I’m in a unique position where I straddle two very different business worlds.
On the one hand, I’m a small business owner myself, and my blog helps solopreneurs and small businesses thrive with do-it-yourself PR and marketing efforts.
On the other hand, my PR agency specializes in working with high growth technology companies. My team and I have worked with startups to billion dollar companies and in this arena, the mantra is often “go big or go home.”
For small businesses that’s not always the right mantra. We lack resources — time, money and people — to go really big, really fast and do it well.
Instead, we should focus on becoming the next “10-year overnight success” story… one that builds consistent value in small ways, brick by brick, person to person, tweet by tweet… a business that grows organically, sustainably and without losing the essence of why you started it in the first place.
As you plan for next year, why not make a conscious decision to redefine what success is going to look like for you? Part of that may involve “cleaning house” in order to build a business that honors your personal values or brings more work-life balance — but at the same time may actually increase your profitability.
Here are some ways “small can be the new big” for your business next year:
Work with fewer, but more ideal clients
In a small business, the early days often consist of a “feast or famine” cycle. Since you never know where your next meal may come from, you take what you can get. However at a certain point, you can either predict these cycles or your business has gained enough momentum that you never hit that famine cycle again.
At least once a year, look at your client list and assess which ones are really, truly your ideal clients, which ones are middle of the road, and which ones are simply never going to be the right fit. Whether you run a service or product business, what’s key is identifying your sweet spot of the perfect client. Until you’re clear on this, your marketing will often be hit or miss and referrals hard to come by. I’ve learned the hard way that marketing to everyone, is actually marketing to no one. Don’t make that same mistake.
Start small in order to enter the right market space
When you’re trying to gain that first ideal client, sometimes you don’t have the right experience, or the right credibility to sell a product into that market space. When I was re-establishing my agency after living abroad for a few years, we pursued a client where we provided three to four times the value of the paid engagement. However, I knew the payoff would mean an instant boost in credibility towards reaching our future ideal clients. That “loss leader” project actually referred us to another company where we increased our fees substantially and two years later, that project is still a case study we present that helps us win new business. You can bet that we are now well entrenched in a market space we knew nothing about just a short time ago.
Embrace the 80/20 rule for profitability
The 80/20 rule is the law of the vital few. In business, it translates to a general rule of thumb that 80% of your sales comes from just 20% of your customers. Do you know who those customers are? Would it be a better use of your resources to find ways to sell more to that smaller, more profitable 20% base than to keep looking for new business?
I recently looked at our numbers and this is shockingly accurate. When I took a mental check, I realized 80% of my headaches and problems were coming from the least profitable clients and the time spent looking for new business. This gave me additional perspective of how important it is to work with our sweet spot of clients.
Take small steps now to establish a process that will ease growth pains
Like many of you, I started my business doing everything myself. I still don’t have any employees, but I now work daily with a network of 10-12 contractors. Sometimes management and team check-ins take up a lot of my time and I realize how I could be more efficient by being more organized. For each quarter next year, I’ll be rolling in a new process like web-based timesheets and project management software. It will take some effort to get a dozen people up and running, but I know once the initial pain of onboarding is done, adding the next person will be much easier and more importantly, some of my time will be freed up.
Thinking of processes can also create additional revenue streams for you. For example, after taking a close look at all the templates, worksheets, tutorials and other materials we often take our PR agency clients through, I realized what an abundant well of valuable material we take for granted. One of our goals next year is to take these highly customized materials and make them usable as standalone “Lean PR Templates” smaller technology companies who can’t afford to work with us, can use and benefit from.
What about you?
I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies, which she's also using for her own bling flip flop company.
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