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Plant growing from a seedling and thriving
February 2, 2016
Planning & Strategy  |  17 min read

How to Get Your Small Business Off the Ground

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Ellis Friedman & Jessica Mehring

The economy took a nosedive in December 2007 as the Great Recession began its crippling effects on the U.S. economy. The rebound took a few years and began to show improvements in the latter half of 2009.

Those initial steps toward recovery were on the backs of hardworking, committed small-business owners who refused to give up.

Over the last several years, we have seen these small businesses survive and beat the odds. Now every day we see small-business leaders move past surviving and into thriving.

It’s your turn.

If you’re ready to get your small business off the ground, read on.

Strategic Planning kit

4 Characteristics of a successful business

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been trying to get your small business off the ground for a while, now, there are four traits of a successful business you must focus on developing. These characteristics will serve you well now and for the long haul.

Clarity

You have to know what you want to accomplish before you can go out and do it. That means having a clear vision and the ability to articulate exactly what success looks like.

Here are the questions you should ask yourself—and answer regularly—to ensure you’ve clearly defined your goals:

  • What does success feel like?

  • What does success look like?

  • What freedoms will I have by achieving this goal that I don’t have now?

  • What does achieving this goal mean to me?

  • Why is achieving this goal important to me?

  • What do I need to do to achieve this goal?

You’ll probably find it helpful to write these answers down and put them where you can see them. Reminding yourself of your goals is crucial to actually achieving them.

Planning

It’s pretty easy to let designated planning time get interrupted or fall by the wayside, but taking the time to work on your business instead of only in your business is critical to creating space to succeed personally and professionally.

You probably don’t need to be sold much on the benefits of planning, but if you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, a good planning session might just cure that ailment.

As you’re masterminding your plan, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the path to achieving my success?

  • Is this going to move me closer to success?

  • What do I need to do to achieve my desired level of success?

  • What are the areas in which I’ll need help achieving success?

  • What short-term sacrifices will I have to make to achieve success?

  • How will I know when I’m successful?

  • What benchmarks can I set to measure my success?

Focus

Distraction is perhaps our biggest struggle in the modern world of Netflix, Angry Birds, and Xbox. Maybe screens aren’t your downfall, but surely there’s something to which you give your attention that doesn’t advance your personal and professional goals.

That doesn’t mean you should never have downtime—you should always schedule a time to do something that relaxes you and makes you happy. But if you’re losing hours on something you know is frivolous, it might be time to change your habits to help you maintain focus when you need it.

When you’re developing your business strategy, ruthlessly eliminate plans or steps that won’t advance you and your small business. Even if it’s a brilliant idea, if it isn’t relevant to your goal, it will ultimately be a waste of time.

Connection

Being an entrepreneur can put you in a precarious position with personal relationships, as your focus and dedication can mean working 70-hour weeks and neglecting your friends and family.

This is a recipe for burnout, and recovering from burnout will take you longer than putting your phone away and having a nice family dinner or outing with your friends.

Losing connection with who you are and those you love can sidetrack your business just as much as losing focus can. Working harder does not equal working smarter; in fact, people who work fewer hours actually get more done.

Don’t get consumed by your business. While crafting your small-business strategy, take time to get back to the roots of your passion, reconnect with those you love and steer your business in the positive direction that you define.

The 6-part business strategy for small business

Now you’re ready to create your plan for success. Here are six elements of business strategy for small business.

1. Passion

Starting a business is tough, but maintaining and growing one is even more difficult.

Our CEO and co-founder Clate Mask tells us that even in the early days of Infusionsoft there was a time when he had maxed-out credit cards, a frustrated family and barely any food on the table. What got him through these hard times was his passion for what he was creating.

If you’ve managed to survive the first few years, you might find yourself battered and bruised, but you’ve made it. Let this year be the year you reignite your passion. Take a moment to sit back and ask yourself why you went into business. Don’t ever lose grasp of your “why.” Life’s hardships and challenges prepare ordinary people for extraordinary things.

Have periodic reality checks with family, friends, and mentors. Be prepared to readjust, but don’t lose sight of the passion within yourself.

2. Invest time away from your business

In order to grow your company, you must take the time to get out of your business to focus on your business.

This time away, be it one hour a week, or two days a month, should be spent reading, meeting with a mentor, going to a conference, or retreating to something that refreshes and enriches your mind.

