Being a business owner today is an entirely different experience from what it was twenty years ago. Once, being a business owner involved finding a shopfront, balancing the checkbook, calling suppliers, interviewing employees, and so on. But now, you can do every one of those things online or with an app. You can be a business owner without ever leaving your own home.
While that supplies a measure of convenience, it can also make the whole process a lot more complicated. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of wildly different approaches to launching and growing your business. It can also be overwhelming when your options change so rapidly.
Rather than always chasing after the latest app, you’ll benefit most from applying a few general strategies that will ensure your business is organized and, ultimately, successful.
Maintain Good Records
When much of your communication is digital, business owners often find themselves letting records slide. You might think, “I already keep records. Everything is in my emails.” But that isn’t really record keeping, as it’s neither organized nor secure. Accurate record-keeping is essential.
You need to be able to access and understand complete, meaningful records in order to, say, measure your business’s profit margin, or ensure accurate reports to the IRS. In fact, much of the record-keeping software out there can interface with tax software programs, streamlining both effective record collection and compliance with IRS rules.
Good records are also about safety. When you own a business, you have a legal obligation to protect the identity and personal information of your customers. You should store sensitive information on a separate device that has restricted access. Make a searchable database that includes useful information– like customers’ past orders and contact information– while destroying more sensitive info, like credit card details.
Research the Competition
Look around to find who is providing similar goods and services. Notice what distinguishes you from similar businesses– do you have better front-facing customer service? Are you more appealing to a particular niche? Do you focus particularly on quality, or delivery speed? Another important factor to consider is anticipating what your competitors will offer next. That will allow you to develop a strategy to prevent them from siphoning off business.
Everyone has competitors– even if your product is brand new, customers will have something else filling the needs gap you’re seeking to fill. There are many tools out there that will allow you to find out what keywords your competitors are using. You can also use Google Alerts to keep tabs on not just what other websites are saying about you, but also what they’re saying about your competitors.
Next, you’ll want to do a bit of digging on the other companies. Look at their digital outreach strategies and use tools to learn about their SEO and keyword usage. Don’t neglect their social media presence, either. And remember your most important resource: your customers. If you get an influx of new customers, you can find out who their former supplier was, and perhaps why they switched. You can also try to find out why former customers switched over to competitors.
Embrace Digital Marketing
Speaking of digital outreach, you want to get ahead and start developing your digital marketing wings right away. As an online business, you more or less don’t exist until you have your social media profiles organized! You don’t want to just throw together a Facebook page, though; you’ll need to develop an integrated marketing plan with a consistent aesthetic, one that’s able to tell a story and connect with your customers.
Rather than trying to manually juggle all your different profiles and keep up with the latest platform, streamline your approach by using a social media management tool, so you can schedule posts in advance and adjust your strategy in the face of data analytics.
Start on a Small Scale
This might seem obvious– how else does one start?– but as a new business owner with the internet at their fingertips, it’s tempting to get overly ambitious. Remember that you don’t need to launch every part of your business at the same time.
You need to organize customer support, item delivery, credit card payments, invoices, web presence …there’s a lot. So break it down into one step at a time, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help and introduce yourself to new people.
Never Stop Learning
Are there new ways to market your services? Are you getting repeat requests for something you don’t yet offer? Social media will help with this because you can track trends and keep an eye on what your competitors are doing.
The best way to ensure you’re continually learning? Listen to your customers. Identify your target market’s concerns so that you can continually position yourself as the best solution. Keep your ear to the ground so you can demonstrate the benefits of your goods or services, and you’ll always have a customer base.
These are general, foundational strategies that will continue to serve you as you grow your business. Remember: pace yourself, don’t be afraid to seek out new resources, and listen to what your customers are saying. Once you’ve got that covered, it’s smooth sailing.