Don’t Operate Your Small Business Like It Is Small!

With 46% of small businesses failing within the first 5 years, they simply cannot afford to operate “small” any longer. Big businesses, aka Fortune 500 companies, understand the value of setting up a business with predictable, manageable systems and having the necessary framework in place to ensure profitable and productive results.

The 7 Big Business Tools:

There are 7 tools that all big businesses use within their organizations to ensure higher profits, higher quality, and increased customer satisfaction. Applying these tools to your small business will increase your chances of staying in business longer and give you more control of its operations, profitability, and get you out of a “small” business mentality.

1. Organizational Charts

Organizational charts outline the functions that are required for a business to run on a day-to-day basis, as well as the person responsible for that function. This tool determines the “Who” of the business. Organizational charts also drive accountability for each area of the business and outline clear responsibilities.

Big businesses have figured out that while it is important to have people lead each of the functions, it is even more important to make sure the skill level and competencies of that person match the role. As a majority of small businesses typically have a small staff, roles are often filled by whoever is available. This mistake could lead to inefficiency and prevent the business from operating at its peak level. Completing an organizational chart will help identify the gaps that exist in the skill set of current employees and should be developed even when there is only one person in the business. This activity will allow for future growth as the business is expanded to include more and more employees.

Remember: The more times one name appears in an organizational chart, the less productive and effective it will be!

2. Operations Manuals/ Procedures

Operations manuals and procedures document the tasks that are to be done within the business. Use this tool to capture the “What” of your business. This will serve as a step-by-step guide on how to complete each task and give clear expectations of how your business is to run. This documentation can also serve as a training aid for new employees, allowing them to ramp up faster, and reduce the amount of time you have to spend training. This tool will reduce the variability in output and quality that can occur when employees are allowed to do it their own way, in effect making it their business.

If there are no employees within your business, use procedures to help you become more efficient by performing tasks the same way, every time. You will also reduce wasted time remembering how you completed a task previously.

Be sure to review your operations manuals and procedures periodically for relevancy and areas of improvement. Have you found another way of doing things more efficiently? Does the task take a significant amount of time? Look for steps that may be duplicated, can be removed, or take a lot of time to complete. Conducting this review will lead to continuous improvement within your business.

3. Business Systems

Given the complexity in most big businesses, they always have systems in place to make sure their operations are set up to flow smoothly and reduce the chaos that can occur when there are so many functions and employees. Small businesses can take advantage of the benefits of having a systemized business as well. Systems are no more than how the tasks and functions interrelate to deliver a completed product or service. Having a system in place allows you to produce the same quality results every time, which in turn leads to increased customer satisfaction. You can describe this as the “How” of your business.

For businesses with only one person (the owner), set up business systems that automate some of the key tasks. This will give you more freedom to work your on business and strategize, rather than in your business doing a lot of the mundane tasks. You will find that you will have more time to grow your business when most tasks are systemized. Business systems produce a highly organized business and can also be used as an effective management tool for owners since feedback can be gained about your business performance when things don’t work as expected.

4. Process and System Audits

Auditing your processes and systems asks the question “Are we doing what we say we are going to do?”. When you have taken the time to document the key tasks in your business, it makes sense to periodically review whether or not the procedures are being followed. If they are not, then find out why. Auditing allows you to qualitatively measure how well your business is performing.

Take it one step further, and check for the effectiveness of the system, not only the compliance to it. An easy way to do this is to look at your customer satisfaction measures, the number of errors or defects you are getting, and how easy it is to follow your process. Often times, while all of the procedures are being followed, they may not be producing the results that are intended, so auditing can help you uncover these issues.

Use auditing within your organization to drive accountability, and make following the process a habit. Not only will you improve the efficiency of your business system, but you will continue to make your business better, meet your customer expectations, and consistently meet business goals.

5. Key Metrics and Reporting

Metrics are the key data that you need to make business decisions. As the old adage implies, “you cannot manage what does not get measured”. Your key metrics are a snapshot of how well you business is performing. Use these measures to quantitatively assess your output.

An easy way to determine what your key metrics should be is to ask: What do my customers want? What is important to them? The answers to these questions will be become the standards by which you measure your business. Other metrics can include weekly sales goals, revenue goals, or the number of calls made to prospective clients.

