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5 Successful Strategies to Lead Your Small Business Effectively

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Small businesses are different from large businesses in many ways, including what it takes for them to succeed.

Notably, your small business doesn’t have the kind of capital a large business does to throw at whatever strategies and ideas you want to pursue. That’s okay! You just have to do things a little differently to get more out of your time and resources.

That’s what I'm going to talk about today.

As someone at the helm of your business - trying to make the right decisions and get the most out of everything you do - these are my top five successful strategies to help you lead your small business effectively.

Top 5 Strategies for Small Business Success

1. Hire a small but efficient team.

A small business normally can’t afford to hire a big team. You also can’t afford employees who don’t care about your business and doing their best to make it succeed. As Jim Collins would say, you need to get the right people on your bus before you start driving.

Jim Collins Get the Right People on the Bus

This puts you in a tricky spot. How do you find these people, get them on your bus, and keep them?

Compensating Without Money

It starts with compensation. You don’t have to spend gobs of money to get good people, but they need to feel valued.

That compensation can come in many forms, like:

  • Autonomy to do their job
  • Listening to and trying their ideas
  • And leniency towards time off for things like vacation, doctors appointments, and big events

In some cases, these intangibles can mean as much as a salary and benefits.

You also don’t have to hire people with tons of experience (which costs a lot of money). Talented employees with little or no direct experience can often provide the same results as those with more experience.

Creating Loyalty

An employee will have to be loyal to contribute their best and stay with you long-term. But how do you find - or create - loyalty?

Making each employee feel valued is a great start. But it’s also your job to instill in the minds and hearts of your workers that they are part of the business. They will share as much as anyone else in the successes and failures of the company.

It helps to bring people in who have a track record for loyalty - whether in past jobs or clubs or hobbies. But you should also reward employees for their efforts and provide guidance for their weaknesses.

All of this together creates strong employee relationships, which will help you build effective and efficient teams that grow your small business.

2. Actively learn from your competitors.

It doesn’t matter how old your company is, or what industry you’re in. There are always other successful companies that you can learn from.

That’s why strategic planning - and continually revising your strategic plan - is so important. Once you've created your plan, you still need to ask a few questions regularly:

  • How is this plan doing?
  • Are we reaching our goals? Are we doing what we set out to?
  • What are our competitors doing?
  • What can we learn from them?
  • Is there something they’re doing that we should copy? Avoid?
  • What is our competitive differentiator? What can we turn into a competitive advantage?
  • Does it matter what our competitors are doing?
  • Has anything in our industry changed that we should now adjust for?

A lot of these questions are easy to answer by reviewing competitors’ websites, reading their press releases or brand mentions, and monitoring competitor analysis tools. Here’s a whole list of online competitor analysis tools you can use.

3. Spend your time and money on “evergreen” resources.

The most successful strategies tend to keep working after you stop funding them. These are particularly great for small businesses who can’t always outspend everyone else in the market.

So how do you create “evergreen” resources like this?

It’s not too difficult. In fact, you’re probably familiar with many good options already. Often, small business leaders just need to reframe how they think about these strategies.

Search engine optimization, for example, is a great evergreen resource. There’s a bottomless well of people searching for things online. If you put in the work to get your website or brand in front of those people, it’s going to pay dividends long-term. Here’s a good guide to local SEO for you.

Content marketing is another. People often think of content as another word for blogging, but it also includes videos, infographics, and anything else you can create and publish.

Thorough blog posts and customer testimonial videos are powerful pieces of content you can create with little upfront investment. Here’s a guide for creating great blog posts quickly, and for creating great testimonial videos

How are these different than other strategies?

Small business sales and marketing often involves paying for one-off events and ads. They might help you earn new business, but the sales stop flowing soon after you stop paying.

E.g., you could sponsor an event that would get your name out there, start a few conversations, and maybe bring in a few new paying accounts. Then you’d sponsor the same event next year, and maybe a few other events in between, to keep new accounts coming in.

Or, you could spend 1/10th of a sponsor fee to create a customer testimonial video that you can circulate for years, bringing in dozens of new accounts. Which would you rather invest in?

4. Target your ideal customers, and only your ideal customers.

A goal of nearly every business is to attract more customers or clients.

Large businesses often cast a wide net, because they can afford to and it keeps them from having to figure out as much. They create general sales and marketing campaigns, and bring in a few fish.

But small businesses have to be more aware, more attuned to who your ideal customer is and what makes them tick. It’s okay if you don’t have tons of money to throw at new campaigns or to test various market segments. You just have to pay attention to the right people.

Buyer Persona Example

First, get your customer personas straight. Who is your ideal customer, and why do they want to work with you? Now ask yourself a few questions:

  • What exactly are those targets trying to accomplish?
  • How can you give them that in a better or more enjoyable way than other companies?
  • How do they want or choose to interact with companies (online, via text, etc.)?
  • Where do they spend their time (in the car, on Facebook, etc.)?
  • What message resonates with them (succinctly shares your value proposition)?
  • How can you get your message in front of those targets where they spend their time?

Answering - and acting on - these questions will help you make the most out of every dollar you spend. When you know exactly who, what, and where to target, you’re going to get really good at acquiring customers.

5. Use low cost but effective marketing strategies.

I’ve sprinkled this throughout the other four points, but the most successful strategies for leading your small business effectively are often going to be inexpensive.

The investment that makes them work is sweat equity.

Mark Cuban Sweat Equity is the Best Startup Capital Quote

Thankfully, technology and resources available to everyone make most of these marketing strategies easy to start and keep up with. Below I’m going to list marketing strategies that work, and link to guides with step-by-step instructions for succeeding.

Often, though not always, it will take three to six months to start seeing any results. That’s okay! Keep plugging away, and you’ll create a self-turning wheel that steadily brings in new customers, positive press, and great talent.

There are traditional marketing options like direct mail, billboards, and radio ads that are reasonably priced. Which strategies are best for you depend on who you're targeting and what resources you have available (namely employee skills and abilities).

How to Implement These Successful Strategies to Lead Your Business

You’re in charge of your business, so you probably have a good idea of what’s going on and what you need to do. With that in mind, take another look at this list.

What are you already doing? What are doing well, and what could use some improvement? Where do you see opportunities to try new things, and what are you willing to try?

Start by picking one thing in this list to do. Maybe you start with a marketing strategy, or maybe you start with new initiatives to make your employees feel valued.

Just start.

Once you’re comfortable with one strategy, move onto the next. It might take some time (most good things do), but there’s nothing in here that you can’t do to lead your small business effectively.

Related: 6 Not So Obvious Issues Keeping You from Getting Customers