Tips and Strategies for Small Business

In a 2004 article in USA Today, Rhonda Abrams, author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies and president of The Planning Shop, wrote an article containing helpful insights for small and medium businesses that are still applicable today:

Tips, tricks to help business run smoothly

Running a business means taking care of lots of little things. Sure, success depends on the big things, such as your strategy, marketing and technology. But sometimes, we could all use a bit of guidance on how to better handle the little things to make our business lives easier.So I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks I’ve accumulated in my many years of business. Some may not apply to your specific business, but most apply to every entrepreneur: •Come up with — and practice using — a brief sentence to describe what you do whenever you introduce yourself to others, even in a social setting. You’re more likely to get “word-of-mouth” referral business if others understand what you do. And you sound more confident if you don’t have to search for words. •Don’t nickel-and-dime clients with charges for routine phone calls, overnight delivery services, copies and such. Figure those costs into your hourly or project fees. You’d be surprised at how many clients who never blink at being billed $100 an hour get peeved by being charged $12 for a FedEx delivery. •If you’re giving a customer or client a discount, let them know it. When you send the bill, be certain to indicate the regular price and then the voluntary discount you’re giving them. That reminds them they’re getting a special deal. •Get a mileage-earning credit card for business purchases you now pay for by check. Then immediately pay off the credit card bill. Ask your vendors if they accept credit cards. Our printer allows us to pay by credit card for the printing of our books. The miles add up fast this way. •Use your cell phone for long-distance calls and in hotel rooms. It’s usually much cheaper than using a calling card, and many hotels charge for local calls. •If you get more than 50% of your business from one customer or distribution channel, diversify. Don’t become overly dependent on one source for your long-term economic well-being. •Think of the long-term value of the customer, not just the one-time transaction. It’s almost always better to retain a happy customer than to make a big fuss over a small issue in dispute. •If you use the Internet a lot while traveling, check motels targeted to long-term business travelers. Many offer free high-speed Internet connections. •Keep notes, such as those from phone calls or meetings, in a spiral notebook on your desk. Get rid of all those little pieces of paper with important phone numbers or to-do lists. •Build a database of your current and former customers or clients. Stay in contact at least once a year. You can’t get word-of-mouth referrals from past customers who’ve forgotten you exist. •Join your trade association. Participate in the local chapter if such exists. Attend a national industry convention at least every two to three years. Subscribe to — and read — an industry magazine or e-mail newsletter. •Keep a list of your best referral sources and best customers where you can see it frequently. Contact these people at least every one to three months. •It’s OK to “fire” clients. Feel free to end the relationship if they don’t pay their bills, are unethical, want you to take on work you’re uncomfortable performing, soak up all your time and energy or make you hate your business. •View customer complaints as an opportunity to learn how to improve your product or service rather than merely criticism.Hold an annual planning session every year. Review your long-term goals, set annual sales targets, evaluate your target market, industry and competition. A day set aside for planning can help you be more successful all year long. •Never compete on price alone. Make sure you have other competitive advantages that make your customers want to purchase from you even if a competitor undercuts your price. •If you work from a home office, set office hours. Set time aside for personal and family life. •Do everything with integrity. Treat everyone fairly and honestly, including employees, customers and vendors. Don’t rationalize bad behavior by saying, “it’s only business.” Be someone worthy of respect. Rhonda Abrams is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies and president of The Planning Shop, publishers of books and other tools for business plans. Register for Rhonda’s free business planning newsletter at For an index of her columns, click here. Copyright Rhonda Abrams 2004.

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