Starting a small business can be really exciting. But new business owners that forget important details before their doors open can find themselves with time management issues, or with cash flow problems when no clients come. The following 4 small business tips can help new company owners get their affairs in order before the doors open to avoid business-breaking catastrophes down the line.
A Startup Timeline is a Lifesaver
The second the idea to start a new venture comes into an entrepreneur’s head, he/she needs to immediately pick an official and realistic “start” date for the business and start building a timeline for what is going to happen between that moment and the date the business will open its doors. Many are afraid to choose a start date in the beginning, because they see it as a scary “deadline” by which they must get a huge number of tasks done. The reality of this deadline can often be overwhelming, but it is necessary to keep on task and help with time management.
Also, while those engaged in the process of building a new company should stick to the small business startup date, there is always room to change if unexpected obstacles hit or some tasks take longer than expected. Seeing a physical timeline can be a great motivator during the months before officially opening a business, and is important to organization and setting a precedent for diligent time management that will help in all areas of business.
A Manageable To-Do List Helps Keep the Timeline Reasonable
Savvy entrepreneurs need to sit down once they decide to start a company and write down a list of the “Top 10” tasks that need to be accomplished before the business officially opens its doors. For example, they may need to secure office space, set up a business-dedicated phone and Internet access, get a small business license and insurance or any other number of things. But these to-dos need to go in order of their importance on the timeline, as they will determine the length of time required to responsibly start the business.
Every Startup Needs a Preliminary Marketing Plan
Marketing tools may sound like premature assets to create for those that have not yet even officially opened up shop. But one of the first things on any professional to-do list for those just starting out should be to create a first-draft of a marketing plan. Small business startups need to get basic marketing portfolio components like business cards, domain names and a business e-mail address and then start to research and plan how they will market and sell services.
Building a Small Business Network Starts Early
Building a small business network will be critical to bringing in steady clients for all entrepreneurs, regardless of industry. In the beginning, clients and business contacts will likely be friends, family members, former co-workers or others that have been referred by any of the above. But eventually, this well will run dry. One of the best small business tips entrepreneurs can follow at any stage of a company’s development is to keep going out into the community and meeting people that might benefit from available products or services.
Some More General Small Business Tips
The goal of any professional marketing campaign should be to grow a customer base, and no small business owner can do this in a vacuum. The most successful marketers in any industry are those that are social and get out into their communities to meet people, particularly targeting those that make the big business decisions for potential clients, or are the gatekeepers to connecting with these key individuals. There are of course two main challenges involved in this process: figuring out where to find the people that are decision makers or can get to them directly; using the right tactics to speak meaningfully to these people with a strong, relevant marketing message.
Where Do the Gatekeepers and Decision Makers Hide Themselves?
For small business owners providing goods or services that are trying to build their client base, successfully marketing to those that will make decisions means knowing where they hang out, both during and after work hours. Many business owners only get these marketing tricks “sort of” right by failing to completely fine-tune their search. They throw out a huge net and say, “I want to find anyone that makes a decision about anything important within my target market.”For example, the owner of a small accounting firm that provides services to small medical offices might decide to attend networking events with hospital administrators or pharmaceutical reps. These events might connect this person to a lot of people that do make decisions for large hospitals and may have connections to smaller offices, but ultimately do not provide direct connections to the right decision makers and gatekeepers.
These networking events might start relationships that over time indirectly connect the accountant to the right person through referrals, but when time is money, the months and years this might take are unnecessary time wasted. A better fit would be to find a local conference, trade show or meeting place well-attended by doctors or administrative assistants working at small medical practices and go straight to the source.
The most efficient marketing tricks will always be those that produce the highest number of qualified, viable leads. Small business owners that are great at getting these leads are those that know the specific problems of their target clients inside and out and can explain how their products or services help solve these problems in a way no other similar product or service available can. Being able to accurately find the places those that make purchase and contract decisions and delivering a marketing message that resonates in an appropriate setting where the target customer or client will be receptive is one of the best small business marketing strengths anyone can have.
The Gatekeeper or Decision Maker Is Not Instantly Interested.
The harsh truth is, no matter what industry a small business owner is in or what product or service he provides, his/her target clients don’t have to and will likely not care about the average – and even above average – sales pitch that comes across his/her desk.
Everyone from administrative assistants – the standard “gatekeeper” at most companies – to company presidents, CEOs, CIOs, staff accountants or human resources directors get overwhelmed by hundreds if not thousands of people trying to sell their products and services on a daily basis. They are also typically pretty hip to age-old tactics of “tricking” them into standing at attention.
Marketing Tricks that Don’t Work with Gatekeepers and Decision Makers Anymore:
Calling before or after the gatekeeper leaves in an attempt to get straight to the source.
Getting an e-mail address and sending an e-mail directly.
Sending even a personalized fax.
Sending an easy-to-read postcard.
Sending a “personal and confidential” Fed-Ex package to the decision maker that cannot be legally opened by the gatekeeper.
Two Marketing Tips that Most Often Work with Gatekeepers and Decision Makers:
Insisting on a “No Cold Calls” Policy. Cold calls are very difficult, and even more ineffectual than ever before in the Digital Age, with so many different ways to communicate and market. The likely result of most cold calls for small business owners selling their services is getting through to an administrative assistant or secretary who will take their number, but in the same breath express a lack of interest.
Why should they be interested when they don’t know you or trust you, and when they have likely received 50 other calls that month from your competitors, who are providing services they also do not need that they see as indistinguishable from yours? Those that insist on cold calling cannot take rejection personally; but they are better served by building relationships with the gatekeepers and decision makers directly before asking them to buy, or establishing relationships with those that have relationships with these people and can give very high-quality referrals and recommendations that will be less likely to be ignored.
Building a Real Professional Reputation and Real Relationships. People in power respond most to known quantities with proven track records. They also will more likely buy products and services from people that have made the effort of establishing personal relationships with them and have gotten to know their real business problems before trying to blindly sell solutions they may or may not need. The Number One way to grow a customer base is to become a “known quantity” in the community by getting out there. Small business owners will have great success identifying the gatekeepers and decision makers at their ideal prospective customers’ company sites, shaking hands with them, speaking at events they will attend and investing real time building a solid professional network.
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