We’re in a pretty unique business environment at the moment. The economy is growing at around 2.5% which is strong for any developed economy and certainly positive compared to many others. We have very low inflation. Prices are under control. The FTSE 100 has just hit record levels delivering good returns for bigger businesses and allowing them to feel more confident about investment. Employment is high and optimism is strong ahead of the election. Of course, it could all fall over based on any number of factors. However, the outlook is more positive now than at any time over the past 6 or more years.
Whilst these factors won’t last forever, now is the time for small businesses to press ahead and lay claim to the market share they deserve. The recession has spawned all manner of new small businesses. According to details from the Federation of Small Businesses, SMEs are the engine room of the economy, employing more than half of all private sector workers and contributing 50% of UK GDP.
Many new businesses have been formed during recession as a consequence of redundancy or through disillusionment with corporate life. Typically, many of these small to medium sized companies service larger businesses and that’s how the food chain operates.
Now that those bigger blue-chip organisations have begun to re-invest, they are starting to buy products and services and look to provide new solutions for their customers. That situation presents an opportunity for small businesses. Are you taking advantage?
There’s no doubt that there has been an upturn in fortunes. In our business, we’ve seen a significant increase in enquiries and we are putting more effort into our own lead generation. We are also recruiting to support expansion. That’s not to say we’re doing this with total disregard for profitability or without an eye on economic indicators. No business owner should forget the past few years and every small business proprietor must show some degree of prudence to avoid over extending. However, if now isn’t the time to push ahead, when will it be the right time?
What does that mean in practice for small business owners? It means a number of things if they want to accelerate lead generation.
- Make a Plan – You need to plan for growth. And, identify how that growth will be achieved. What’s needed to drive lead generation and generate new opportunities in your company? What infrastructure do you need? Who can help you with your plan?
- Identify Target Sectors – If you fire indiscriminately, it’s unlikely that you’ll hit the target. So, spend time researching and focusing on your likely target audience and you won’t be sorry you did. It will improve your hit rates and cut down wastage in terms of time and cost. The tighter you refine the markets at which you aim, the more you can tailor all of your communication to fit their needs.
- Work out a Reasonable Budget – Often it’s tempting to go for the short term and forget that growth isn’t a quick fix or a short term objective. If you have key targets, they may not be ready to trade with you right now. What can you do to ensure you keep in front of them and keep on their radar for the time when they are ready? Don’t suffocate opportunity by taking a short term view. Be consistent with your efforts. That doesn’t mean carry on regardless of results but set reasonable expectations in terms of the speed of change and growth and stick with it.
- Evaluate Marketing Options – there are so many ways to reach your target market and so many ways to spend your marketing dollars both using outbound and inbound techniques. Do you understand all of the options and how they work? Don’t jump at the first thing. Maybe an ad in the trade magazine or a trade show stand is the answer. But it might not be right. Research the various options based on your target market and understand the costs. Test where possible and, if you have sufficient budget, try a number of methods. For example, you might test email marketing and use telemarketing to follow up opens and click throughs. You could also run a PPC campaign and set up landing pages. LinkedIn can’t be ignored nowadays for lead generation. Equally, make sure that your website and social media platforms are content rich so that visitors view you and your business as credible.
- Focus on New Business – This seems like a rehash of what I was saying earlier. It is in part but it’s more than that. In small businesses, there can be no passengers. Therefore, identify roles for marketing and sales and ensure that everyone has some role to play in generating growth. Maybe that’s doing some cold calls or warm calls to current customers. Perhaps it’s blog writing or even the admin side of social media to ensure that content is distributed. Perhaps it’s responsibility for an event or for marketing in general. Someone needs to be following up sales leads on an ongoing basis and that means call-backs that could be from some time in the past. Things change and contracts end and new business is definitely a process.
- Identify what Makes you Different – Nowadays, it’s hard to stand out. There are so many providers competing for the same business and offering broadly the same things. What do you do that’s different? Is it something in the product or service itself? Is it your approach or process? Do you drive down cost or dramatically improve productivity? Is it your people? And, does your online presence (website, LinkedIn, other social media) portray you as a business that must figure on the shortlist? Whatever the point of differentiation is, you need to identify this against your direct competition and make sure it’s clear on all points of communication.
There are no guarantees of success and there will be casualties even in periods of fast growth. However, if you are clear about your goals, focused on your target market and apply your resources to lead generation, you will be better placed to benefit from the trickle-down effect that comes from big companies loosening the purse strings.