The shape of modern business looks very different for today's enterprise than it did just a decade ago thanks to radical advancements in technology, communications, and connectivity. But the more things change for today's organizations, the more they stay the same: Many elements required to successfully own or operate a firm remain timeless. Looking to start or grow a small business and find some small measure of success? Be sure to keep the following five elements in mind as you go about drafting a game plan -- each essential to achieve your goals for the business.
The features, uniqueness and benefits of your business are what differentiate you from your competitors. Donald Neubaum, College of Business Associate Dean for Research at Oregon State University, states that businesses must continue to offer value to customers over the long-term, assuring that their offering is unique and something that competitors can't provide. Many of these unique advantages, also known as "value drivers", include constants like reputation and cost control, along with market specific characteristics like taste or innovation.
As an example, technology companies must have a core product or "know how" that solves a customer problem. Key value/profitability drivers for tech companies include: highly skilled workers, quality and cost control, and research and development. How can you determine what counts as a value driver for your business? Conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis to help you identify your business's most important aspects.
In recent times, success requires a singular focus. Robert Goizueta, the former CEO of Coca Cola, once said, "In real estate it is location, location, location. In business it's differentiate, differentiate, differentiate." The key to your company's success, especially in tough economic times, is to distinguish your enterprise in such a way that it stands out in the minds of the customers and causes them to want your products over that of your competitors. Maybe your product comes with a unique feature, offers more variety than competitors, or can hold up to the test of time better than your rivals' products can. Hone in on these qualities. They're known as your unique selling points and are what will differentiate your product from other merchandise on the market. If you're offering something that is nearly identical to your rivals' products, then marketing your unique strengths is what you need to focus on in order to stand out.
Consumers are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages every single day. Your goal is to get shoppers to see and remember your brand through the confusion. Continually remind them that your business will solve their problems with creative, relevant and useful messaging that tells your story in a simple, two-sentence or shorter sales pitch. (Hint: Stick to three or four key sales points maximum, and be consistent with your messaging across all promotional channels.) There are several ways to boost your visibility, including building an interactive website, participating in social networks and online forums, showcasing your expertise in articles, whitepapers and books, getting involved in charity efforts, contributing to industry trades, and more. If you're clever, you can even create a system for sharing content -- newsletter post becomes blog article, blog article becomes part of free eBook, free eBook becomes part of paid training package, etc. --that helps you accomplish more than one goal.
Putting a personal face on your business can help customers empathize with, rally behind, and better identify the unique elements of your business and brand. Remember that showing personality can still be professional -- a genuine, vibrant, personal approach that puts a more human face on your company helps engage customers and shed light on your business's passions and individual character. However, when companies present themselves to the marketplace with a stoic, impassive façade, they do little to excite, define and embrace what makes their business different from their competitors. Find out why your repeat customers continue to do business with you and nurture these traits to set you apart from more corporate and buttoned-up competitors. It is important to show people that your company is human. For example: General Electric has Pinterest boards named "Mind = Blown" and "Badass Machines" that give their company some character. Companies like Geico and Allstate deliver humorous and clever advertising campaigns with humorous mascots. You don't have to be a corporate giant come up with equally engaging ideas as well.
Questions like "what do I want to be known for," "what does success look like for this company" and "what do I want people to say about my business" can help your company better define a vision for success. By answering these and similar questions, you'll also gain insight into what you consider success to be. Planning further plays a huge role in a drafting a strategy for your business, and the next steps you'll be taking to build and grow it. Without clear-cut goals, defining customer needs becomes difficult and the ability to adapt can suffer. Similarly, if your team members don't understand either your firm's vision or your plans, long-term success can be highly difficult to achieve. So make sure to take time out to codify your vision for the business: When everyone believes in the plan and buys into your vision, you'll quickly multiply your chances of finding success many times over.