Let’s face it, starting any business is a gamble. You have an idea, and it starts to gain traction, you might be selling a product here and there outside of your regular job, or providing a service outside of university study time. You could be operating out of your bedroom, or your mums shed and realising it’s time to give your business a real push. You believe in it, but how do you take a small idea and turn it into a profitable small business without losing your savings?
Firstly, don’t believe all the mantras you read out there. Belief is not EVERYTHING. Take a look at the next series of Australian Idol for a healthy dose of reality. There are contestants on there that truly believe they have what it takes, yet sing like an alley cat! Yes, self-belief is terribly important in business, but only when you have the cold hard facts to prove that your product or service is actually something people want.
This doesn’t mean shouting your pitch at everyone! But it means that you need to fully understand certain aspects of your business and be able to communicate them consistently to everyone from potential clients to networking breakfasts and meetings.
For example; you might have an idea for a toy that you think will be the next Pokemon. You have your branding on point, the characters are super cute, and a whole shipping container of toys is on its way. But, you haven’t done any research on the buying habits of kids, and you’ve missed the boat. Pokemon and anything like it just isn’t cool anymore. You’re now stuck with trying to sell a container full of ‘uncool’ toys to people who don’t want to buy..
When it comes to networking, the first thing most of us feel is utter dread. Thoughts of lurking awkwardly near the table of drinks clutching a bunch of business cards is not the way most of us want to spend a weekday brunch or evening! However, if you're going to get your product or service out there, finding the right people to talk to and a captive audience has great benefits. A great tip is to have an ‘elevator pitch’. This is a one sentence, well-practiced pitch which succinctly communicates what your company does and how your product and service is useful or different to others. Once you have this down pat you can use this phrase to explain clearly to anyone you meet without worrying about fumbling or nerves. It becomes a great tool to use, especially if you suddenly get the chance to be in an elevator with an important investor or buyer!
Social Media can be a money pit if you don’t understand it, and you don’t need to spend much, or anything in-fact if you do your research and do it right. Join Facebook groups which offer tips to small businesses in your industry and those which offer social media tips and tricks. Facebook is always changing the way its algorithms work for business pages in particular, and one technical change can have followers move away from a platform in droves (we’re looking at you Snapchat!). So, it pays to have at least a broad idea of how each platform works and be across any changes. You don’t want to be grafting away useful publishing posts, or an amazing sale if your followers and customers never get to even see them in their timeline.
Joining groups relevant to your industry or area aren’t just a good idea for garnering information and tips. You can also call on them for advice and share your new business and offers with them too. For example; If you’ve opened a cupcake shop on the Northern Beaches. Join the Northern Beaches Mum’s or locals group, and approach them to offer a special discount for members who like and share your page. This will get you a few likes and shares along with a sale or two, for free!
Bloggers and influencers can also be very valuable tools. There are different ways you can use bloggers and influencers, and it’s a great way to get your product or service shared by those who already have a substantial following and know what works when it comes to social media. Bloggers and Instagram influencers with a smaller following are more likely to promote your brand or product if they receive it for free in exchange for a review. The more popular influencers are likely to charge, however, if you find one that hits 50,000 of your exact demographic, it might be worth using some of your marketing budget.
When approaching bloggers and influencers, sending a cold, template email just won’t work. They get hundreds of requests a week, and they need to know that you’ve taken time to look at their feed. Always find out their name, make a comment about a post you particularly liked and tell them why you have chosen to approach them. Be polite and never EVER expect a blogger to accept your request just because you asked. You are not entitled to free publicity, but you can do your best to make a great pitch to get yourself out there!
Your business may be small, but if you want it to grow, you need to have consistent branding. A brand is what draws in a customer, reminds them of who you are and brings them back time and time again. Take the time to come up with a logo which conveys your business and it’s values. Use your logo to determine then what your colour scheme will be for your website. A common mistake with small businesses is that they get a little too excited and create websites full of bright colours and mixed fonts. Doing this becomes very difficult to read and customers will very quickly click away from your website if they don’t understand what the business and offer is in less than 30 seconds! Keep your website clean, no more than two colours and a clean font (no comic sans or cursive writing!). Think carefully about a tagline too and call on your elevator pitch to find the words you need.
When launching a new business promotional items and business cards are always politely accepted, but 8 out of 10 business cards end up straight in the bin. Think about your own experiences of being handed business cards at exhibitions and train stations. How many have you kept? If you want your business details to stay with new customers, you need to keep your details out of the bin! Look for a quality; low print run promotional item that your customers will keep and use to give you the best chance of a callback or order.
That may sound strange, especially as small business don’t have much free cash floating about, but it is a great way to raise your profile and gain some traction. Offer a free gift for first-time customers, and those that return for a second purchase to reward their loyalty. Host a competition on Facebook or Instagram in exchange for likes, shares and ideas about what your customers want. For example: If you’re a web designer, offer a free 5-page website redesign to a lucky customer who likes, shares your page, and tells you their funniest new business start-up story. This will encourage comments, shares, likes and you’ll collect a few people who are looking for web design services. You can pick the winner, yet follow up and offer the other entrants a discount package offer.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to get some great free marketing for your new business. They key is to be clear on what you are offering, to understand your customers and what they want, and be able to communicate that you can fulfil that need in a clear, concise way. Once you have these strong foundations, you have a much stronger chance of success as your business grows!