Small business owners can’t have failed to see the articles in the national papers prophesising the end of the British high street.
‘High Street Armageddon’ was the phrase used by The Daily Mail in May when it reported on the one in five stores forecast to close by 2018.
And it’s not just High Street businesses at risk, but small businesses in general.
With larger competition standing by to stamp out independent companies, how can small businesses owners hope to compete?
First they must resist the pessimistic national press. Statistics only tell one side of the story and all business owners have the opportunity to push their company to remain profitable and grow in the face of stiff competition by taking their business’ future into their own hands.
SME owners can’t rely on luck. In the long term, success is based on tactics and strategies. Before ploughing straight in and investing money in expensive, elaborate plans designed to out-do competition, there are four very simple and cheap ideas that should be employed.
So many business owners are unaware of the value of properly organised data for management information
1. Social Media
Anybody who is anybody is on social media these days, and that doesn’t just mean celebrities. Twitter and Facebook provide a great opportunity for small businesses to promote their services to their target market. It is much more cost-effective than advertising because it is (mostly) free to use.
You only need to set up a profile and post information of interest to customers, e.g. promotions for your company and anything else that fits in with your business personality. Let existing customers know about your profile and ask them to follow you. This will start the ball rolling.
You’ll soon find that your base of followers builds and people will begin interacting with you. If followers are slow to come you can use targeted advertising. LinkedIn and Facebook are ideal for this: for a small and controlled sum you can accurately target your audience with the messages you want.
2. Customer Loyalty Schemes
It takes a long time to build a customer base, and once you have it you need to keep it or risk wasting your hard work and having to start again. If you reward your customers for doing business with you then they will continue to do business with you - it’s as simple as that.
And if you encourage loyal customers to spread the word you may find that they bring in new business and act as an effective word-of-mouth marketing tool for your company.
3. Company Technology
When a customer walks into a store to see an old-fashioned till register and is then told they can only pay by cash, or they contact a company only to find that payment is accepted by cheque or bank transfer, it is unlikely that they will convert to repeat business.
At the very least you must have a card payment terminal – or payment gateway if you’re online. If you have a roaming business then wireless terminals are also easy to purchase.
Some small companies are put off by the perceived cost of technology – they don’t realise that affordable options are available. Electronic Point-of-Sale (EPoS) systems, for example, cost in the region of £3,000, and if you shop around you could find rental options costing as little as £2.20 a day.
4. Use Of Data
So many small business owners are unaware of the value of properly organised data for management information. Many businesses record data manually which restricts the amount of analysis that can be undertaken. The use of properly organised data helps ensure small businesses make informed decisions.
Data can inform you about trading patterns – when are your peak times? It can record how much you’re paying for stock and flag up when costs change, it can tell you which of your staff are most productive and help you plan resources. It can offer information on frequent and returning customers and it can play a pivotal role in the accounting and invoicing process.
In other words, data helps business owners maximise profit margins and level the playing field with larger competitors.
These four simple ideas should lay the foundation for a successful business strategy; they cost very little and can have a huge impact on sales revenue. They don’t even have to take up much business time, with EPoS providing reports and managing customer loyalty programmes.
When so many seem ready to predict the doom of the UK’s small businesses, company owners can stand up and prove them wrong by working smart as well as hard.