Learning from other businesses can help you avoid pitfalls and put yourself on the path to success.
The road to success isn’t always easy for small businesses. Mistakes will be made. Opportunities will be missed. But you’ll almost certainly learn a lot along the way.
So, to (hopefully) help you avoid some of those pitfalls and pat you on the fast-track to success, I reached out to a variety of businesses to find out what their biggest learnings have been so far. Here’s what I found out.
Get help from experts
Just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you can’t bring on experts for specific tasks or projects. Okay, you probably won’t be able to hire them full-time, but it might just be feasible to pay a specialist freelancer when they’re needed.
“For the digital side of things – web-building, digital creation, ecommerce, graphics – anything like that, I typically use freelancers,” said The Classic Cupcake Co founder, Anna Eden.
You can even establish more long-term relationships with freelancers, so you’re not looking for someone new every time you need help with a project.
“I found a freelance one-woman band and she’s been with me ever since,” said Anna, who only pays around $600 a month for bookkeeping services to her 20+ employee business.
“It’s well worth it for someone to take care of all of that, as I can be focused on growing the business rather than worrying about bookkeeping.”
Anna’s preferred freelancing platform is Fiverr, which also helps find verified talent. In 2020, it connected more than 3.5 million users with a freelancer, including small and large businesses alike.
Outsource where you can
Of course, freelancers don’t just help with the expert stuff. They can also help with administration tasks, taking the workload off skilled professionals within your team.
For example, Dr Paul Howe is a partner at Oxbridge, an international finance and real estate firm with over 600 professionals under its umbrella. He told Finder that Fiverr freelancers make huge contributions to the business, both in highly skilled areas and in admin roles.
“Our members have used Fiverr for prospecting, virtual assistants, administration for loan writing, administration for booking appointments, graphic design, image enhancement, logo design, website design, and customised scripting,” he said.
“We have even created teams on Fiverr to better assist in cross-team collaboration with our favourite freelancers. This greatly improves efficiency and saves cost.”
Build a strong brand
According to Fiverr’s Get Set Up For Success report, strengthening your brand is one of the key pillars for businesses to thrive as it’s integral to establishing trust with customers.
Studio Self founder Joan Westenberg couldn’t agree more. She told Finder that her company is focused on maintaining its brand identity, which goes further than many people realise.
“Your identity isn’t just how you interact with your customers but everything that makes up how your company presents itself to the world – the types of visuals you use in your marketing campaigns, the typography you use in your email newsletters and on your landing page, your logo, the value you offer clients, and so on,” said Joan.
“You can’t half-ass one part of it, because everything sends a signal to your customers,” she warned. “We’ve learned the importance of being cohesive and consistent with our brand across every tweet, every book we’ve published, and every piece of media we’ve created so that we’re not fragmenting ourselves and losing the message.”
Be wary of hiring friends
When you’re running a small business, it can be tempting to work with “reliable” friends who claim they’re perfect for a particular task. But there are risks associated with that.
“I learned an expensive lesson about not mixing friendship and business,” said Abby Ha, co-owner of international manufacturer, Cloom. “Friendships are hard enough without having to deal with issues regarding pay, jobs and professional roles.”
Instead of getting friends involved with the running of your business, Abby suggests using outsourced workers or freelancers if you can’t warrant a permanent employee yet.
“I have used freelancing sites to hire talented writers, editors, web designers and project managers and I have been able to save as much as 90% of the cost of hiring someone local,” she told Finder. Not to mention avoiding the drama associated with soured friendships.
Marketing is worth the money
“For any business, let alone a small business that is gaining market share, marketing is a crucial way to engage your audience,” Ali told Finder.
However, while there are elements of marketing that can be done organically, or in-house, Ali said there will be elements that require the expertise of a marketing specialist.
“The majority of start-ups are in the position of having to wear multiple hats due to financial constraints and we don’t have the luxury of bringing in an expert for each area of the business. However, it’s important to know where your knowledge gaps are, and what the cost to the business is if you don’t bring in an expert,” she said.
“Marketing is a key example – there are many types of marketing and not all suit each business type. If you invest in the wrong type of marketing that doesn’t engage your target audience, it’s costly and sets you back further from your targets.”
Give your customers a voice – and listen to them
The customer is always right. Aren’t they? Well, let’s be honest, that’s a pretty outdated ethos which just doesn’t ring true for many business owners. But I do have a proposal to improve it.
How about this: The customer always has a right to be heard.
Giving your customers a voice, and listening to what they have to say, not only gives them a better experience but can inform better decisions within your business.
It’s something that healthcare company Mira stumbled on almost accidentally.
“In the beginning of the pandemic, we made the decision to start doing webinars regularly – our primary motivation was to be able to reach our current and prospective customers digitally, but it turned out to be a huge hit for our users and gave them a place to connect, ask questions, and share their health journeys with real people even during lockdowns,” said CEO Sylvia Kang.
“Over the past year, we’ve made a point of bringing in a variety of experts to give talks and answer questions live at least once a month and it turned into one of our best marketing channels – our users are happy, we’ve learned a ton about how we can better support them, and we plan to continue offering webinars even as the world opens back up.”
Encourage customer reviews
Well Before co-founder Shahzil Amin says building a collection of positive customer reviews can easily set a business apart from its competitors. But it has to go beyond simply asking customers to share their review and hoping they remember.
“For small businesses and solopreneurs, engaging with your community is essential to gaining those online reviews that help build your business,” says Shahzil.
“In a business capacity, when you support local fundraisers and events or help out in community projects, it shows your customers that you care about them and where you live. In addition, being involved at the local level builds awareness for your brand, trust in your business and a loyal customer following. Continuing to engage over time will result in those rave reviews about your product or service.”
To date, Well Before was earned almost 10,000 five-star customer reviews.
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