Wanted: Small Business Solutions! At all costs!
Aaahhh…business solutions for your small business...they are so desirable but oh so elusive!
How do you know what is right for your business? How do you know when is the right time? Do you have the courage to try something that just might not work?
Hello, I am Lorna Barrow and I have been a one-stop source for providing affordable business solutions to small business owners from around the Caribbean for many years. In addition, I have started or acquired several businesses of my own.
So you will understand, that over the years, in some form or fashion, I am often asked:
Lorna, How can I be successful in business?” or “Lorna, what can I do to grow my business fast?”
Well, the time came, when I knew I could no longer avoid answering this question. I also knew that what you were really asking me for was smart business solutions to improve yourself and your business.
In order to answer you, I decided to reach out to other small business owners with a question of my own.
So, I began asking entrepreneurs and small business owners this single question:
What core business solutions would you offer other business people that will help them to really explode their business growth?
Whom did I really ask for these business solutions?
Well, I talked to approximately 300 product-based and service-based business owners, mainly from across the Caribbean.
They included consultants, coaches, beach vendors, manufacturers, retailers, contractors, service providers, boutique owners, painters, plumbers, tilers, artists, tax accountants and corporate trainers like myself.
I interviewed business owners and entrepreneurs below and above 50 years old. Some I knew, some I didn't know. I had conversations with both men and women, and those who work exclusively from home.
When I decided to stop the questioning and start analysing the answers, I noticed a certain pattern emerging.
What did I find from the research?
Over and over, there were a set of failures, flaws, frustrations and fears that appear to be common to all the businesses.
But what I found most exciting was that a similar set of quality business solutions kept coming up to fix what I want to call those “F-Factors” mentioned above.
Furthermore, I couldn't help but notice that these personal business solutions were almost all about something business owners could do better, could do more of, could learn to do, etc. They did not mention any issues relating to their external business environment.
When I shared my findings with some of the business owners I had interviewed, their reactions confirmed this.
Some said that they had used some of the solutions in their businesses and had gotten really good results. But many said that they wished they were more aware of them so they could have used them in their businesses.
And so, for all you serious business owners like me, I have boiled down my extensive but informal research into “10 Business Solutions to Really Explode Your Business Growth” .
They are practical, they are relevant to any small business and they have already been tested "positive" since they come from small business owners just like you.
Here are the complete set of business solutions
Now, I am going to share these dependable business solutions with you. But first, because I know you’re curious, here is the full list, in no particular order:
1. Commit to Continuous Personal Development (CPD)
Nearly every one of the small business owners I interviewed stressed the importance of always developing or educating yourself in some way.
Many of them described this as a flaw in themselves and I am very aware that it also leads to much frustration.
The average business person understands acquiring a physical asset. It is tangible, it will be around for a number of years (hopefully!) and it will help them to make money.
Spending money on personal development is first of all seen as an unaffordable cost and not as an investment. Furthermore, you cannot readily understand the connection between your growth and the growth of the business.
But as many of my interviewees eventually discovered, your business will only grow as fast and as far as you grow personally.
Think about it...you simply cannot run a $10 million business with a $1 million mindset...
No surprise then, that Continuous Personal Development is on the list as one of the preferred business solutions. I call it the habit of lifelong learning.
I truly get this because it’s the foundation on which my entire training and development business is built. Helping small business owners to develop and grow themselves is my passion and purpose. It certainly is on my list of expert business solutions.
I am also fanatical about continuously developing and educating myself. Not only because it's a good business solution, it’s how I serve you best and it is also very rewarding personally.
So how do you commit to continuous personal development? How do you get it on your list of business solutions?
Here are some tips to help you:
Make it a Personal Priority
Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.
Develop a strategy for learning
Determine what you need to learn to grow your business and what you want to learn to improve your life. Combine these into your “to-learn” list. Then you can develop a step by step implementation plan.
Explore all your options for learning and choose the one that will work best for you. Remember, it is easy to try to do too much at once so take steps to avoid information overload.
Put what you learn into practice
Skills-based learning is useless if it isn’t applied to some problem or used in some way as part of your complete set of business solutions. For example, attending a course or reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program for practice.
Learning how to quickly build a team for your business in a workshop means little until you apply the knowledge to your business. If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice fast.
It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are actively reading and take it with you, so you can read when you have the opportunity. Kindle will help you to do this easily. But don’t stop at books. Read blogs, articles, newsletters…just read!
Learn in Groups
Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a lonely journey. Join organizations which teach skills. Workshops and group learning events can also make educating yourself a fun, social experience.
You will also make friends who will have business solutions which are sometimes just what you're looking for.
When you educate yourself, you can make better decisions in your business. You can grow your business faster and when you face problems, you can recover far more quickly than if you’re “uneducated.”
