It doesn’t matter if you're a one-person operation or 1,000-employee company. Ongoing improvement is necessary if you want to survive. After all, if you’re static, you can be certain that your customers will move on to competitors who are meeting their evolving tastes and needs.
Since every business has a weakness to improve, there isn’t a one-size fits-all approach. However, these are 13 vital improvements that you should definitely get working on.
1. Tap into the power of market research
If you’ve already launched a business, then you’ve hopefully conducted market research before you began operating. After all, market research is used to determine which products or services will turn a profit. It also lets you know if you’re meeting the needs of your customers.
- Improve your branding by spreading brand awareness to a new audience. It can also help determine the traits and characteristics that define your brand, as well as what separates you from competitors.
- Better understand the profile of your target audience. Doing so allows you to develop focused brand positioning.
- Measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
- Identify new market opportunities.
- Gain insights into new products/services or improving existing ones. This way you aren’t committing to expensive production costs.
2. Take a step outside your comfort zone
If your business has become stagnant, and you don’t believe it’s reached its full potential, then it may be time to step outside of your comfort zone. I understand that can be nerve-racking. I mean, you built your business into a well-oiled machine so that it runs smoothly.
The problem is that when we get complacent, we don’t move forward and grow with changing trends or customer tastes. In other words, what worked five or 10 years ago may not work today. Would you honestly start a VCR repair shop in the digital age?
Again, using market research you may be able to discover a new opportunity, such as expanding your business into a new country. So go ahead and take a risk...again. As John A. Shedd once wrote, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
3. Keep your customers happy
If you want your business to thrive, then you need to have outstanding customer service. In fact, as mentioned by the team over at Salesforce, “Customer service is routinely rated by business leaders as being the most important factor in business success.”
When you go above and beyond for your customers, you’ll keep them happy. And when they’re happy they’ll become lifelong customers who refer your business to others. So, how exactly can you keep your customers happy? Here’s a couple of pointers to get started:
- Give your team the right tools and resources to handle any customer service inquiries.
- Train your team to take personal accountability so they’re not transferring customers to various departments.
- Spend the money to improve your customer service.
- Make sure you and your team are friendly and courteous.
- Use social media and automation to respond and listen to customer feedback.
- Focus on natural and genuine interactions.
- Be empathetic to your customers.
- Give back to the community.
- Launch a rewards program for your most loyal customers.
- Make it easy for them to contact you.
4. Keep score and set goals
This may sound obvious, but there are plenty of small-business owners who don’t accurately track their daily, weekly and monthly numbers and financial trends. In other words, they’re not up to speed with their cash flow. That’s a huge problem if you’re spending more money then you’re bringing in.
If you don’t possess the financial skills, or just don’t have the time, then you need to hire an accountant ASAP. Keep in mind that you should still ask them to keep you in the loop so that you’re not oblivious to your finances. Just like keeping score, you should also constantly be setting goals and objectives. Once you’ve set goals, you can use them to guide you in all business decisions moving forward.
5. Drive employee engagement
Motivating your employees is vital for any business. When you have a motivated team, you’ll be able to reach your business goals. More importantly, when your team is motivated, they’ll be your biggest supporters and advocates.
But how can you motivate your employees? Start by showing that your business has a purpose and is improving the lives of others. Whenever my business receives positive feedback, I share it with my team. Believe it or not, it means more to them to see customers telling them that they’ve done a good job than it does for me to.
You also have to trust your employees instead of treating them like children. For my business, we do everything remotely. This means my team can work whenever and wherever they like. That’s putting a lot of trust in them. But having this autonomous culture has made for a happy and productive staff.
Finally, when an employee does an excellent job, give them props. Positive reinforcement is just as just as effective as increased pay but without diminishing returns.
6. Learn a new skill
You should be trying to learn something new every day. When you do, you grow as an individual, boost your self-esteem and learn how to resolve problems faster. Learning something new can also introduce you to new people and opportunities.
For business owners, however, there are some additional perks. Let’s say you learn how to code. You can use that knowledge to build your website or repair it when it crashes. That’s going to save you both time and money, since you don’t have to hire someone to do that for you.
