7 Business Development Tips for Small Businesses

managers resource handbook

How to Grow Your Small Business

We recently worked with a small company to assist with their business development struggles.  The CEO described his company’s situation as “able to perform well when we can actually get in the door.”  The company employed about 20 employees and worked in the IT services industry.  MRH conducted an evaluation of the business, focusing in on how to they marketed themselves, their interaction with prospective clients, and how they pursued new business.  Over the course of interviews and the evaluation of the business, there were several fundamental changes we suggested to the company.  Here are the seven main suggestions we gave to the CEO, which can also help you grow your small business.

1. What Is Your Goal?  

As we tried to understand the problem, we asked the CEO where he wanted his business to go and what he wanted to change.  To our surprise, 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 can be tough to look too far into the future as you may find yourself simply hoping for survival.  But keep in mind that huge corporations were also small at one time, even not that long ago (like Facebook, Google, Uber).  Still, small businesses need to have a vision for themselves and outline what it is they want to achieve.  At a minimum, it’s important to set some basic goals.

What Setting Goals Does for Your Small Business:

  • Creates Focus for Your Activities
  • Sets Targets By Which You Measure Success
  • Helps You Track Progress Over Time
  • Drives You to Make Decisions and Create a Strategy

Perhaps you set a goal of total sales revenue for the year, maybe you prefer to measure your profit margin.  You may want to set a goal of the number of new customers who sign up for your services.  Regardless of what goals you set, without creating a vision for your firm and what it is you want to accomplish, you may find yourself struggling to get to that next level.

RELATED: What Your Customer’s Really Want

2. Wonderful World Wide Web

Even though we were working with an IT firm, the company’s website was weak, and unprofessional.  Of the five menu options at the top of their homepage, 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 very technical jargon that only programmers would understand, not the purchasing agents who were evaluating the company for new business.  Lack of detail was hurting them.

It may sound obvious, but your company’s website is an extremely important marketing tool.  It is the digital equivalent of the store window of a bakery.  If nothing looks good, no one will come in.  Your website is a reflection of your business, and helps prospective customers get to know you.  These days, new clients and customers research a company before making their initial contact, just about every time.

Creating A Website that Better Markets Your Small Business:

  • Include a Mission Statement So Customers Know Your Purpose
  • Have it Well Organized to Make it Easy to Find Information
  • List Your Products, Services and Special Certifications
  • Identify the Benefits and Advantages Of Working With You
  • Make It Mobile Friendly So Customers Can Find You On The Go
  • Include Testimonials From Prior Satisfied Customers
  • Have a Contact Page So Customers Can Get In Touch With You

For this reason, you want to create a clean, professional website that best showcases what your small business is all about.  If you have the resources, hire a marketing firm or consulting firm for assistance.  At a minimum, ask a few friends for feedback if you don’t want to hire a professional.

3. Select Who You Work With and Plan Ahead 

In the case of this IT firm, the CEO explained that they worked on a contract basis to develop customized software for their clients.  As soon as a contract was up, he explained, they would place bids on anything they could get their hands on, desperate to keep cash coming in.  In many cases, they bid of projects outside of their specialization.  By doing so, we determined, they were wasting precious time and energy working on things that were not necessarily in their core competency, a good fit, or that they had a good chance of winning anyway.

Not Sure If You Should Bid? Ask Yourself:
1. Can you deliver everything required by the RFP?
2. Do you have the skills in the organization to perform the work?
3. Do you have a good chance to win the bid, given all factors?
4. Are there other opportunities out there that are a better fit for your
company, or that you have a better chance of winning?

For many small businesses, passing up on revenue may sound like a crazy idea.  However, in many cases, being selective about which opportunities you should pursue can actually help.  Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with being opportunistic and taking on additional business when it arises.  However, it is important to stay within your firm’s comfort zone and area of expertise.  Not only is stepping outside your area of expertise going to limit your chance to win the work, but it also may lead to a bad financial situation if you are unable to perform.

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4. Use and Apply 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 IT firm, the CEO said he preferred 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 his ideal clients valued.  We challenged him to ignore certifications in tough times, and to focus on using their skills – developing IT software for data and network security – as doing this would open up his firm’s customer base.

Using the skills at your disposal will position you to do a good job, which may even lead to follow-on business.  When looking for new business, target work that you can do really well, even if outside your immediate or desired area of work.  If you own a plumbing company, for example, you may prefer to do highly lucrative projects like installing a new water heaters.  However, if there are times you just need to bring in revenue, take on smaller projects (like installing a new sink for a customer) which you also have the skills to do.  It’s work you can perform really well, even if not as desirable as installing water heaters.

5. Identify Yourself 

The CEO of this firm was a disabled veteran.  However there was no mention of this on his website, nor any mention of his firm’s registered status as a small business owned by a disabled veteran.  This was a lost opportunity.  We explained to him that many government organizations actively seek out veteran or minority owned businesses to award new contracts.  His company’s preferred status would help give him more opportunities and a closer look by government agencies.

If your small business has special or preferred status, organizations exist that help businesses like yours make connections to win new business.  Simply by identifying your affiliations and joining related membership organizations can help bring about clients and business.

6. Social Media Isn’t New

Social media leads to something called social proof – likes and shares give companies recognition from their customer base, which future customers will consider.  In the case of the small IT firm, they had no social media presence whatsoever, so all contacts were made through personal references.  This limited a communication channel with their customer base, and made the firm seem dated.

It’s 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 necessarily be harmful, having social media presence helps give you an advantage.

7. Hello My Name Is 

The CEO if this IT firm said most of his business and projects came by word of mouth.  People he and his marketing team knew would inform them of new projects up for contract.  This was generally the extent of how his firm made itself known.  We advised him to get out there and create more brand awareness to others in the industry.

A great way to build brand recognition and get your name out there is to attend industry conferences.  Conferences and trade shows 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 marketing techniques which may help you in your own campaign.

RELATED: The Power of Business Partnerships for Small Business

Closing Thoughts

Business development is heavily dependent on your network of relationships and contacts.  Things like your website, social media presence and conference attendance can greatly help you forge these relationships.  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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