7 Business Development Tips for Small Businesses

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I recently worked with a small company to assist with their business development struggles.  The company employed about 20 employees and resided in the IT services industry.  The CEO described his company’s situation as “able to perform well when we can actually get in the door.”  Over the course of interviews and the evaluation of the business, there were several fundamental changes we suggested he pursue.  Along these same lines, here are seven tips to help your small business:

1.       Who Are You?  – As I tried to understand the problem, I asked the CEO where he wanted his business to go.  I was very surprised when he told me he really had no goals for his firm, or even financial targets.  He simply wanted to continue down the path as CEO.  For a small business, it’s tough to look too far into the future.  But keep in mind that huge corporations were also small at one time.  It is important that small businesses have a vision for themselves and outline what it is they want to achieve.  Set a goal for year over year sales growth.  Maybe you seek a certain profit value.  Without creating a vision for your firm and what it is you want to achieve, you may find yourself struggling to see that next level.

2.       Wonderful World Wide Web – It may sound obvious, but your website is important.  It is the equivalent to the store front of a bakery. If nothing looks good, no one will come in.  Your website is a reflection of your business.  Even though this was an IT firm that I was working with, their website was unprofessional.  Of the five headings at the top of the page, two had the same exact descriptions.  The contact email address was ‘careers@….’ which left visitors uncertain if they were asking a question or asking for a job.  Further, the products listed were written in super techy language that only programmers would understand, not the purchasing agents who were evaluating the company. Create a clean, professional website.  At a minimum, ask a few friends for feedback if you don’t want to hire a professional.

3.       Be Selective and Plan Ahead – For many small businesses, passing up on revenue may sound crazy.  In many cases, though, being selective about which opportunities to pursue can help.  In the case of this IT firm, the CEO explained that they worked on contract, and as soon as a contract was up they would place bids on anything they could get their hands on to keep cash coming in.  Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with being opportunistic and taking on additional business when it arises.  In the case of this small firm, though, they did not seek out specific opportunities where they specialized.  By bidding on everything they found, they were wasting precious time and energy working on things that were not necessarily in their core competency.

4.       Use Your Strengths – … And when you can’t be selective because you need to keep the lights on, pursue  work that utilizes your strengths.  In the case of this firm, the CEO said he tended to work with certain customers who had specific data security needs.  He did not want to broaden his customer base because his people had certifications that these companies valued.  I challenged him to forget the certifications in tough times, and focus on their skills – data and network security, as it would open up the customer base.  Using the skills at your disposal will position you to do a good job, which may even lead to follow on business.

5.       Identify Yourself – The CEO of this firm was a disabled veteran, yet you would never know it.  Many organizations actively seek out veteran or minority owned businesses.  Further, organizations exist that help these businesses make connections and win new business. Simply by identifying with any affiliations or organizations of similar companies can help bring about clients and business.

6.       Social Media – It’s 2014, not 1984.  Social Media does not require you to spend a great deal of time sharing pictures of the office or posting funny stories you heard at the lunch table.  In today’s business environment, many potential customers and business partners will jump on the internet to research your firm.  Social media is a great way to bolster your web presence to create various leads and partnerships.  While lack of social media may not be harmful, having social media presence helps give you an advantage.  In the case of the small IT firm, they had no social media presence so all contacts were made through personal references.

7.       Hello My Name Is – Attend conferences.  Conferences are the in-person version of social media.  It helps you not only learn about what is going on in your industry; it also helps you forge connections for potential future partnerships.  In addition, by making contacts at a conference, you can also learn about their techniques and approaches which may help you in your own campaign.

Business development is heavily dependent on your network of relationships and contacts.  Things like your website, social media presence and conference attendance can help you forge these relationships.  Further, by being selective and thinking about what it is you really want to do, you can avoid wasting valuable energy on things that don’t really get you where you want to go.

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