Small Business Week is a national opportunity to recognize the impact of all the courageous founder and innovative leaders of small businesses in every industry. Now that Small Business Week 2017 is here, so is your opportunity as an entrepreneur to conquer any challenges you might face when it comes to growing your small business.
Being a part of a small business is not for the faint of heart. There are so many challenges businesses have to endure and overcome in order to succeed in the modern business world. With the rise of the entrepreneurial lifestyle and the never ending flood of competition infiltrating and innovating markets, how will your small business ever get the brand recognition and attention it deserves.
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From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem like a lot of small businesses have been able to blow up over night. But when you are not in the day to day of building a successful business, you usually only really see the highlight reel of that company’s success story. It’s only when you are the one putting in the hard work and long hours that you realize achieving success and making a name for your business takes time. And more than time, it takes thoughtfulness and a strategic vision. If you want to build a reputable name for your company, you have to do things right. Of course you’ll make mistakes, but you’ll have to learn from them and pivot quickly. That is why the passion for the idea must be there. You cannot fake it until you make it if you want to do it right. We all can think of a handful of companies that became household name brands, but we later learned they have horrible customer service or treat their employees poorly. They may have the name brand recognition, but they don’t have the credibility and respect most business owners yearn to achieve.
So, do not take any shortcuts. Put the hard work in, and do not let selfishness or greed blur your vision. You can gain a tremendous amount of brand recognition and praise while still holding onto your pride and credibility. It’s a longer game, but the satisfaction is better that way. There are plenty of things most small businesses already put time into that can be utilized a little bit more effectively and see much greater results.
The power of networking is proven across all sectors of business. Networking is something that anyone can do, no matter if you considered entry level or an industry expert. And there are huge benefits to networking, some of which are instantaneous while others will prove worthwhile a few years down the line. Everyone who is putting themselves out there is doing so to gain something valuable for themselves or for their business. But no one is going to want to talk to you if all you do is self advocate or sell your business. There is a way to go about connecting with people and building relationships. One must be subtle and timely about their asks and wanted outcomes of the relationship. Networking is a two-way street, and you must be willing to put someone else’s desired outcomes before your own at times.
Even after years of attending countless events that basically require that you get stuck in conversation with absolute strangers, it can still feel stiff and awkward. Especially when you get trapped into speaking with someone that you just genuinely do not share any commonalities or interests with. How can we make the most of even the most uncomfortable interactions? The biggest thing I have learned over the years is to just be real. Once you get passed the initial introduction and hand shake, try and stray away from jumping right into business talk. Rather than asking what they do or who they work for, get a conversation going that is unrelated to business. This shows that you are genuinely interested in them as a person rather than just a business transaction. This flow of conversation also shows that you are genuine, personable and easy to converse with. Through asking about family or weekend plans, you also ease the flow of conversation. It makes it more enjoyable for everyone involved and in the end, you may sincerely want to help this person, or they may go out of their way to help you and expect nothing in return.
In networking and many other business situations, it is important to remember that just like you, the people you are speaking with have an entire life outside of work. People like to work with people whose presence they enjoy. No matter how important your business needs or career goals may seem, remember to get to know people as people, and I promise it will benefit your work life more than you would think. Word of mouth has a surprisingly large impact and can travel fast, especially when people have something negative to say. No matter if you are talking to an intern or am executive, put your best foot forward and be engaged in the conversation. Do not decide to treat people based on their titles and your quick assumptions. You never know who might have connections that matter most to your business brand.
- Customer Relationships
When you gain new business and finally see that signed contract in your inbox, that is a win small businesses should celebrate accordingly. The signed agreement may mark the official end of the sales cycle for your team, but it is the beginning of a much more important phase for the business relationship. This is when the customer expects to see the results you showcased throughout the sales process. And what leaves a worse impression than the pestering and slightly annoying sales rep that won’t leave you alone? A business that overpromises and completely under delivers.
