From the smallest acorns, the mightiest oaks do grow. (And you don’t always have to chase after growth either). Being small can sometimes be a surprising source of strength.
Haven’t built up a big team yet? Don’t focus on the negatives of having a smaller team—embrace the fast-paced agility of having a small workforce, and be grateful for all those HR costs you aren’t racking up.
Small business branding: from staffing to marketing—here is how to create a business environment that is small, yet perfectly formed.
Integrate Sales With marketing
Embrace collaboration to maximize return on investment.
Sales and marketing teams become easily disconnected in large, complex organizations; whereas, in small businesses, they might be embodied in just one single person.
Wherever you fit on this scale, make sure the two departments are always working together.
By staying focused on how sales and marketing can work together, you’ll achieve more on a smaller budget. (Inbound marketing evangelists at Hubspot have even coined a phrase for this model of marketing: ‘smarketing’).
● Keep channels of communication open, and make sure both sides are equally invested in collaboration. You don’t want one side to feel like they’ve been ‘drafted in’.
● Here is what marketers need to learn from salespeople (and vice versa). Focus on sharing insight and knowledge, even if the teams are small. Make people feel like they are central to the company’s success. Make everyone feel valued to encourage better teamwork.
● Get individuals to share their targets and work on key campaigns together. Use tools like Slack to help create a team atmosphere. Recognize the importance of downtime and chatting to successful teamwork. Gamify leader boards to help inspire teams.
● Create a company culture centered on the startup mentality: people working together towards a mutual goal.
● If your sales and marketing team currently comprises of just one person, empower them to do more with their role. Make sure they have adequate budget and sign-off to keep things moving. Sales and marketing need to be allowed to ‘do their thing’ as they will be central to business growth and development.
Be More Agile
Be more agile to be more competitive.
Use your speed and agility to your advantage by reacting faster than others in your vertical.
Recognize the value of being on the pulse; prioritize fast reactions over entrenched business processes.
● Capitalize on emerging trends and try to cash in on any new, relevant product lines or services fast. Start with Google Trends to see where new markets are emerging, but do more granular keyword research to build up an accurate picture before you delve in.
Consumers will smell a cheap cash-in plan from a mile, so it’s important that you arm yourself with plenty of knowledge first.
In ecommerce? Start small and drop ship the first few batches of a new product to see how you fare.
Offering a new service? Offer the service out for free to previous customers to test it out on them first. Gather lots of feedback during these early stages.
● Be the first on the scene when it comes to industry events on social media. Publish quick roundup posts, or jump on events hash tags to grow your online following.
● Invest in good inventory management to make sure that your stock is always at its optimal level. Trying to shift old stock will keep you from investing in newer, potentially more lucrative products.
● Don’t be afraid of change. The worst thing a business can do is to cling on to a model that is no longer working. Don’t be afraid of diversification if it’s time to move on.
Socialize With Your Niche
Spend time in the social media trenches to find out all you can about your customers.
● Get to know your niche intimately and learn how to cover it from all angles. To win the content wars, you need to know your customers back-to-front, so spend time actively listening to them online (and in person). This doesn’t take loads of money—just time and dedication.
● Social media is where people got to offload and share; find the places where people are being genuine. Cultivate active listening (and stamina).
You might not always like what you hear, but creating content from a place of truth will make your brand so much more genuine and relatable.
● Don’t neglect social media’s customer service and reputation potential; your channels aren’t for one-sided promotional activities. Take time to really talk to people. Build up a brand reputation for helpful and cool content. Here are some brands winning at social media; see what strategies are working for them and find your own way.
● Paid social media is relatively inexpensive and is a great way to seed content campaigns when you’re starting out. Remember, originality and authenticity will take you further on social.
Invest in Business Relationships
Build up a network based on relationships and mutual respect.
It’s a lot easier to score PR and media wins if you invest time into building relationships. Learn how to effectively communicate with media influencers and offer value.
● Large organizations have impersonal media teams—sell access to decision-makers and founders instead. Many media outlets are always keen to feature real-world actionable business advice.
Capitalize on your unique founder status to access some cool media gigs.
● Learn how to write a great outreach email—strike the balance between friendly and respectful, and personalize as much as you can for a better success rate. Email is a great way to grow your network, but remember that you have to offer people something valuable. People are busy – don’t waste their time.
● Use your own content to attract the right sort of influencers. Content is a brilliant way to share your expertise and build relationships.
By putting out great content, your brand will grow its search presence, expand its sphere of influence, and impress potential collaborators.
● Always put your best foot forward—remember people’s names, ask people how they are, be thoughtful. Offer a great service and people will remember you. Small business thrives on strong personal ties.
Offer up valuable content
Big organizations have the tendency to drone on with editorial calendars, losing sight of the people on the ground. When they try to ad lib, they often get it wrong. (Check out these recent Carrier Fisher tweets which kind of sucked…)
As a smaller outfit, you can get closer to your audience and offer content people actually want to read.
● Answering people’s questions, really answering their questions, is one of the foundations of great content.
Use keyword research tools like AnswerThePublic to trawl through all the weird and wonderful questions people actually ask.
There are loads of hidden gems in there just waiting to be snapped up by a savvy content team. Great content doesn’t always have to be wacky and creative—sometimes it can just simply be about fulfilling a need.
● Be reactive and cover seasonal events fast. Humorous roundups and on-the-pulse commentary will help you make a name for yourself.
Operating in a B2B niche? Interview industry movers and shakers and ride on the strength of their personal brand and expertise.
● Don’t make the mistake of creating content in silos—get your team’s feedback on content ideas and encourage integration.
Get the experts as close to the coalface as possible, and use your team’s knowledge to create meaningful content. Remind people that you are all in this together and embrace a culture of content.
Smart Money Management
Make sure you never run out of money with proper cash flow management, and sort out your financials as soon as you can.
● Embrace software packages and digital tools to help you run a better business. Small businesses don’t have to put up with clunky or expensive software—you can use the SaaS model to your advantage and pay out monthly for a whole range of essential business tools like cloud data storage or accounting software.
(Beware, monthly subscription fees add up fast – annual packages offer you more value for money). These essential business tools will help save you time (and gray hairs).
● Accurate and timely invoicing will be your lifeline. Not sure you’re up to it? Outsource and automate as much as you can.
● If you are one of those ‘free trial’ people, make sure you actually cancel the trials on time!
● By relying on other platforms, you may get hit by fees that aren’t obvious at first.
A classic example are the infamous PayPal fees—if you’re accepting payments through PayPal, use this handy PayPal fees calculator to figure out what it’s going to cost you.
You may need to invest in another payment gateway before long, but do your research before you commit.
Don’t be in a hurry to grow
Don’t grow too soon—you might grow in the wrong direction.
A mistake that small businesses often make is wanting to grow too fast, too soon.
● Do you really need to rent out an office space and hire loads of staff? Remote team models (especially in the digital space) are super successful, spanning teams across America, Europe, and Asia. Here is Zapier’s take on how they made a success of it with just six people.
● Embrace the startup mentality of growth hacking, hustling and bootstrapping. Use the small business community around you, and don’t be too quick to ‘go corporate’. It could end up ruining the unique fabric of what you have.
Running a small business? Love your size? What pro tips can you share?
Patrick Foster, eCommerce entrepreneur, coach & writer. I’m currently writing on EcommerceTips.org where I share engaging eCommerce content for entrepreneurs and business owners. You can follow me on Twitter here, or add me on LinkedIn.