2 . Train and Develop Your Employees/Team
But even as they were expressing this fear, they were telling me that they think that having well-trained employees can possibly be included in their business solutions.
Huh!? A contradiction if ever there was one.
I am familiar with this problem because I have had several clients who felt that way as well. As a matter of fact, I had one client who said to me, “…you mad! Spend all this money in training people who will be leaving sooner rather than later?”
I really understand this. But my question back to him was: “what if you don’t train them and they remain in your business?”
Just as important as training and developing yourself, is training and developing your employees or team.
In my opinion and experience, even when you have only 2 employees, you need to be considering their development. You see, having well-trained employees is a great route to growing your business fast.
Furthermore, you might not be able to offer them the salary and compensation packages that a big business can. When you can't , you can still create opportunities for on-the-job training, coaching and mentoring. These can prove to be far more valuable and attractive to your employees than money.
Here are some strategies you can use to develop your employees:
- Training - Training employees sends a powerful message that you value them and this serves as a serious retention strategy. In addition, trained employees will almost always make fewer mistakes and this will save you time and money. Of course, this is not without it challenges but the benefits far outweigh those challenges.
- Mentoring – when done right, this is rewarding for you and your employees. As a small business owner, you would have acquired experience and experiences which are invaluable. You can use these to help your employees perform better on the job and in life generally.
- Coaching - It's a process in which a business owner or manager helps an individual or a team to do the best job that they are capable of doing. It includes aspects of teaching and training, as well as observation and feedback.
In addition, coaching serves as an effective communication tool. It also leads to engaged employees and helps to let you know what employees need to improve. And if that’s not enough, it also enhances your performance as an employer and team leader.
If you’re really serious about selecting great business solutions for your business, then training and developing your employees must be one of them.
3. Lead So That Others Want to Follow You
Poor or no leadership ability was identified as one of the big problems facing many of the respondents.
They all realise either by experience or by observing other businesses, that some form of leadership skill was a necessary part of their trusted business solutions toolkit.
However, most business people said that they were frustrated with the theoretical BS that is widely available in the name of leadership. They want practical leadership steps, strategies and tools that they can use to get results which will last.
I agree entirely because in reality, leadership occurs in a specific context and in a particular environment. For small businesses, the circumstances which require effective leadership skills are constantly changing and owners must be able to respond appropriately.
The one thing you can do right now that will revolutionise your leadership is to be able to recognize the type of team you are leading.
2 types of teams you might have to lead...
To explain this I rely on Kevin Eikenberry’s concept of teams, a view which I support whole-heartedly. He advances the argument that there are basically two types of teams – a basketball (hockey, football, netball) team and a track and field team.
The “basketball” team operates as a single unit. In this unit, the position you hold on the team does not matter. Its success requires you to be flexible and be able to perform any or many roles on that team at a moment’s notice.
The players depend on each other, acutely aware that goals are reached and success achieved only when they are working together.
On the other hand there's the “track and field” team. The members on this team represent the same club or organisation and in this regard can be considered a team, but they really operate independently of each other.
What this means is, that if enough of the team members perform at a high level the team will win. But the actions of the sprinter is not dependent on those of the high jumper and neither is hers dependent on those of the cyclist.
What does all this mean to you?
Both types of teams can exist in your small business at the same time…and that’s okay. Your mission, should you accept, is to recognize which type of team, or even if both types exist in your small business, and how to deal with each team.
When you get this right, learning and applying the appropriate leadership skills to your business improves your productivity, enhances the closeness of the team and results in fully engaged employees. In the fastest time.
Leadership should indeed be in your trusted business solutions toolkit but…don’t rush to implement any old form of leadership.
Understand your business, the team you have acquired or you have inherited and find a form of leadership that will be right for you.
4. Be Flexible/adaptable in business
The respondents were unanimous on this: You have to be able to respond quickly to market and business conditions, if you are to remain in business, even before you can think about growing.
In other words, you have to be flexible and or adaptable in your business. However, here is the problem.
You were planning this business for a long time. So you did your market research. You established your business model and you opened your doors to business.
And then you only get a trickle of customers, instead of the flood you anticipated.
Everything tells you that you have to be flexible and make some adjustments fast. But you activate the fear factor. You go into denial and you shut out everything that is contrary to what you have done. You are now suffering from a bad case of commitment bias.
I can declare myself a firsthand expert on this.
I once had a candy business (Yes Me!). Before I started it, I did what I believe to be extensive market research. Then I got help from my Business Consultant friend, who brought here Business Analyst on board. As a matter fact, we were quite the business group.
Based on the number of schools in the area and several other relevant factors, we were sure that my target market should be children between the ages of 5 – 13, their parents and teachers.