Delivering the services or providing your product to the customer will make or break a business reputation and success. Its integral for that specific partnership as well as all prospective customers to come. Displaying testimonials of past clients helps attract new customers and usually expedites the sales cycle for your business. No matter how compelling the sales pitch can be, it doesn’t mean as much on its own. But when there are client referrals who potential customers can call or read reviews and testimonials from, that is what provides the legitimacy behind the statements that potential buyers are being told from the sales team.
Therefore, the battle is not over once that contract is signed. Your team should constantly be trying to prove the value add of your business and overachieve on the deliverables and asks of the customer. Not only should your team be focused on exceeding expectations and outperforming competition, but the team should try to do so in a manner that builds meaningful and strong relationships with each customer. Because they not only invested in the tangible product or service your business offers, but they also bought the team that provides this value add. And bad customer relations can ruin the reputation of the most successful business in the market. Ensuring customer satisfaction on all aspects of the relationship is essential to strengthening your business name and generating a strong reputation in the market your business is trying to break into.
- Brand Consistency
In order to become a recognizable name in the space, it is important to build a consistent brand. People begin to recognize logos or company names they see repeatedly. And eventually they will automatically generate ties to the brand and assume the company is a large player in the space. Make sure the look and feel of your brand and the voice of your company messaging is consistent across every means of distribution. There are plenty of companies, such as Nike and Apple, that are recognizable just from their logo. And if there is no visible logo, the consistent look and feel of their products and brand lead people to the brand association. This did not happen over night for these companies. You have to distinguish how you want your business to stand out amongst the others, and then apply this branding to every aspect and inch of the business in order for it to truly resonate and act as the core of your company.
Ensure everything associated with your company, regardless of if it is for external use or purely internal facing, accurately represents your brand in this consistent fashion. From branded file templates to company swag to the office decorations and team dynamic, every single aspect ties into how your company is choosing to represent itself. In order to make a lasting impression quickly, the brand needs to be consistent. And to make a positive lasting impression, it needs to have the reputation and customer experience that attract and engage your target audience.
- Online Presence
Nowadays, it is essential for any and every business to have an online presence in some shape or form. And for most industries, a company website is now no longer enough. In order to deem a business credible and established, most of us need to be able to search the name and instantly be taken to the website, LinkedIn page and any other page or channel that seems obvious for the company to be on. If you do not have a digital presence that showcases width across platforms as well as depth of information sharing that is relevant and recent, most people find this slightly worrisome. Not only can a lacking digital presence hurt your brand reputation for you current pipeline of leads, but it also hurts your business’ overall chances of getting found and generating inbound leads and relationships that can contribute your business success.
- Your Team of People
A business founders and owners put strenuous amounts of work into building and establishing an amazing brand and reputation for the current business. However, it is the team of people the organization hires that will the company’s reputation constantly depends on. A brand alone can attract attention, but it is the team behind the brand that is going to bring it to life.
Each person that is hired and joins the team is a walking, living breathing representation of your company’s brand. Through their interactions and daily work, they have the ability to put meaning behind the shapes and colors that make up the logo and the bold and purposeful messaging that is displayed on the website homepage and office walls. Each person either helps legitimizes everything the company claims to represent or squashes and weakens the strength of the brand name that took countless white boarding sessions and sleepless nights to create. And the power of one online review or client experience can be detrimental to the business. Whereas, a positive testimonial that is branded and distributed thoughtfully and purposefully, can be the spark that erupts a downpour of business success.
The people that represent your team are an instrumental part to the ongoing positivity associated with your brand. We can all form opinions about the look and feel of a company brand as it stands alone. It is not until people are factored in and become a part of the experience that community members, past and prospective customers or even current employees can truly form opinions that have a transformative effect on how the brand is seen and held up against certain standards. We all want our company name to have a positive first impression and a lasting impression that keeps us top of mind as the industry provider in our respective space. Bad hires can be costly, especially in the beginning. Inclusive cultures promote evolution. Every team member should bring something unique to the table. Choose the talent and characteristics you seek out in people wisely, as they will take a large part in defining your culture, brand reputation and company success.