Six proven strategies for small business success

There are over 500,000 small enterprises (less than 20 employees) in New Zealand. They make up the majority of businesses in NZ and are the backbone of our economy. Clearly, starting a small business is not a novel concept. With the right sanity checks in place it can be a great idea, especially if you can eventually grow your small enterprise into something larger and scaleable.

But getting going in a small business can be scary. It’s likely you’ll have big business competitors who can outspend every one of your marketing initiatives, making it essential to outsmart them with clever ideas.

On the other hand, it’s also possible that your business will be a supplier to big businesses that need to outsource for all kinds of services – computer coding, graphic design, content writing, project management, photography and a host of other essential tasks that keep large enterprise ticking over.

Whatever your business plan is, there are some time-proven strategies that will help to ensure your start-up is successful. Some of these are mind-sets; others are measurable actions that you simply can’t ignore. If you make all of them core pillars for your business, you’ll be firmly on the right path.

1. Obsessive passion

Having a burning desire to make your business prosper is the number one ingredient for entrepreneurial success. You need to be excited when an order comes in or a customer makes contact. And you need to be happy to work long hours and pull rabbits out of hats to ensure that every order or project that comes your way is executed to the best of your ability. If you have a passion for what you do and you do it well, rewards will eventually follow.

If you’re competing with big business for customers, your passion for your products or service could be the major point of difference that wins sales. A passionate business owner will always be more driven to ensure customer satisfaction than an employee. Small doesn’t have to mean unprofessional; it should mean committed, willing and accountable.

2. Dedication to service

As a small business owner, you have the opportunity to be closer to your customers. This is super-handy, because it allows you to understand what their idea of great service is and deliver on it. You could even map their expectations in something called a ‘customer journey’ – a map that shows how people interact with your business. By anticipating how a customer will feel and act at every step of the sales journey, you can make sure your business lives up to (or exceeds) their expectations. For your customers, it means gratification rather than aggravation or irritation.

3. Customer centricity

While it’s always tempting to think that your products or service are the heart of your business, the truth is different. Without customers your business is nothing, so they are what your business must revolve around.

To explain this a bit more, imagine you are a steel fabrication engineer who’s going it alone. You’ve got the gear and years of specialised experience. Now it’s time to fly. But when a friend at a barbecue asks what your business is about, you say “making things out of steel”, when the reality should be “solving my customers’ problems by making things out of steel”. Likewise, a dentistry business isn’t about filling and cleaning teeth, it’s about giving customers beautiful smiles with services that ensure teeth look good and don’t hurt.

An excellent exercise for building customer centricity in your small business is creating customer personas . Every customer group that’s important to you can be represented by a persona, which will have a name and a list of characteristics.

Business visionaries are always obsessed with their customers. Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO says, "If you're truly obsessed with your customers, it will cover a lot of your mistakes."

4. Quality, quality, quality

If ‘location, location, location’ is the catch cry of the property market, then ‘quality, quality, quality’ should be the motto that drives small business growth. Some start-ups assume that having a good idea is enough to guarantee success, but the idea will be useless if it isn’t backed up by product performance.

Whether you’re selling widgets or a knowledge-based service, whatever you produce must solve your customers’ problems or opportunities. You can learn more about how to build a successful product offering by looking at how the giants did it. We’re talking Microsoft, Apple and Amazon. On a local level, study how the A2 Milk Company, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and Ryman Healthcare claimed their positions in New Zealand’s business top 10.

The most successful entrepreneurs in the world begin by identifying a customer problem, then creating a brilliant solution for it. They know that products or services must add value to people’s lives and/or provide wonderful experiences.

5. Compelling web content

These days business success is won and lost with Google search. If you can create compelling written content for your website, carefully infused with all the right search words and phrases, you’re on the way to commercial happiness. Once you have an awesome website packed with convincing words, you need to keep adding content to feed the hungry Google monster.

While some entrepreneurs view the need to provide a steady stream of web content as a pain in the butt, others know it’s a chance to show off the knowledge and skills of your people. If you don’t have writing talent within your team, linking up with a freelance copywriter allows you to keep adding interesting and relevant content to your site, often within the context of a blog or white papers.

In today’s digitally-driven marketing world, quality content is oxygen. Without it your business will choke and splutter.

6. Clever ideas

It’s great to be passionate, customer-centric and obsessed with quality, but it’s just as important to strive for innovation in your sector. Some of the world’s best commercial initiatives and ideas have come from small businesses, so never feel that your ideas don’t count.

Ideas generally spring from your drive to improve aspects of your business or smooth the customer journey. Think of them as ‘OFIs’ (opportunities for improvement). If you have a decent-sized team, you can incentivise the identification of OFIs. Encourage your people to submit their thoughts about better ways to do things, then reward any of the ideas that will work. As famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “An idea is salvation by imagination.”

Bonus Tip

Ensure that your business is protected with the right business cover. Whether you’re starting a new venture or growing your business, AMI offers tailored insurance options to help keep your business flourishing.