When the business opened, I soon realized that we were sooo wrong about my ideal customers and products!
They turned out to be young men between the ages of 19 - 25, who bought gifts of sweets for their girlfriends, grandmothers and all the other women in their lives. And a ton of almond nuts for themselves since these are high in the cancer-fighting agent magnesium (according to them).
These particular customers were not even on my radar. So, I convinced myself that this was just a fad and the customer base I had envisioned and planned for, will show up.
I eventually changed my business model but sad to say, it was too late for the business turnaround to be successful.
Being flexible does not mean you are not true to yourself and your business like my girlfriend believes. Rather, for example, it can mean recognizing changes in customer preferences. And when you do, you put the business structure or the production methods in place to readily respond to these.
Being flexible determines:
- how, and how fast you generate more sales
- the speed at which you can lower your operating costs
- how you make more productive use of your time
- the way you strengthen ties with your customers and your team.
It's just one of the powerful business solutions you can ever implement.
5. Learn how to be truly productive
For the average small business owner, being CEO in your business really means you are Chief EVERYTHING Officer.
The problem is, you usually you don’t have the confidence, the money or the know-how to either outsource or delegate certain of your management or operations functions. You especially wish you did not have to plan and attend meetings.
So you end up having to do many things at once and by yourself. that means you work long hours, with very unsatisfactory results and a whole lot of frustration to show for it.
Listen carefully...multi-tasking does not equal increased productivity. Neither does “I’m so busy!” mean that you’re productive either. To me they suggest that you’re just not focused.
Each of the entrepreneurs I interviewed has a set of “productivity” habits or approaches which they have developed and refined over time, and which they consistently apply to their businesses.
You should follow this example!
As part of your plan to increase your productivity, learn the skill(s) you need to do the things you need to do.
I’m amazed that ICT and computers are such a part of our lives and many people still cannot type, do not understand the fundamentals of the technology and therefore cannot leverage it to improve their business.
For me being productive means having an efficient productivity system that enables me to reach my goals in the shortest possible time. That’s why I developed my COPE Productivity System which allows me to do just that.
It almost goes without saying that as a dependable business solution, being truly productive will sky-rocket your business success.
6. Build a strong personal network around you
One of the guys in my study, Mike, said that he is always amused when he hears people talking about “self-made this” and “self-made that” because right at the very beginning we were made by two parents!
Many of the others identified the need for some sort of support network to help them grow their businesses but failed to build one for two main reasons.
1. They were uncomfortable or even afraid of asking for help.
2. They believed that networking means that you are using people.
I understand #1 because many of us were raised to be strong and independent and asking for help is seen as a weakness.
#2 must be some kind of a flaw in my business and personal thinking because I can’t imagine living without my “circle of experience”. You see, to build your network, you need to understand and use good networking skills.
Building out a strong personal network is not only one of the best a business solutions to grow your business fast. It is also about building relationships through networking and making a friend before you need a friend.
So please get over yourself and begin building out your network.
Here are some tips to help you.
When you begin to build your network you will need the following key types of people:
- People who have the answers you need. They could be:
- Folks who can help you find a critical piece of software at a moment’s notice
- Those who are wired into your market in ways that allow them to know what’s working and what’s not
- Some who have solved business problems like yours for themselves or others
- Business colleagues who have a genius for brainstorming today's business solutions
- Those people who have the resources you need:
- People who can send you qualified prospects when you need to hire “the perfect” employee
- business owners and executives who control crucial resources — TV production units, training rooms, computer equipment
- Those who have other assets that could come in extremely handy in growing your company
- People who can perform specialized tasks far better than you — or anyone on your staff can: Graphic Designers, Business Breakthrough Specialists, Business Coaches.
What does it take to own a a great team of providers and partners? Well, you’re going to have to locate them, begin a relationship with them, add them to your network and keep them in your network. And you have to do this, long before you’ll ever need them.
How hard is that? It’s up to you…
7. Understand the big picture of your business
Meet "Benjamin" - owner of a business with an annual 7-figure revenue, and one of the most successful of my interviewees.
This was not always the case. In his own words, he had five business failures before he finally “got it”.
This was because, for too many years, he concentrated on doing what he was trained to do and loved doing. He paid little or no attention to the other aspects of business.
After all, he had always heard:
Do what you like and the money will follow!
When he finally began learning about and paying attention to things like:
- key numbers
- understanding simple finance
- understanding his industry as a whole
Then and only then was he able to scale a business up to 7-figures.
Benjamin was not alone. Many of the other members of the group confessed that they consistently pay little attention to the big picture.
