2020 has been an extraordinary year to be in business. While the full effects of the global coronavirus pandemic are still playing out, and it’s long-term economic impact remains to be seen, there’s no doubt that it’s getting harder than ever for some small businesses to stay afloat. Recent unprecedented conditions have changed the way we trade for good and any business fighting for survival needs to adapt pretty quickly. There remain some key tasks that you need to attend to as a small business owner.
Whether you’re biting the bullet and launching your own venture for the first time, or you’ve struggled through your first year and are trying to scrape a profit, these tasks should form the building blocks of your business strategy. So what are the key tasks to ensure the future of your business in troubled times?
The key driver of any company hoping to survive is data. It allows your business to be responsive and adapt to a shifting market, changing customer needs, supply chain shifts, macroeconomic conditions and other factors far outside your sphere of influence that have a huge impact on your profitability. The health of your company should be comparatively assessed against a range of key metrics. The difficulty can be that in an age where almost any data we want is available to us, and we have lots of big data reports, we often get overwhelmed or inadvertently focus on the wrong things. To bring focus back to the process, it’s important to set good KPIs related to your overall business plan and values. These will let you know what to track in order to determine success. It’s worth considering elements such as understanding your website analytics and wider digital presence, staff fulfilment and profit and loss as part of this overall framework. Competitor activity, turnover, sales volumes, and payment management also need to be taken into consideration to give a holistic picture of the health of your business.
Getting your pricing strategy right is something that a lot of fledgling businesses struggle with. It can be hard to know the right price point to pitch your products and services to. Be very aware of not engaging in a race to the bottom. If you only compete on grounds of price, you are not breeding customer loyalty, and your sales will drop as soon as a rival undercuts you. And in today’s globally connected marketplace, you may well find yourself the loser when it comes to offering a discount rate. Instead, focus on differentiating your offer and your brand, finding your niche and building great customer relationships within that space. In this way, you can establish your company, turn customers into brand advocates and encourage organic growth and repeat business. Start with comprehensive market research into your audience and the sector you want to break into, and start thinking about what you can offer that isn’t already out there.
When you first begin your business, it’s a really delicate balancing act of required outlays and costs when you might not have much in the way of revenue coming in yet. And of course, for very small businesses, hiring staff may be a long way off. Yet there are other ways to benefit from expertise in areas where you may not have a full understanding – and that’s outsourcing. Tasks like accounts, professional recruitment, marketing, web design and more can all be contracted out. Yes, this does require an investment but it’s not the same as taking on continued staff costs and it can add a huge amount to your business. Being able to get an expert eye on your project and benefit from a broader expertise can often show what you’re missing and help to prevent costly mistakes further down the line if you don’t get something right. Experienced help can often be a make-or-break moment for businesses struggling with one particular area.
Steering a company into a growth phase is often stressful, and at times you will need to dig deep and develop in areas that you may never have considered before. It’s moments like that which forge your leadership style, but you also need to be conscious of always working on your own skills, as the engine of your small business. This includes things like communication, decision making, planning and negotiation skills as well as more technical knowledge bases and industry learnings that you may need to apply. Always be open to learning more in an effort to develop yourself and your company – this could mean training courses or more formal learning routes such as doing an MBA. It might mean finding a mentor, or it could be attending more networking events. Developing a plan of action for your growth as a leader is all about improving the skills you do have and seeking to develop those you are lacking. It doesn’t mean that you have to cover every single function in detail yourself – but you need to know enough to understand what you’re asking.
Being able to continuously improve and refine what you’re doing is a crucial survival tactic, especially in uncertain times. And that means being able to take on board feedback – from staff, from customers and from suppliers. Building feedback into your processes is something you should look at implementing across the board. Whether it’s setting up online surveys, running focus groups, asking for employee feedback or even conducting some social listening, understanding how your company is being talked about is critical to improvement. Your strategy and focus as a company should always be developing and responding to factors unfolding around you.
Building a great business is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time and, yes, even a few mistakes to find the right path and own the courage of your convictions. It’s all part of your growth and development as a business leader. Understanding the measures to check your progress against is an important step on this journey.