Launching a startup can be exciting, nerve-wracking, exhausting and, if it all pans out, extremely rewarding. But what do you do when the dust settles and your business is practically running on autopilot?
Take back the controls.
No matter how well established and rock-solid, no business is unassailable. Predictable revenues, healthy profit margins and superior offerings won't keep the competition and new upstarts from nipping at your heels. Stand still long enough and they'll overtake you.
Gene Marks, a New York Times columnist and the author of In God We Trust, Everyone Else Pays Cash, is an expert in helping business owners take stock of their companies and adapt to changing markets. While writing advice books and running the Marks Group PC, a sales and marketing technologies services company, he has discovered a few secrets that successful entrepreneurs use to inject their established companies with new energy and purpose, and ultimately take their businesses to new heights.
How to Reinvigorate Your Business
Here are some of Gene Marks' tips to shaking off the cobwebs and giving your organization the nudge it needs.
1. Offer free stuff
Put simply, "everybody loves free," says Marks.
Handing out complimentary items, services and experiences isn't just a nice gesture, it builds customer loyalty. Best of all, it doesn't have to break the bank. Freebies, he adds, can be an "inexpensive way for people to fall in love" with your business.
Get creative with your gifts and think beyond pens and knickknacks. One successful business owner uses his timeshare investments, according to Marks. For a couple hundred dollars a year, he gives clients free stays during their travels.
Now, that's a perk that's hard to forget.
2. Appeal to mobile consumers
Most small businesses lag in the mobile Web department, says Marks. Sure, they're snapping up iPads and conducting more business on smartphones, but their zeal for mobile devices typically ends when it comes to engaging with their customers.
A mobile- and touch-optimized website is a must-have, according to Marks. Smart and forward-thinking SMBs are already capitalizing on the mobile device boom and the surge in mobile traffic.
If you've suffered the frustration of trying to complete a transaction on a website built for a desktop browser on your smartphone, you wouldn't wish it on your own customers. As consumers increasingly ditch their PCs for tablets and smartphones, you can't afford to alienate them.
3. Seek offline communities
Social media and online communities are great ways of establishing connections, but Marks suggests that business owners step away from the keyboard, pocket the smartphone and learn to press the flesh.
In his experience, most successful professionals and shop owners belong to business groups that meet in person on a regular basis. Typically during these get-togethers, people forge (and re-forge) relationships, conversations yield the unvarnished state of the market, and ideas flow with greater ease.
Sometimes, your offline community can consist of you and a paid professional.
Marks recounts the story of the head of a company who frequents a psychologist; not to treat a mental disorder, but rather to gain fresh perspectives from someone who is not invested in the business. This executive has discovered the "value in paying someone by the hour" to use as a sounding board and get honest, no-holds-barred feedback, which in turn he uses to inform the way he runs his company.
4. Audit away
When things are running smoothly, business owners are reluctant to rock the boat. It turns out that the best time for introspection, and a course correction if necessary, is when the waters are smooth.
Successful businesses engage with outside accounting and technology consultants on occasion to get a realistic measure of how they shape up, says Marks. It doesn't necessarily mean that they upend their business processes and rip-and-replace their technology, but it can alert an organization to some not-so-obvious weaknesses.
Use the opportunity to get some free advice—on the stipulation that you may employ them down the road— and evaluate whether you're behind the curve or not using your resources to their full potential. As an added bonus, extending feelers to outside firms "keeps current service providers on their toes," says Marks.
A common problem among small businesses is that they not only fail to maximize their investments in talent, infrastructure and technology, but they "underuse [them] by a lot," says Marks. Bringing in a fresh pair of eyes can help you find your weak spots.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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