The digital revolution has been a tremendous boon for small business. For decades, intelligent and creatively minded people with fantastic business ideas have had no choice but to keep their ideas to themselves. Why? Because they simply couldn’t raise the necessary capital to bring their idea to life. The cost of premises paired with the inevitable overhead running costs and the extraordinary cost of marketing the business represented a risk that was simply too great. So these dynamic and imaginative men and women went back to their day jobs, leaving the world poorer for lack of their unique business idea.
Today, however, matters are entirely different. The digital era has empowered many people from all sorts of background to bring their ideas to life solely in the digital realm. Free of the crippling overheads that have traditionally plagued nascent businesses, these digitally savvy entrepreneurs found themselves able to sell their wares using e-commerce platforms and market themselves for free on social media.
The way we use the internet has gone some way to democratizing small business. The digital realm is a completely level playing field upon which all players have equal opportunity to find their fortune. But with this proliferation of opportunity has come a glut of competition. As we propel ourselves headlong into 2020 entrepreneurs know that the secret to success lies in staying one step ahead of the competition.
We’re lucky enough to live in an age where small, independently run businesses can stand shoulder to shoulder with multinational corporate titans like a digital David and Goliath. But while this may be a level playing field, it’s also a fast-paced and unforgiving landscape in which not everybody fights clean. If you’re to find success in small business you have to stand out from the competition. Here are some ways in which we can do just that…
1. Build a brand that resonates with people
Most entrepreneurs in the 21st century understand the importance of branding. However, many understand it in only the most superficial of ways. While hiring a graphic designer to come up with a cool logo is a great first step, it can’t be what your entire brand hinges upon. Starbucks didn’t become a powerhouse in the coffee shop game because people really like mermaids. Your brand should encapsulate your mission statement. It should make a promise to the customer.
It should tell them that they should expect a certain standard of product and service and if you can deliver on that promise consistently, you will earn their loyalty. Anyone who’s seen The Founder will know that the McDonald brothers built their reputation on consistency. They engineered their whole cooking and ordering process for speed, simplicity and above all consistency. Their entire process was dedicated to making each hamburger identical to the one that preceded it. When they tried to franchise their business at first, they failed because the franchise owners deviated from their formula.
Your business may or may not make hamburgers or lattes but it’s worth looking at what makes people walk past perfectly food coffee shops and burger joints to get to these multinational service industry giants. Think long and hard about what you want your brand to mean to people and what sort of impression you want each and every customer to walk away from your business with, and plan your operations accordingly.
2. Keep it green
It’s taken some time but thanks to the efforts of environmental activism and awareness groups as well as documentaries like Cowspiracy and An Inconvenient Truth, people are finally waking up to a simple but important notion… That the decisions they make as consumers can have a huge impact on the planet we live on. While you don’t need to build your entire brand around it, it certainly behoves you to incorporate an understanding of sustainability and environmental stewardship into your daily operations.
Again, McDonalds are an excellent example of this. They have set themselves a target of being zero waste by 2020, their packaging is almost 100% recyclable and their delivery trucks are powered by biodiesel made from their old cooking oil. Take a good long look at your business and try to find some ways in which you can tweak your operations to make them more sustainable, even if it’s just cutting down on paper use and disposing of your e-waste responsibly.
There was a time when a green approach to business was regarded as a novelty. Today, your clientele will likely regard it as a necessity. Not only does keeping your operation green carry significant PR value, it also helps to keep your workforce motivated and engaged. Let’s face it, everybody wants to go to work feeling like they’re one of the good guys. Keep an open dialog and encourage suggestions from your employees on what they can do to make your business greener.
3. Maintain an agile approach to tech
There’s comfort in the familiar. Plus, let’s face it, nobody likes grappling with new tech at work. Nonetheless, an agile approach to your software and hardware could be what send your productivity and sales volume through the roof, dwarfing the competition and leaving them in the dust of your progress. When starting out, many businesses use “off the rack” software for their needs but as your enterprise scales up this may become an increasingly inefficient solution.
Instead, use a developer like Svitla Systems – software development company to create a piece of custom-made software that’s specific to your business. Not only can this make your operations more efficient, you can build it with an intuitive interface that’s similar to what employees are already using, meaning that they require minimal time and training to get used to it.
4. Embrace content marketing
There’s no better way to give your business a voice than by embracing content marketing. Updating your online presence with regular blog posts, videos and podcasts not only gives your business a sense of personality (and a great little organic SEO post to boot!) but it also gives your customer base something that no other business can offer them… You!
Entrepreneurs tend to be a hard-working but self-deprecating lot. They often underestimate just how much value there is in their own knowledge, insight, and experiences. Moreover, writing guest posts for business blogs, speaking at events or functions and being interviewed on business YouTube channels and podcasts are fantastic ways of growing your brand and introducing your business to new audiences.
5. Invest in your workforce
As passionate as you may be about your brand and your business, you can’t facilitate every single customer transaction yourself. That’s why it’s vital that your business is staffed with those top tier employees who will grow your business from strength to strength and blow your competition out of the water.
Your employees are the ambassadors of your brand, embodying its values in every outward facing aspect of their daily duties. As such, it’s necessary not just to weed out the top tier candidates at the interview stage, but to ensure that they are developed and well motivated. Everyone you employ should be trained adequately in order to do their job to the best of their ability but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Each employee should also have an individualized Continuing Professional Development program to enable them to grow within their career. Imbue your workforce with the skills they need to thrive and progress, while making sure that they feel empowered and valued and you’ll retain their loyalty. Take them for granted, however, and they’ll leap into the open arms of your competitors, giving them the edge that you squandered.
Keep your efforts focused on these key factors and your competition won’t know what hit ‘em!