Running a small business requires having the right knowledge and applying self discipline on a daily basis. For this reason I have prepared what I call the "12 Step Business Growth Plan." Like the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step plan, it is the core of what we need to do to keep us focused on proven management practices. I recommend that my students, listeners and clients print them and post them in their work area to review daily while planning for the next days' activities.
1. Set Specific Goals
Goals must be specific. Saying that you're going to get more customers is not good enough. How many? By when? What type of customers? These are the kind of questions you need to be asking yourself. Put your goals in writing. More than 90% of those people that write down specific, realistic, deadline oriented goals actually achieve their goals! Finally, visualize yourself in the future. Most people think in pictures. As you begin to right down your vision place yourself in the future and make it seem real. You will be amazed at the results.
2. Seek Out Change
Let's face it change is the only constant. The longer you "do what you've always done," the harder it will be to do something different. It is ideas that bring change about in our world. Nearly every great invention, system or model was born from the idea of a lone entrepreneur. Psychologists are now saying that creativity is a "learned trait." Experiment with creative ways of doing things. Do not just settle for the "easy way." Do this daily and watch your creativity grow and your business soar!
3. Focus on Branding
Branding is not merely for the BIG players. Entrepreneurs and small business owners can also differentiate themselves with this kind of branding strategy. In fact it is even MORE important for smaller organizations to set themselves apart, particularly if they are competitive with the BIG GUYS! Remember, your customers' perceptions of WHO you are is all that matters to them. Often times your reputation is wrapped up in what advertising guru, Bill Bernbach called the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). What sets you apart from the crowd? What do you do that no one else does? This is far more important than the quality or price of your product or service. Everything that we do or say both internally and externally should revolve around this.
4. Be an Influencer NOT a Salesperson
Our goal is not to SELL our customers but rather to influence them. When we SELL them, they move away from us because they are fearful of being coerced into making the wrong decision. Ask more questions. Find out what's important to them. Find a way to get them to look up to you. We must earn the right to influence customers by aligning ourselves with them in a way that sets us apart as a friend, advisor and confidant. Then we will become the only solution to their needs.
5. Speak in Terms of the Customers Interest
As the great master of human relations, Dale Carnegie said, we must "speak in terms of the other persons' interest." The reason people are running away from you is that you are trying to TAKE. Be willing to give. "What can you give?" you ask? If nothing else, give them an education. That's right; EDUCATE your prospect and you will create a customer for life! Ask plenty of questions. Show that you really care. You will learn more, build stronger relationships and get more business. Oh yeah, you'll have more fun too.
6. Develop a Practical Sales and Marketing Plan
A sales and marketing plan creates the kind of attention you need to get in front of the right type of organizations. It is what attracts people to you! A good sales and marketing plan implemented cost effectively, efficiently, and consistently, will eliminate the need for "cold calls!" Your marketing plan should also include a sales plan. There is no other sure way to gage the financial growth and progress of your business. You need a realistic map for where the sales will come from, how they'll come, and from what.
7. Know Your Customers
Changes in your customers 'preferences and your competitors' products and services can leave you in the dust unless you get to know your customers well. What is it that they are looking for today? What will they likely want in the future? What are their buying patterns? How can you be a resource for them even if you do not have the right products or services for them now?
8. Manage Your Cash Daily
Only cash flow can keep a company alive. No matter how impressive your company's profits might be, if you run out of cash, it's over! Learn the importance of aligning performance measurement goals to gross margin. Learn about various pricing strategies, contribution margins and how to stay on top of your cash position every minute of the day if necessary.
9. Be a Leader
Jack Welch, CEO of GE loved the small business model so much his first step in turning around GE was to break up the giant into 350 smaller companies. He told Business Week Magazine, "Most small companies are simple, informal, and grow on good ideas. Understand that your role as the leader of your organization is to inspire, simplify processes, drive the company toward their vision, spread the gospel, admit your mistakes, and keep things ever moving forward.
10. Get Help
Get an advisory board or a mentor! Sounds crazy for a small operation? It's not! The board can be family members that you trust, or friends. Ask them to be your board of directors and review your business plans and results with them. Having someone to bounce ideas off and get an objective opinion is critical.
11. Communicate Clearly
You might be the key to everything BUT you can not DO everything and grow at the same time. Even modest success can overwhelm you without you hire the right staff and delegate responsibility. Good communication skills are the key to winning strong relationships. Learn to listen in an active way. Stop thinking about what you are going to say next and put the focus back on the customer.
12. Do not Give Up!
Some of the most successful entrepreneurs failed several times before doing extremely well. So, if you're failing, fail. And fail fast. And learn. And try again, with this new wisdom. Do NOT give up. In a recession such as we are experiencing today, only the persistent will thrive!