. I never operate in the red.”
While Schexnyder’s business plan may be unique to her industry, Intuit’s Hylen says every business owner can create a plan that gets them closer to their goal. “Know as much as possible about your industry, know your business in and out, and devise a plan that will help drive your business to success,” says Hylen.
2. Focus on Customers. While growing the business is a popular goal, small business owners realize they can’t do that without their customers. So it’s key to treat them well.
There are several ways to do that, and Pauline Lewis, of Oovoo Designs in New York City, found what works for her. Two-thirds of Lewis’ business is generated during the holiday season, but her customers know they’re valued all year long.
“The best time to engage with your customers in not when you want them to buy – it’s when they are relaxed and not even thinking about the holidays,” says Lewis. “I find that when I develop a rapport with potential customers early in the year, they are more likely to buy when the time comes because they have an underlying relationship with you that is not based on a transactional sale.”
Something else customers will surely appreciate: discounts. Intuit’s Hylen says to offer them when possible, only if it doesn’t cut too deeply into your bottom line. This is one tactic that Lawrence Franco, co-owner of Live Case Break, uses to stay ahead of the competition.
“Our goal is to continue to grow the business by providing top-notch service, constantly having the newest products in stock and offering breaks at a reasonable price point,” says Franco.
3. Technology. Many business owners are eager to stay on top of technology, especially social media – they view it as free advertising. But that mentality can get businesses into trouble, according to Guy Kawasaki, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Kawasaki says businesses that use Facebook and Twitter to self-promote can turn away customers. Instead, he urges businesses to establish themselves as experts in their industry, which builds trust with customers and eventually leads to sales.
“People will follow you for your content,” says Kawasaki. “And then they will pay attention to your promotion, and participate in your promotion, because you’ve earned the right by providing good content.”
UrbanSitter, an online babysitter service, follows these rules. Recently, UrbanSitter used Facebook to post parenting advice, homework tips and holiday craft ideas. They now have 10,000-plus followers, who post comments like, “Thank you, I needed that!” and “Words good for a mama’s soul!”
UrbanSitter rarely, if ever, touts its service, and CEO Lynn Perkins says that’s intentional. “When parents book sitters offline, their number one concern in trust,” says Perkins. “So we wanted to take that online, and develop a trust there.”
Following these resolutions can help grow a business and make 2013 a successful year. But remember – even small steps can make a big difference. So set resolutions that best suit your business.