If you are always mired in the day-to-day responsibilities of your business, you will not have time to set the vision for the future, to plan, to strategize and to think about growth. This time away is critical. Schedule it on your calendar and commit to doing it.

3. Hire and fire guided by your purpose, values, and mission

Every year at Infusionsoft’s Elite Forum, we’re privileged to get together with high-growth business owners who are looking to go from $1 million to $10 million in sales. One of the core principles in our discussions is to hire and fire based on your company’s purpose, values, and mission.

If there’s an employee who does not share your purpose, values or mission—don’t hire them—no matter how smart they are. Every successful entrepreneur needs a motivated team that’s already bought-in, not sold-in, to the company’s vision.

4. Invest in your marketing

Clate shares, “In the very early days of Infusionsoft, I was looking over our financial statements and noticed there was a line item payment to ‘Mark’. There were only three of us back then and none of us were named Mark. I asked my two co-founders, Scott and Eric Martineau, about it and they told me, ‘Clate, that’s our line item for MARKETING. We always pay Mark and he gets paid first.’”

If we didn’t do this every month, Infusionsoft would not be here today.

When budgets are tight and challenges arise, one of the first things small business owners want to cut is marketing. This is a serious mistake. Before you eat, before you pay yourself, invest in marketing. Without it, you have no customers. No customers means no sales. No sales means you do not have a business.

5. Boost your email marketing

Businesses that thrive in the coming year will be those who invest their efforts in smart email marketing. Every year, a few experts predict the death of email marketing, and every year their predictions prove inaccurate. Sure, social media and other forms of digital marketing are on the rise. However, email marketing continues to be one of the most effective means of reaching new and existing customers.

6. Focus on current customers

Acquiring new customers is important, but you must invest a large portion of your resources in your existing customers. Continue to nurture and build upon the relationships that you have established.

Customers who trust you will surely want to buy more from you. When you enable them to easily purchase additional products and services, you will find that it is much cheaper to sell to existing customers than it is to find a new customer.

How to market your business with no money

As you just read, marketing is one of the most critical—if not THE most critical—part of a successful small-business strategy. But you might be wondering how to get your business out there without a massive marketing budget.

Good news: Your marketing plan doesn't need to include expensive options to get started. Word-of-mouth requires no spending, for example, but it delivers amazing results.

Use the following five tactics to market your business without spending money:

Satisfy your customers

Customer satisfaction opens marketing opportunities that extend beyond your current reach. Every time you service clients with excellence, you get free publicity because people talk and spread the word.

Marketing via customer service requires that your firm has a substantial commitment to clients. You must value them as people, not as numbers. When you this customer-first attitude, you give customers the confidence they need to know that they will receive an excellent value whenever they spend money with you.

Satisfied customers make positive referrals by word-of-mouth both in person and online. Similarly, irate customers can work against you, posting complaints that might go viral and damage your reputation. Naturally, you want all your customers to feel satisfied right away, so there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

Pay attention to every customer comment you receive whether in-person or on social media. Make an effort to express your appreciation both for their business and for the time it took them to leave feedback for your company.

In adverse situations, make sure that you show your commitment to your customer and work together to find ways to solve the problem. Every customer interaction gives you a chance to make you and your brand shine. Even if there’s a problem, excellent customer service can create a lasting relationship and an energetic advocate for your brand.

Connect with people

Connecting with people means planting the awareness of your brand in their minds, which is something you can do both online and offline.

Online

Leverage the power of social media—connect with people for free, build relationships, and expose your company to your target market.

Your first step is to create a company profile on one or several popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. The best way to choose is to see which platforms your targets mostly use, and create your social media presence accordingly. Whichever platform you use, the important thing is to connect with as many people as you can.

Going beyond those initial connections will help you create meaningful relationships that can enrich both your business and personal life. Rather than nagging people for sales and making endless pitches, become friends with your fans and followers. Talk with them, get to know them, and find out about the things that matter to them. Like their posts, share their comments, and include them when you need to make decisions by asking for feedback and opinions.

Make your connections all about other people, and they will become marketing agents for your brand.

Offline

Offline, you can participate in community activities and trade associations, host or attend social events, and so on. The important thing is to make yourself visible to other people. Connecting with people face-to-face will spread the news about your brand and put you in touch with influencers who can open new channels for you. For example, you might find future business partners or suppliers in addition to prospective customers.