Besides coding, you could take marketing, leadership, public speaking or bookkeeping classes either in person or online. You can also read a book, listen to a podcast or seek the advice of a mentor or business coach. At some point, you will use these skills to improve your business. It’s better to get started now than waiting until it’s too late.
7. Embrace high-impact marketing
Although my dad didn’t coin the phrase, I remember him telling me throughout my childhood that “you have to spend money to make money.” Of course, that’s easier said than done when revenue is scarce and you’re on a tight budget. Thankfully, there are ways for you to have high-impact marketing with a low budget.
- Reach out to existing customers. Either offer them an incentive like a coupon or discount, or launch a referral program.
- Spend your money on targeted marketing. Focus your marketing efforts on gender, age, geographic location, industry, income level and lifestyle needs. This way you’ll reach the right person with the right message.
- Team up with another business. For example, if you sell pet products, then partner with a local veterinary office. This way your business is exposed to a new audience. You can also split marketing costs, like purchasing ads or co-hosting a webinar.
- Get involved with the community. Whether if it’s running a coat drive, sponsoring a Little League team or hosting a block party, this is a great way to spread brand awareness while improving camaraderie and morale among your team. Also, people tend to support businesses that give back.
8. SWOT your competition
SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It’s a powerful technique for understanding where you need to make improvements. However, have you thought about a SWOT analysis on your competitors? It’s a completely legit way for you to evaluate the competitive environment within your industry. Additionally, this will help you develop ways to deal with their strengths and capitalize on their weaknesses.
9. Keep up with trends
You may believe that your business won’t be affected by the events and changes occuring in the world. But the fact is that your business will feel these effects. Instead of living in a bubble, stay current with the trends issues happening in your industry and business.
10. Taking it to the cloud
If you haven’t done so yet, it’s time to move everything to the cloud. This includes CRM, project management, accounting and invoicing. Not only will you be saving a ton of time and money, cloud-based software can scale up as your business grows.
11. Automate administrative tasks
Another way you can save time and money is by automating administrative tasks. This can include:
- Sorting and responding to emails.
- Responding to customer inquiries.
- Collecting customer data.
- Scheduling appointments.
- Paying and sending bills.
- Creating proposals.
With this additional free time, you can focus on other areas that will improve your business. According to a survey from The Alternative Board, the average entrepreneur spends 68.1 percent of their time on day-to-day tasks and just 31.9 percent working on their business goals and strategy. This proportion has to change if you want your business to grow and become more successful.
12. Build up your cybersecurity
Did you know that around half of small businesses experience a cyber attack? Even scarier? Nearly half of small businesses that have experienced a cyber attack will go out of business within six months.
Simply put, cybersecurity should be a top priority for your business. And, believe it or not, it doesn’t take much to get started. First, train your employees in security best practices. This includes everything from using strong, complex passwords to setting up two-factor authentication to not opening up suspicious emails. Second, update all your devices (computers, tablets, smartphones) and software. Since you’re now on the cloud, that software should update automatically.
Finally, limit access to company computers and accounts, back up all relevant information and secure your WiFi so that only your team can access it.
13. Take a breather
“Many people feel you need to be a workaholic if you are going to be a success. That is not necessarily true,” writes Kayla Sloan in a previous Calendar post. “Of course, hard work often goes hand in hand with success and meeting our goals. But that doesn’t mean we need to kill ourselves doing it.”
Eventually, working constantly takes a toll on us. As a result, you get burned out and lose passion and your productivity decreases. However, if you take breaks your productivity, passion and motivation will increase because of the following reasons:
- Taking time away from work gives you a chance to slow down. When you return, you’re well-rested. This means you have the stamina to get more done in less time.
- Whether it’s a break during the day or going on a vacation, time away from work prevents burnout. This is because we use this time to disconnect and recharge.
- Time away also boosts creativity.
- When we return, we’re ready to learn something new or tackle various problems.
- Finally, stepping away from work reduces stress. This means you don’t get sick as often.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors