Will focusing on a niche really help me get customers?
Do I need to hire people to grow my business?
How can I go mobile?
These are questions that entrepreneur, author and USA Today columnist Rhonda Abrams gets asked regularly by folks just like us. Rhonda is passionate about creating successful small businesses and is a frequent presenter at QuickBooks Connect events. We asked her to share with us five tips for tackling these questions. We loved her ideas and think you will too.
Whether you're self-employed and ready to take your work to the next level or launching a new business, read on for Rhonda’s perspective – including action items you can add to your to-do list today.
Let's let Rhonda take it away....
The biggest struggle I've noticed in most small business owners – especially those who are just starting out – is that they are trying to be all things to all people. Find a niche. Having a speciality is important, especially if you want to get big some day.
I know of two PR firms that started around the same time in New York last year, both helmed by seasoned pros. One firm specializes in representing esthetic wellness and beauty enhancing products. From the very beginning, they turned away clients that didn’t fit that specialty. Their company grew with Ferrari-like speed – within months they already had nine employees and they had to stop taking on new clients because they were growing so fast.
The other company decided to advertise themselves as generalists. They list ten different industries they serve on their website. Unfortunately, that means their potential customers don’t have a compelling reason to choose them over another PR agency. They've had a tough time growing their business.
The first company did so well so quickly because they identified a clear market and they hired people who had connections in the beauty and wellness industry. When a company came to them as a potential client, their expertise in that area was immediately apparent.
To go small to go big, identify a specific industry you want to target, understand the demographics (including the location) of your ideal customer and differentiate yourself from the pack.
It’s scary sometimes to specialize, but when I look at the #1 thing that enables small companies to grow, it’s having a specialty.
#3 might mean updating the copy on your your website to focus on *just* this niche or specialty or experimenting with a Facebook ad that targets just this audience.
So many entrepreneurs I know are overwhelmed by all of the the great ideas they have. Planning enables you to figure out how you define success. It gives you focus. Yes, plans *can* change. But the very act of planning has its own benefits.
The best way to plan is to set up a time for a planning session in your office. Sit down and write out a few goals for the rest of the year. Stick to 2-3 things you want to achieve, and make them quantifiable and specific.
Don’t forget to also estimate the resources that will be required for you to reach that goal. Will it take time? Money? Extra people? Set deadlines and be real about your expectations.
Set aside planning time on your calendar today and use it to write out your specific goals for the rest of the year.
Do you also need to make an overall business plan or schedule your annual business planning? Add a block of time to your calendar and tap a friend to help you out with accountability if you need it.
In my experience, small businesses are often too slow to hire. That’s actually what prompted me to write my book, Hire Your First Employee. It’s the hardest step in growing your business and it’s critical.
I've had the same head of operations with me for nine years and she is my right-hand person. She manages my contracts and all the other legal stuff, which frees me up to do what I do well. Even before I ever hired someone, I had a business buddy who was also a consultant. We worked on projects together and she was someone I could talk to about pricing. It’s like having your own advisory board.
Identify the skills you don't have. Then, ask yourself the following questions: what could my business look like if I had those skills? How much faster would I grow? What would I be willing to spend to achieve these goals I can't do alone?
You may decide that you want to hire someone, or perhaps it makes sense to explore having a "virtual" team member or assistant. For someone adamantly self-employed and who doesn't want employees, maybe there is a business swap with another self-employed professional here on a specific problem or item on your to-do list.
It is crucial for every business to be mobile. What does it mean to be mobile? It means you can access your business from anywhere: the car, a hike, on your vacation or even the gym.
If you're starting out right now, start in the cloud.
When you don't have to rely on on-premises software, you have so much more power, flexibility and capabilities with fewer headaches. You can run your business anywhere at anytime. It can dramatically increase your productivity.
In 2012, I moved everything to the cloud and it made everything so much easier. Once I was no longer tied to my office computer, I became much more productive and accomplished more with fewer people. In fact, this last year I shrunk my staff!
You can do the same thing. Here's a starting list of areas to consider when running a business in a mobile world:
Submit your business information to Google My Business, Yahoo Local, Yelp andBing Places for Business (or, if you're already listed on these sites, double check that your information and messaging is up-to-date).
Then, take inventory of the software or processes you're currently using to run your business. Look for ways you can move to solutions that will allow you to work from anywhere.
You *have* to market yourself. It sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how many people somehow think that customers will just find them. The saying, "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door" is applicable here!
Marketing is a huge part of your business and you have to approach it the same way you approach your products and services. You have to be diligent about it.
I recommend that marketing is something you do every day. I spend at least one hour each day on marketing my business. You also have to plan for it, and the key is repetition, repetition, repetition. Find ways to reach the same audience with multiple channels and every day work on refining your market, your message and your method.
Define (or refine) your core message and then pick small marketing experiments you want to run each day for a week.
Major marketing methods you can explore are social media, online advertising (like SEM or Search Engine Marketing), sending an email newsletter, networking/word-of-mouth and traditional channels like print advertising or producing collateral (flyers or business cards you can hand out).
Rhonda has shared some great, specific ideas for getting customers and bringing sanity to your business TODAY. What are *you* going to try from this list?
#4 - go mobile. I started my virtual assistant business for that exact reason! I wanted the freedom to be able to work from anywhere. When I was first starting my business, I made a list of all what I wanted from it (work/life balance). I found the list the other day and I am now living it! I keep my list in my planner so I can look back regularly and make sure I'm staying true to myself.
@AudreyPratt that is awesome that you still have your list. I too am a big believer in that you have to write things down on paper.
Some very good advice in this article. It seems counter intuitive to most people to turn away clients or to not offer everything to everyone and anyone but it's a quick way to get left out in the cold. You will never be able to please everyone so you've got to focus your strengths. Thanks for posting.
I firmly believe that going narrow or catering to a specific niche is not all that it's cracked up to be. At least I did for over 20 years until I figured out that I always have been catering to a narrow audience - I just had to rethink the way I looked at it. Traditionally photographers specialize in industry segmentation: food, hotels, fashion, product, cars, …
I just couldn't get myself to do that. My clients are all over the board from Fortune 100 food companies to local hotels, fashion catalogs, just about every product you can imagine and even a bus company (although I did turn them down at first since I'm not a 'car photographer'), which I like especially when one of those market segments is having a bad year and I see my traditionally specialized colleagues struggle through the tough times.
I finally figured out what my specialty is: I am not a photographer. I'm a mindchanger. All the visual content I create has one and only one purpose: to influence my client's customers behavior. 'Buy this.' 'Learn about that.' 'Stop doing something.' 'Support something else.'
All of a sudden I found my niche. If you're looking to hire a visual content creator to just make something that's beautiful with no purpose behind it, don't hire me. If you want people to watch one of my videos unchanged, I'm not your guy.
But if you're looking for photography or cinematography that really affects it's viewers, that makes them feel like they need to do something, when they've finished watching my work, then let's talk. I am a specialist in this niche, although your product or service can be as general and fit into any category you can imagine.
Don't believe me? I bet that I can change your mind in the next 16 minutes. Here's what I want you to do. Take 30 seconds and write down what you think about Afghanistan. Just a word or two. Then take 15 minutes out of your day and watch my first documentary On Wings of Hope. When you're finished write down what you think about that country now and I wager that I have changed your mind.
Don't be surprised you're not the only one who's mind got changed. Here's how I changed 100 minds in 15 minutes.
@photosbydepuhl love this. Passion for what you believe in will bring out the best in others if they want it.
@SteveChase actually passion is just one of the three ingredients you need to succeed in "the Art of changing minds".
The other two are vision and action because passion without vision is aimless, and passion without action is powerless.
Watch my TEDx talk and see what I mean…