I am not a business strategist. I have no remarkable qualifications to be giving this advice except that I grew my revenue by 350% in one year. I’ve already earned, in six months, more than twice what I earned in all of year one. This is how I did it.
I’m sure it breaks all the rules of blogging to put the most basic content up front but if you’re a busy small business owner, like me, then you don’t always have time to read the details. So, for those of you who are too busy to read all of my words of wisdom, here’s the abridged version.
- Ensure there is a market for your product/service.
- Meet as many people as possible.
- Do right by your customers.
Ensure there is a market for your product/service.
This is pretty basic and I’m sure you already knew this but it’s so important. If you don’t have a product or service that people in your area need or want, then you’ll quickly find yourself frustrated trying to sell. Likewise, if your community is saturated with people or businesses who already provide that product or service, you may have a difficult time distinguishing your product from theirs. The best example of market saturation that I can think of is insurance agents and financial advisors. I can’t attend a function without running into at least one of them, often times meeting multiples of both! Nothing against either, as I use both to help me in my daily business but they’ve got a hard sell.
I’m an accountant. The tax preparation kind, yes, but I offer many other services that have nothing to do with tax. Tax preparation is an easy market to break into. Especially when all other tax preparation accountants in your area are either retiring, moving or (sadly) dying. I noticed a need in my community that I could fill and it just happens to be something that I love to do. Luck? Maybe. Keen observance? Probably.
Meet as many people as possible.
Networking groups are HUGE and I never knew until I started my own business. Networking groups can be a fantastic place to feel empowered and valued. They’re also an excellent way to get your name out in the community, especially among other business owners. I attended free networking groups. I went as a guest to pay-to-be-a-member networking groups. I’ve even paid to be a member of networking groups. The variety of networking spans the spectrum from structured to free-flowing. Until you experience several different types of groups, you’ll never know where you fit best and which will provide the most value. I just so happen to swing to the liberal side of the spectrum: the easy-going group has provided the most value to me (in relationships as well as referrals).
When I started my own local business, I became acutely aware of needs in my community that I couldn’t charge a fee for. There are people here that are trying to make others’ lives better and I felt like I had the time and resources to join that effort. I’m a member of my local rotary club and chamber of commerce. I have a weekly route with Meals on Wheels. I volunteer every other week with three other organizations in my community that provide food or clothing to the underprivileged. I don’t meet a lot of paying clients in these endeavors but I do meet many people I can help. In doing so, I’m gaining much more than money.
My basic tips when meeting people:
- Only hand out a business cards when asked.
- Say “good morning” or “hello” and smile to everyone you come in contact with. Everyone.
- Listen to what they have to say and ask questions.
- Don’t comment on or criticize their business or business practices.
- Exercise professionalism in all encounters, good or bad. (Contain your emotion.)
- Tell your story. People want to know how you got to where you are.
- Be yourself. It’s not worth putting on a front. You won’t be a fit with everyone you meet.
Do right by your customers.
I saved this one until last because it is the most important point. Your customers will talk to other people. They will talk about you to these other people. They will either have good or bad things to say about you. Does this mean you can never mess up? No. But when you do, communicate the error to your customer, apologize and make it right. I messed up in Year One. I’m not overly keen of discussing my faults but let’s just say I learned several difficult lessons and now I know better. Thankfully, I didn’t lose any clients. Probably because when I discovered my mistake, I owned them, communicated them to the affected client and immediately rectified the situation (often to the detriment of my bank account).
I had 30 tax clients for the 2013 filing season (Jan-Apr 2014). By the very next filing season, I had grown to 94 tax clients! My growth is attributed to my customers’ referrals. I had one client from Year One that brought me 4 new clients in Year Two. I had several clients do that, actually. My customers refer me because I treated them as they should be: like they’re the most important client I have. Just before my second busy season began (in January 2015), I mentioned to a colleague who has 20 years running his own firm that I expected to grow my tax client base by at least 50%. He gently suggested that I shouldn’t be surprised if I only grew by 20%. Imagine his surprise when I came back to him after tax season and told him I grew by 200%. The shocked look on his face and stammering that ensued as he tried to take back what he’d said were the only confirmations of my success I needed.
It is my sincere hope that all small business owners will do what it takes for them to succeed on their own. Whether that means following my recipe or making up your own. That’s what being a small business is all about: find what you love and make it your own. Best of luck!