While many economic indicators have pointed to the economy’s recovery, small businesses are still feeling the pinch. According to a May 2013 survey from email marketing company Constant Contact, 59 percent of small businesses say running their business is harder today than it was five years ago. Plus more than half say the bad economy is the main reason for their troubles, followed by changing technologies and an increase in direct competition. However those businesses do think things are turning around and expect an increase in revenues.
Meanwhile, a small portion of businesses have found ways to succeed despite the tough times. Twelve percent of businesses say their profits have increased in the last five years. They credit their success with more affordable and effective marketing tools via the Internet, and growing support for local businesses.
“Supporting local is a growing consumer trend,” said Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact. “The national discussion about the importance of small business to our economic recovery has raised awareness, as have shop local movements like Small Business Saturday. Local and mobile search is also making it easier for small businesses to reach consumers. When a local restaurant can have its menu, along with that day’s specials, readily available to restaurant seekers browsing their smart phone for a good dinner spot nearby, it’s easy for customers to choose them.”
Based on Constant Contact’s study and tips from the U.S. Small Business Administration, here are four ways to grow your business in the coming years.
- Remember that people are your greatest resource. Successful companies regularly say it’s their people that make them stand out in the marketplace. Your employees are the ones face-to-face with customers, delivering services and generating new ideas. This is doubly true for small businesses. When there are fewer people working, each person carries greater responsibilities. Be sure to have a strategy in place to hire the right candidate for each job. Implement retention and appreciation policies to keep your staff happy. Always be on the lookout for new talent or labor markets. Consider untapped/overlooked labor markets such as stay-at-home moms, retirees or exiting military personnel.
- Exploit/explore digital marketing opportunities. The use of social media, email marketing and other digital methods was a major factor in whether businesses grew and were successful in the last five years, according to CC’s survey. The benefits of these tools are they are largely free, and can quickly carry multiple marketing messages to drive business, promote special offers or generate referrals. If you are new to social media- focus on one to two outlets and be consistent and creative. Also don’t be shy to ask happy customers for referrals on business review websites such as Yelp.com, Kudzu.com or Google’s business directory.
- Stay current on the latest trends. The use of social media has exploded in the last five years. The amount of small businesses using social media for marketing jumped from 5 percent in 2008 to 87 percent in 2013. The trajectory of Facebook is equally astonishing. The website, which became widely available in 2006, was ranked the most visited website after Google by Nielsen Media Research in 2011. Looking at those numbers you have to ask, what will be the hot marketing vehicle five years from now? Many say mobile marketing is the next trend. Regardless, small business must stay up to date on the best methods to connect with your customers and make new ones.
- Network with related businesses. A great way to gain new customers with little marketing costs is to find businesses that compliment your services and share customers. Many doctors do this well, working in office parks where they can recommend nearby practitioners in other specialties. They all benefit. This concept can also work with businesses that are solely online, or mostly online. Find businesses that couple well with your service or product and exchange advertising on each others’ websites. You will help your customers and local businesses at the same time.
Coming soon from Chart Your Course: Building Your Business Bootcamp