August 4, 2010
By Adam Boyden
Successful small businesses are nimble – able to stay ahead of the pack no matter what is thrown at them. Thanks to their swift responses, they’ve remained at the top of their game, even through this recession. Below are some lessons you can learn from successful small companies that you can apply to your business and stay at the top of your game.
1. Loosen Your Purse Strings Wisely
Wary businesses may have hunkered down to ride out the storm, but with the economy turning around, now is the time to think about rebuilding. Proceed with care and caution. For instance, you might want to bring on interim freelancers to help your burgeoning business, without the immediate risk of a full-time hire. The good news is there are a lot of qualified people currently in the marketplace, which gives you ample opportunity to pick some of the best talent out there. Sensible choices now will put you in the position to afford full-time employees when the time comes.
2. Stake Out The Competition
It is easy to get lost in your own business, but you can’t afford to take your attention off your competition. Staying informed is a simple and smart business tactic that can help you stay ahead of your competition. There are straightforward tactics like reading trade magazines and setting up Google Alerts, but there is more you can do. Digg and Reddit let you subscribe to their RSS feeds-allowing you to stay on top of any news related to your competitors. And, for those harder to reach searches, try Copernic’s Tracker. For an extremely low price, Copernic Tracker automatically looks for new content on Web pages as often as you like.
3. Improve Customer Interactions
Considering how hard we work to acquire a customer, it’s frustrating how easy it is to lose one. A single negative experience or simply a better offer from a competitor may be all it takes. To learn how satisfied your customers are, monitor their conversations about you on online communities like Twitter, Facebook or Yelp. You can make adjustments on the fly to create an optimal user experience. Look at how Constant Contact uses its Twitter handle to keep a pulse on what is happening – and resolve issues as they arise. Or consider creating a browser app to keep your customers engaged.
Nurture your customer relationships by participating in a dialogue with them. For instance, make a resolution to reply to each customer inquiry within a set period of time (and share this promise with your customers). Create ways for customers to give you feedback, whether it is a form on your website or an informal exchange at the checkout counter.
4. Don’t Just Market;
Inform With today’s free or low cost-marketing tools, such as e-mail marketing, social networking and browser apps, it’s easier than ever to broadcast your message to your customer base. But don’t be in sales mode all the time; instead, use these tools to provide your customers with relevant information and educational content. Keep them engaged with information they need and can use; for example, in your outbound communications, include a button for your blog where you publish white papers, articles and how-to tips for your customers.
This type of content is more desirable than straight promotional marketing. Plus, your prospects and customers will begin to look to you as an expert resource, thereby strengthening your relationships. For instance, Dan Hollings, a marketing consultant, has a browser app called Twitten Secrets. He offers readers a rich repository of tips and advice, positioning himself as an invaluable resource for online marketing.