After key metrics are determined, institute a regular reporting of the results and look for trends upward or downward that need correction. Use dashboards that can be set up easily in an Excel spreadsheet program for quick access to the data and results. Also, be sure to tie the metrics to the functions in your business to increase accountability for the results.

In addition, consider using your metrics and reports as a communication tool to clients and prospective clients. Show how you differ from your competition, and what you can do for them relating to customer service levels, response time, or any other measure most important to that audience.

6. Six Sigma Process Improvement

A highly utilized efficiency tool used in Fortune 500 companies, Six Sigma is a data-driven methodology for reducing the number of defects within a business system. It will demonstrate quantitatively how well a process is performing and focus on variation (what the customer sees and feels) reduction.

Big businesses use Six Sigma to reduce lead time, excess labor costs, and processing times, saving them millions of dollars annually. Small businesses can also realize the benefits of applying this process improvement tool in the same way. Use of the tool increases customer and client loyalty as they know what they are going to get every time.

Find out more about Six Sigma and its benefits here at the iSixSigma website: http://www.isixsigma.com/.

7. Problem Solving Tools

There are different ways to address the issues that inevitably occur in businesses. Have a toolbox of problem-solving methodologies to solve the different problems that occur. This will allow for rational and data-driven decision-making, and help you get to the root cause of the issue. It is widely understood that if you solve the problem well, and eliminate the root cause of a problem, the problem will not re-occur.

Some commonly used problem-solving tools include:

  • Brainstorming
  • Root Cause Analysis
  • 5 Whys
  • Cause and Effect Analysis
  • Flow Charting
  • SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis

All businesses have problems, and that is actually a good thing! Look at problems as opportunities to improve, and as simply the difference between the current state and your business goals. Become familiar with the various tools available, and train your team to apply the tools as well. This will increase your confidence in the decisions being made in the business, and ultimately free a business owner from having to be involved in every business decision being made.

These 7 tools all work together to ensure a highly organized, productive business. Use these “Big Business” tools to increase productivity, profitability, and your chances for small business success. No longer think that your small business is not quite ready for this framework, and begin to operate your “small” business like it is “big”.

Starting a Small Business? Do You Know the Top 7 Reasons Why You Should Get a Website?

It used to be that the first thing a starting small business did for their advertising was to get a yellow pages ad (very expensive these days). While that is still a good thing most often new business owners overlook the power of the Internet, the power and the low cost of having a website. So how can a website help you? Here are just a few ways:

1. It gives your business more credibility. When a business has a website it shows the prospective customer that you are serious about your business and take the time and pride to show off what your business is about.

2. It allows you to show off the benefits and features of your new business. You have a chance to explain what your business is about. All the benefits your business has to offer, what will the customer get out of using your services or products, what will it do for them. Then you can get into the actual features on what exactly your business is offering, the specifics and technical stuff if you like.

3. Your prospective customers get to know you, your expertise and history in the About Us page. Getting to know you, and your company gives you a humane face. It helps your starting small business by giving confidence to your prospects simply by building a more personal rapport with them and ultimately helping them with the decision to use your services or products.

4. It’s up and operational 24/7 so anybody can look at it and learn about your small business any time. This is self-explanatory but important. People use the Internet at all hours of the day. You cannot be at your desk answering the phone 24/7, nor should you.

5. If you have an interactive website, and you should, customers can place orders or send in a request for quote any time. Wouldn’t it be nice to get to work in the morning only to find a couple of leads or even sales ready for you to process?

6. Use it as a simple way for people to find your physical location. This cuts down on you wasting your time explaining where the exact address is and how to get there. Have a Google map on your Contact Us page.

7. Best of all it creates many avenues for your starting small business to get much needed leads on a continuous basis with little maintenance. From my experience as a small business owner, I know we all want, need, and wish to get more leads. There are many ways to get leads but some of them are really expensive, others are extremely time consuming and some are both.

So when you start up your business, no matter how small, think about the Internet, people in your own community use it all the time so why not let them know right away that you are open for business by showing off your website.

Can a Small Business Marketing Package Increase Sales?