Wherever you go online or off-line, try to build a community that will become a resource for growing your business. It takes effort, but it’s free.

Be friendly and approachable

Although this tip might sound too obvious to be listed, its importance cannot be overemphasized. Since your attitude and demeanor represent your brand, you need to make sure to always have kind words to say and a pleasant look on your face.

In live interactions, for example, nonverbal communication means more than your words, so make sure your body always says positive things. Keep an open posture, so people always feel comfortable approaching you to chat or get information. Work on having a solid handshake that you can use during face-to-face meetings, and always have a pleasant voice when you talk on the phone.

On the other hand, electronic communications including text messaging, email, and social media don’t transmit inflection and tone that would otherwise convey meaning. Recognize the limitations of such channels by always writing clearly and in a casual style. Communicate as you would with a friend, but carefully choose your humor and emoticons to ensure no one misinterprets your messages.

No matter the communication channel you use, always have kind words to say and make honesty your only policy when it comes to business. You can have fantastic products, but no one will talk about your business positively unless you come across as a nice and likable person. Kindness is one of the top qualities of a successful business.

Acquire and share knowledge

One way to market your business is to educate your customers and prospects. If you share valuable knowledge for free, people will more likely gravitate to your brand. But in order to share knowledge, you first need to acquire it. Let’s briefly consider why and how you should educate both yourself and others.

Educate yourself

Educating yourself means constantly staying on top of your game when it comes to your business. When you’re aware of all the trends in your industry, you are able to speak intelligently with your prospects and customers.

However, education also means learning about things that might seem unrelated to work, but can become advantageous at some point. What if those French lessons pay off one day when you need to communicate with a client from France? You get the point.

Now, acquiring knowledge doesn’t mean spending money on expensive courses. Books from the library are free, and so are countless internet resources. Technology has made education available to everyone, making it easier than ever for people to commit to lifelong learning. There are free online degree programs, educational websites, apps, and so on. With a little time and effort to explore numerous options, you can become an eloquent and educated person others will want to talk to.

Educate others

Resist the temptation to hoard your knowledge. When you share the things you know, not only do you help others, but you also promote your brand for free. When people learn they can rely on you for honest and expert advice, they will trust you with their money. Moreover, they will start identifying your brand with knowledge and value, and thus more likely talk about you with others. Therefore, you should selflessly respond to everyone who asks you for advice or information.

What you can do is organize webinars and other events for people to attend. You can even try your hand at writing by answering questions on sites such as Quora or Yahoo! Answers, or starting discussions on Reddit. As you share knowledge and value, you lay a foundation for your brand that will result in long-term success.

Reddit for marketing

Offer valuable content

One means of sharing knowledge with people is by offering valuable content. As every successful business person knows, today there's no marketing without content marketing. In a nutshell, content marketing implies producing and sharing quality content in order to make people familiar with a certain brand.

Producing

This is also where your education kicks in. You can use your knowledge to write informational how-to articles, tips and tricks, useful lists, and so on.

For example, if you are in a restaurant business, you can write great recipes that people will want to try. If you own a digital marketing agency, you can write articles containing SEO tips. Furthermore, you can write useful instructions on how to use your products or make video tutorials.

The point is to inform and educate people so they always keep coming back for more. Would you rather buy from a company that offers nothing except its products or from a company that gives you great and free articles?

Sharing

The content you produce can be posted on your website and promoted on social media. The more valuable the content, the more people will want to share it.

This is where the previous tip “connect with people” also becomes useful. The more people you have connected with, the more social media shares your content will get.

When you follow this simple yet effective formula, bear in mind one more thing—entertaining content gets shared a lot. So, consider sharing funny images, jokes, memes, etc. alongside your produced content. This will establish you as a friendly figure and promote the awareness of your brand by means of social shares.

When you create and share versatile content (not only the one that revolves around your brand), you give people added value and form lasting relationships. If you give them something to come back for, they will reward you with loyalty and advocacy.

Thriving as a small business

The world of business is created by entrepreneurs who are creating their own destinies and paving their own paths. The entrepreneurial spirit of small business is all about individuals and teams taking their passions and dreams and creating thriving enterprises. These enterprises sustain families and contribute to local, national and international economies. It is time for small businesses to THRIVE!


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