A business can sink in the time it takes to find balance, so it is important to do find this balance as quickly as possible. Checking off these five items and attending to them regularly will help increase your chances of success, get organized and stay balanced.
1. Write a Business Plan – And Check It Often
Contrary to popular belief, there is no reason for this to be a 50 page legal document full of stuffy language that would put even the most loyal of caffeine addicts to sleep. The business plan is for your own use to keep you focused, but it needs checked regularly to ensure the goals are still in sight. Something as simple as a one page document outlining what you are going to offer, who you are going to target, what you will charge, and what you are going to do to make it all happen will suffice. If you already own your own business and have not done this, do it now. You will be surprised at the kick start it will give you to get organized and get busy digging out from under the piles of chaos and move your business forward. If you write up your plan, and don’t attend to it for 6 months, you will be amazed at how ‘off course’ you are from the plan. Take advice from hundreds of experts who have already learned the hard way: Identify your core goals and strategies in a business plan, and keep them at the front of your operations to stay focused. Little details will always get in the way, and this plan exists to ensure the ‘little things’ don’t derail your plans for profitability and growth.
Here are some great resources to help you write your business plan:
• U.S. Small Business Administration offers directions and tips for writing a business plan, as well a step by step template.
• Visit the Small Business Development Center at a local university. Not only will this give you access to free business development tools, but an opportunity to network as well. Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be lonely!
Procrastination is NOT a friend of small business, especially when it comes to the core goals involving strategy and growth. Being an entrepreneur means you have to be flexible and accepting of changes in course, but ignoring the ‘big stuff’ while chasing down small fish won’t lead to success.
2. Take a Long Hard Look at Pricing, and Manage Pricing Regularly
A quick and dirty tip for determining pricing is to work backwards. Figure out how much you need to make each year, and then divide that by 12 to get a monthly figure. Then consider a reasonable average or goal for how much you could sell per month, and charge enough per hour or product to cover that. It may be necessary to do some work pro bono or underpriced in certain situations to build a name for yourself and prove your product is worth what you are charging. With a little research, you are likely to discover a niche that is more in need of your specific product or talents, and this is a great place to focus.
It is also extremely important to not undervalue yourself. Poor pricing is a common critical downfall of the small business. If you do not charge enough, you will work your tail off and still starve, and if you charge too much you simply will not have any work. Finding a balance between getting what you deserve and being competitive may take some time, but it necessary for success. Again, flexibility is key, pricing your services and products to attract business, and then adjusting them to match your competitors as you gain a name for yourself. Do you exceed your competition in customer service or product/service quality? Charge accordingly, and make sure your customers/clients know why they are paying a little more. Most professionals don’t mind paying more for a service or product with superior quality if no one else is offering it at that level.
If you are already established and struggling, revisit pricing with these tips in mind, and do not forget to consider overhead costs and material costs where they apply. For more detailed information on how to set just the right price try these resources:
- eHow – Note #4: It’s OK to price yourself higher than the competition, provided you accurately and proactively communicate your value with your sales process. People WILL pay more, but they need to know WHY up front.
- Small Business Notes
If you see that you need to go up on your pricing, you are going to have to find a starting point. You can grandfather other customers who are your favorites, or you can lock in product pricing on the old model for a period of 6 months after the change. You will want to give them plenty of warning that the price increase is coming. Bottom line: If you aren’t paying your bills, you aren’t running a business, you have a hobby. Don’t spend too little time on pricing – revisit your profit margins, and review them often.
Delegation can take many forms; it’s an area that will be 100% customized to your business. How do you know when you need to delegate? When operations that are needed to run the business are continually falling behind, or if there is a task that leaves you drained and unfulfilled, something has to give. However, many small businesses don’t have the regular cash flow to take on an employee for all of the ‘busy work’ that gets in the way of running a business. Let’s look at some temporary alternatives to the employee route.
For example, if you are using an excel spreadsheet to keep up with your finances, and you are struggling to keep it updated, you may have outgrown it. Before you hire an accountant, consider trying new accounting software. There are several affordable and some even free accounting programs that basically run themselves. Of course you still have to stay on top of things, but with the ability to update date via a connection to your bank account, and report generation at the touch of a button, delegating accounting functions previously done manually to software that can do it for you could free up hours or even a whole day a week.
Outsourcing is a great way to delegate, especially when it comes to administrative and marketing tasks. There are a number of sites where you can hire virtual contractors that can handle many of these tasks for you very affordably. Sites such as Odesk, Elance, and vWorker can offer great human resources for handling tasks you may lack the time or expertise to handle on your own. The KEY to business delegation is to divide everything into one of two categories: Things only YOU can do as the owner, and things SOMEONE ELSE can do with the right training. Hint: The list of things only YOU can do should involve ‘money making activities’ such as sales, meeting customer expectations, etc. If there are not enough of you to go around, then perhaps it is time to bring on an associate or train someone to help you manage those duties.
4. Never Let Yourself Be Too Busy for Organization
Set up systems that are simple, workable, and flexible. Once you have them in place, it is easy to hire a virtual assistant or have an employee help out when you get bogged down in ‘business details’. The KEY to business organization is setting up a system that is easily accessible when necessary. Utilizing Cloud technology, web based project management web sites, webmail, and ‘online’ tools will take the pain out of delegating and keeping things organized.
5. Get Tech Savvy, or Hire Someone Who Is
Social Media & Blogging are outstanding tools to promote your brand or service. Managing Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others are incredibly time consuming. Once they get going, they can require hours of attention to manage relationships, posts, comments, and moderate. These tools can also be disastrous time wasters if not utilized efficiently. Instead of getting caught up on ‘being present’ in these places, get knowledgeable about creating BUSINESS through these mediums. Once you have a grasp on what will be profitable, delegate the tasks to ensure they get done. Social Media and Blogging are very trendy right now, but very few businesses are actually seeing returns on their investments because the strategy is all wrong.