10 Essential Activities to Grow SME Business

26.02.2013
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This is a pivotal year for small businesses and focus is essential. Below are our top 10 tips for owners and directors of SME’s to help them grow their business in the coming year.

Make a Plan 
They say if you fail to plan you will plan to fail and that’s so true. I love the scene in Alice in Wonderland when Alice asks for directions. Does this feel familiar for your business?

Alice: I was just wondering if you could help me find my way.

Cheshire Cat: Well that depends on where you want to get to.

Alice: Oh, it really doesn’t matter, as long as…

Cheshire Cat: Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go.
Communicate your Plan
There’s no point in having a plan if no-one knows about it or looks at it. How can a team work towards a goal if they don’t know what or where it is? I once went into a company and asked for their marketing plan. I was advised to give them a day or two and they should be able to find it for me! Need I say more? In another company, our MD gathered the whole company round once a month and told everyone how we were doing against the plan. 
Monitor your Progress Regularly 
If a ship goes off course and has a navigation device to find its way, it can steer towards its goal. But if the Captain isn’t checking whether it is on course, odds are that it won’t end up where the passengers expect to disembark. Hence, someone needs to take charge and be responsible for monitoring progress towards the plan. That doesn’t have to be the MD or owner. They may be the sales drivers or the ones with the vision but less into the detail. As long as someone takes ownership, you should move forward. 
Remain Flexible
What’s the point of being rigid? Flexibility is an asset. That doesn’t mean throwing baby out with the bathwater. But it does mean that you have to accept that stuff happens and things change. Take a look at companies like HMV, Woolworth and Blockbuster to name but a few. They focused perhaps too rigidly on their traditional model of retailing. However, the way people buy music, books and videos has changed markedly with iTunes, Kindles and Netflix. It is important therefore to watch what’s going on in your market and adapt your plan if things change. 
Identify  your Target Audience
I mentioned above that things change. Equally, if you’re in a marketplace that is burgeoning that’s great. It’s important to focus your efforts in terms of time, people resources and money. As a small business, you probably can’t be a master of all trades so you need to decide where to focus your energies. If the market is strong and growing and you have a competitive advantage then develop your presence and marketing in that area. However, if your market assessment shows that the market is small and shrinking, you probably have to diversify.

What do you know about your target market? What is their customer profile (age, job role, location, sector, specific challenge, and size of business)? The more you know, the more you can tailor your marketing and the more effective you can be.

Observe and Follow your Target Market
I don’t necessarily mean literally but it could be that an industry event is just the place to engage with all of the key buyers in your sector. However, I really mean an understanding of where your buyers consume 4 main things namely information, education, communication and entertainment. These four are the principle things that we all absorb. It’s particularly true online if you think about why you go online. We look at emails. We watch videos to learn stuff or for fun. We tweet and Facebook each other and so on. If, through research, you can identify what your prospective customers’ value, you can consider what you can provide in each of the four areas.
I know it’s for a large company and may be smutty but the Lynx online commercial is a great example of fitting entertainment content to a brand proposition. Equally, SEOMOZ did a fantastic blog that I have shared on how to increase blog traffic that we are in the process of implementing.
Think about how your business is placed to satisfy your customers’ needs and challenges for the above and consider building your marketing and communication strategy around those needs. 
Activate and Integrate your Marketing
We live in a technological age. Whilst everything is at our fingertips and is more automated than ever before, it means that our choices are endless about where we place our focus and money. That means it’s more important than ever to really amplify the reach and value of your marketing.
When I blog, I make sure that I tweet and schedule a series of tweets for each of my tips. I post on LinkedIn and Google+ and I engage in discussions around the subject. I also send out emails to my contacts with links to the blog where they can find what they will hopefully feel is useful information. I provide share buttons so others can disseminate my content.
If we take the very simple example where you’re planning to advertise in an online trade magazine, consider what else you can do with that same audience. Perhaps you can write an advertorial and / or thought piece with links back to your blog or provide a free download if they sign up to your news. If you’re able to do so, provide some great editorial that the magazine might feature – all on the same topic that’s of interest to the reader.
The above is over-simplistic. However, it is important to kick start, step up and harness your efforts to make sure any activity you carry out reaches its key audience in the most appropriate way. It’s also essential that you engage with your audience in different ways that increase the visibility and credibility of your business.   
DIY or Outsource?  
We all are time poor. I mentioned earlier that we have a plethora of choices as to where we spend our marketing dollars and where we place our efforts. Small businesses don’t have unlimited funds, people or time. The previous points emphasised that we need to focus and integrate. Equally, we need to consider what skills we have personally, what we have in-house and what we need to outsource. For example, it may be that you have a great cold caller in house who is adept and generating new business. However, it may also be that you feel, having done your analysis, that a blog is essential but you don’t have the know-how to write good content. If you feel blogging is central to your marketing, then you need to outsource. The same can be said of any marketing or sales discipline. It’s of course wholly dependent on funds again but I’m hoping that by planning and focus (see above) that you will identify what needs to be done and who can do it. 
Deliver Great Customer Service and Retain your Customers 
No business development r marketing will be truly effective if your business operates like a sieve. The effort in generating new business is wasted to a large extent if you lose a customer for every one you gain. I grabbed these statistics off the eConsultancy blog. They speak for themselves.
Customer retention stats
  • Loyalty programs and rewards were the most popular factor (39%) in persuading customers to make repeat purchases, followed by strong after sales support (20%) and personalised offers after purchase (14%)
  • Attracting a new customer costs five times as much as keeping an existing one. (Lee Resources 2010)
  • Globally, the average value of a lost customer is $243.(KISSmetrics)
  • 71% of consumers have ended their relationship with a company due to poor customer service. (KISSMetrics)
  • The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 – 70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20% (Marketing Metrics)What can you do to delight your customers? How do you make sure that the revenue generated by new customers that come in isn’t mitigated by those dropping out at the bottom?
Provide Value

Allied to the point above regarding retention, it is imperative that customers feel that they are gaining value for money. There are so many alternatives that shopping around is easy. Value comes in many forms and ‘added value’ is an over-used term. However, the nub is that you add value by providing something beyond the basic product or service that the customer appreciates. If this value-add is strong enough, you will be able to:

  • Charge a higher price
  • Create a point of difference from the competition
  • Protect your business from competitors trying to steal customers by charging lower prices
  • Focus your business more closely on its target market segment
Conclusion
The Government is maybe not doing enough to help small businesses albeit it’s worth taking a look at the GrowthAccelerator which can provide some quite generous funding for coaching and training. 
Every business needs to really focus on the things that make a difference. In recession, a lot of businesses cut back or pared down their activities. Now should be the time to plan for growth.

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