For any business the return on investment for each marketing program is important, for small business it can be the most mission critical decision a marketing professional can make. In today’s economy, every marketing spend is a serious one, so examining the return on investment for a small business marketing package is important before choosing the package. The good news is that changes in technology have changed the equation for small business marketers from one of shrink wrap packaged database software or sales account contact management packages, to a variety of inexpensive, no contract online marketing packages that can keep costs very low while resulting sales from the marketing package grow.

Affording a web-based or “cloud” computing package for marketing was until recently something that only a larger business could get a return on their investment with. Now subscription based marketing packages can be found for very low monthly rates that will provide not only all of the sales account management features expected of the desktop database products, but email marketing, social CRM tools for twitter and more. Some of these packages even provide a free 30 day trial period in which the small business can perform an unlimited amount of email marketing and lead gathering without any cost.

The key way in which a web-based small business marketing package can increase sales is by gathering leads from a landing page and moving those leads directly into a sales contact database for sales to contact. Many online packages provide an online form that the small business can direct customers to, or incorporate into the design of their website. Once new leads are in the system, the marketing package provides the sales force with a way to stay in constant contact with leads through email, while increasing the knowledge they have in the system about each opportunity or activity.

Having a sales force track customer opportunities in a more organized way than a simple contact database and can provide information on neglected accounts. Small business marketing packages will provide templates to create professional email designs for bulk email or to be used as form letters by the sales force. Shopping around can reveal that some full service online marketing packages provide all of the features of a customer relationship management system at the same price that other email marketing packages charge to send bulk emails.

The biggest advantage of a web-based small business marketing package is mobility. Desktop database, contact management and spreadsheet programs mean that customer information is in one location. If that location is on a laptop or your phone that’s great, but it has to be kept in sync and situations will come up where someone else needs the data when its on the road with a sales person. Cloud based software for marketing provides the power to tap into that customer information from any computer with web access, smart phone or tablet. This means that opportunities can be worked to their full extent anywhere anytime and more sales will close.

A small business marketing package can go a long way to increase sales. The important things to know is how much the company will be investing initially to get those sales, how many sales force oriented features are included for the monthly subscription price, and does the package give the ability to generate leads directly into the marketing program from the web.

Small Business Networking – 7 Essential Factors of Generating Business Leads

Network is and always will be about building relationships. Too many people make the mistake of believing that it’s about only building business leads or selling products. While this is what drives us to improve our networking it shouldn’t be the only thing.

When done well, and done properly, networking brings together 7 core ingredients or factors that make your outreach more successful. This combination, with no factor being more important than another, will help you master the art of small business networking and as a results – you’ll generate more quality business leads. The important thing is to focus on the individual and the relationship – the rest will fall into play. Start by working on these 7 factors.

Personality

When you first approach someone to begin a networking relationship you need make sure that you will communicate effectively and openly – that means being authentic. Show that you’re enthusiastic and genuine while expressing real interest.

Body Language

Respect the personal space of the other person while standing tall and holding your position in a conversation. Make sure your body languages gives off the overall perception of being confident and assured. Don’t try too hard to appear confident because it’s equally important to appear relaxed – above all else you need to “look comfortable in your shoes”.

Interest

One of the ideal ways to show that you’re interested in what someone else has to say is to listen carefully and ask appropriate questions during the conversation. When you stay engaged it inspires a contact to keep talking. Genuine interest (or the impression of it) is a great way to foster business leads.

Focus

When conversation runs all over the place while talking to business leads, it’s hard to make the discussion memorable – especially when it’s just a bunch of small talk. Focus the conversation onto one interesting topic that a contact brought up. Expand on it and explore.

Connection

During the conversation you’ll likely come across topics of interest. Grab those because those a strong connection points. This flows back to the point of Focus. When you find a topic that resonates with both of you (or everyone in the conversation) use that to cement the relationship for a better chance at building good business leads

Visualization

It might sound like something out an alternative wellness book or self help guide but when you’re networking and trying to build relationships with business leads you should visualize a successful outcome. When you’re positive, there’s a better chance for a positive outcome and it shows in your body language.

Invitation

As you build on the relationship with business leads, don’t forget to follow up. You don’t have to offer an invitation immediately but be sure to follow up quickly with an offer for a meeting, coffee, etc. to hook up and talk shop – or simply to keep the personal conversations and interests flowing.