They say “all’s fair in love and business”, which is another way of saying that nothing is. When entrepreneurs abandon the quotidian tedium of the daily grind and decide to monetize their skills and experience by going into business for themselves, it’s a bold move that deserves to be celebrated. Make no mistake, however, when you set up an SME in this day and age the deck is stacked heavily against you. Huge multinational titans of industry have the money, lobbying power and influence to shift market conditions in their favor resulting in very little opportunity for the humble small business to gain a foothold. In a globalized, corporatized marketplace, small businesses (and their owners) need every square inch of inside track they can get.
Despite your best intentions and your impeccable business plan, the path to fortune and success is thronging with people on all sides who are just waiting for an opportunity to trip you over (and we’re not even including big government or big business here).
From nightmare customers to unscrupulous and lazy members of staff, there are many people who (directly or indirectly, deliberately or inadvertently) represent serious obstacles to your small business success. Some you’ll be able to vault cleanly over, some will make you lose your footing and stray from your trajectory and some can derail your entire operation.
So, since your business (and therefore your livelihood) can be obliterated by these groups and individuals, it’s vitally important to identify them and understand how you can not only prevent them from doing serious damage to your business, but turn them into valuable assets.
Sorry folks but the biggest threat to your business, public enemy number one, is the person with the least harmful intent. There are numerous ways in which you can harm the effectiveness of your business but these are some of the worst offenders:
Damaging your own brand
In the breakneck speed of the ultra-competitive global marketplace branding is everything. It’s what allows some businesses to charge two or even three times as much as their competitors for the exact same products and yet ensure that customers still walk away happy. Yet, it’s astonishing how many perfectly competent business people inadvertently damage their own brand by;
- Being the face of the brand– Many people see the likes of Steve Jobs and think that they should be the face of their own brand, but this can ultimately be damaging if you walk away from the business or consumers just plain decide they don’t like your face. Your brand and your business should be bigger than you. By all means humanize your business, but consider instead an idealized mascot. There’s a reason that everyone knows Ronald McDonald but very few people know Ray Croc.
- Neglecting your digital marketing– Your digital marketing campaign and your online presence as a whole will be the first point of contact for legions of prospective customers (even if most of your trading is done through a brick and mortar store). Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of treating their social media presence, their blog or their website as a novelty but neglecting to maintain it can be disastrous for your reach. Maintaining your online presence is, or should be, a full-time job. If you can’t employ someone to address it then you should definitely consider outsourcing it. At an average return:investment ratio of 5:1, it’s one of the safest bets you’ll make.
- Ignoring those around you- No business operates in a vacuum and you run the risk of marginalizing yourself if you don’t maintain a healthy relationship with other businesses around you. Consider co-branding with other businesses, lending your skills to theirs and piggybacking on their reputation, popularity and customer base. Also, you should embrace key influencers. Gone are the days when you could only influence consumer opinion by forking out big bucks to slumming movie stars to promote your products and services. Nowadays You Tubers and bloggers are more useful (and cheaper) influencers. Providing them with free products to review will work wonders for your exposure
Abandoning (or not even knowing) your core values
Your branding is a microcosm of everything you do, it’s vitally important that it represents the core values and principles that underpin your business. Do your employees represent their core ideals in the way in which they interact with their customers? Do you? It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of day-to-day operations and take your eyes off the prize, but by doing this you run the risk of selling out your ideals and alienating loyal customers.
Oh, and if you’re at all unsure of what these are then you identify them as soon as you possibly can as they’re the basis of your business’ ethos and should be evident in everything from your website to your marketing materials to your everyday interactions with customers.
Unless you business deliberately amalgamates numerous disparate skill sets with a common goal, as you’ll see in the case of ABC Home and Commercial Services, it’s important to narrow down your specialism as much as you can. The trouble with being a jack of all trades is that you’ll find yourself the master of none. The more you’re able to specialize, the better you’ll get at what you do and the greater likelihood that you’ll find the right market.
2- Selfish, incompetent or lazy employees
While you should be stringent with your own business practices, those of your colleagues and employees are equally important. When establishing a brand it’s important to remember that everything they do is representative of your brand. A poorly designed website that customers struggle to navigate is your brand. An app that keeps crashing is your brand. Moreover, every negative interaction your employees have with customers is your brand. Keeping them on hold for too long, pushing them into a sale, not acknowledging their loyalty or forgetting to apologize to them for making a mistake or issues with a product can be disastrous to your business and result in brand detractors (more on them later).
Regular meetings, email shoots and rewarding achievements and good representations of your core values are great ways of ensuring that staff members remain an asset and not a liability.
Some employees, particularly sales professionals, have an entirely different (but equally damaging) problem. Their customer-facing interactions are exemplary, their appearance is impeccable and their performance is consistently excellent… But they’re selfish. They care only about themselves, hitting their targets and earning their commission. This may be great for them and the revenue stream that they bring in, but it can have a detrimental effect on the productivity of the team as a whole. Selfish employees are unlikely to share promising leads (even if they don’t intend to act on them) and may even actively try to impede each other’s progress. Fostering a collaborative sales team with bonuses for group targets and incentives for effective teamwork will motivate employees to achieve not only for themselves but the whole team.
3- Brand detractors
Brand detractors are poison for your business. The good news is that all businesses, even the big players and industry leaders (and especially your competitors) will encounter them. The digital age offers unparalleled transparency and more opportunities than ever to tarnish your reputation through Google reviews and social media. Every negative review, angry tweet and snarky Facebook post is one more reason for prospective customers to check out your competitors instead. While detractors can certainly wreak havoc for your business, they can be turned around if you get on it straight away.
The absolute worst thing you can do to a detractor is ignore them. Instead, reach out to them publicly, acknowledging and apologizing for their grievance (however spurious it may be). Follow this up with a plea for an opportunity to make it up to them. This is your opportunity to incentivize them to not only continue to patronize your business but possibly even become a brand advocate. A hefty discount off their next purchase or a free gift is a small price to pay to undo and even reverse the potential harm that brand detractors can wreak upon your business.
4- Unreliable vendors
Cash is liquidity and liquidity is the key to growth. A healthy cash flow can allow you to make purchases and investments that will result in healthy, organic growth for your business. Investing in a talented new member of staff, some equipment that will improve productivity and time management or a better located premises with greater footfall can be the move that takes your business to the next level. The last thing you’d want, then, is to tie up all your cash with unreliable vendors who take payment quickly enough but don’t make with the supplies when you need them. Dealing with unreliable vendors is easy enough… Just use someone else. Chances are they need you far more than you need them. Even if you only threaten to take your business elsewhere, they’ll likely adjust their behavior pretty quickly.
As the owner of an SME, you need every advantage available to you to compete in a callous and indifferent marketplace. By identifying and neutralizing these 4 threats you can give yourself the inside track and ensure your success.