This is a serious flaw in their approach to business. It is driven by the fact that they have convinced themselves that learning about business goes against the very essence of being an entrepreneur.
They studiously refuse to see the big picture of their business. And yet, they identify “seeing the big picture” as an integrated business solution that can really speed up the growth of a business.
I do not question this contradiction, because over time I’ve come to realize that in most cases, this position is really a cover for their fear of exposing their weaknesses in the area of business.
Staying in business and growing your business requires you to see the big picture of your business.
Let’s think of your business as a puzzle of many pieces which you must fit together.
A smart way to fit a puzzle together is to first become familiar with the picture on the cover of the box – the big picture.
Then, when you begin to fit the pieces together, you have a good idea which pieces you will need to connect first and how this will help you to complete the puzzle in the fastest way possible.
For example, Let’s say that you decide that your key systems or “puzzle pieces” are Human Resources, Customer Service, Team Building, Personal Development and Marketing. You next have to decide how these pieces fit together to begin looking like the big picture.
When you understand the business of being in business, you can approach your business development as though you are putting a puzzle together. With this approach, you will achieve your business growth much faster than Benjamin did.
How's that for one of the best business solutions ever!
8. Take action to keep you moving forward
Jean (proudly) described herself as the consummate procrastinator. But she had good reason, she added. She did not like doing things halfway. She did not like going ahead with anything until she was ready.
Among my interviewees, Jean was in good company. The only difference was that they were not proud of their procrastination.
Are you in this group too? I have to admit that I might have at least a toe in too.
So what advice can I give you?
The same that I got...
“You can’t let procrastination take you out! You have to keep moving forward!”
I agree, and so too did many of the procrastinators in the group.
If you are going to really explode your business success, taking action to keep you moving forward, must be your preferred business solution of choice.
More formal research suggests that there are actually two types of entrepreneurs:
Those that learn something and immediately apply it. Because they take action, they learn quickly (mostly through their own experience). In the process, they also gain valuable clarity on what works and what doesn’t.
Then you have the second type — by far the larger of the two. They want to learn more and then some more and consider this and review that before they get started.
So they plan endlessly. Always asking “what can go wrong” and attempting to solve problems before they occur so as to avoid making a mistake.
If you are a “consummate procrastinator” you need to replace your procrastination with action.
Some of you may approach it like me by jumping off the ship without a life jacket and learning how to swim before you hit the water.
The rest of you may want to take a more measured approach in which you will at least acquire a life jacket before you jump.
It is not the reflection, the reviewing, and the studying that will make things clearer. In reality, this will make things even more confusing.
There is so much information out there that the more you search the more conflicting information you will find. Very soon you will be suffering from information overload – leading to even more inaction.
Your best bet?
Learn to embrace a “do-it wrong- fast” mindset, knowing that you might not get it right the first time but knowing that taking action will create the clarity you want.
If you implement none of the other business solutions you should implement this one!
9. Learn the key business communication skills and use them
I don’t have to tell you. Poor business communication is a serious flaw which leads to frustration at every level of the business.
It was like déjà-vu to hear many people in the group admit that some area of their communication need to be improved and that doing so will improve the business.
They were absolutely right. Poor communication often creates tension and bad feelings within relationships.
When I asked them how they knew that their communication was poor, the answers were insightful.
Here are a few direct quotes:
- There are times when I should have a face-to-face conversation but I send an email. That makes me a coward...I know...but I can’t help it.
- I hate having to give negative feedback. When I have to, I find I put it off for as long as I can and then (when I do) the drama is off the chart!
- Lorna, I know you’ve spoken to me about reacting emotionally instead of responding calmly, but these people who work for me just piss me off!
- I hate public speaking and I find I’m having to do more and more of it lately!
- If another employee tells me I don’t listen, I think I will start screaming and never stop.
As I listened to these and similar answers I heard all the F-Factors – fear, frustration, flaws and failures.
Fixing your communication problems is not something you can easily do on your own but it is something you must do.
Start by taking a proactive and comprehensive approach. This would include identifying your flaws and also what communication skills you need to acquire to be successful as a leader.
Also, try to determine your communication style and the extent to which it is helping or hindering your business success.
Learn your key business communication skills and use them. These will vary from person to person and will depend on the nature of your business.
They may include:
- Having conversations with clients, customers and employees
- Public speaking
- Listening effectively
- Communicating in a crisis
- Communicating assertively
- Leadership Communication
- Management communication
- Writing effective emails
- Communicating with the media
- Writing reports
As a business solution to explode the growth of your small business, superior communication skills stand out as the foundation skills. They help you to build confidence and control the conversations. They also help you to build networks and expand your influence.
What are you waiting for? Take your communications skills to the top right now.
10. Market, market, then market some more
The question: What single thing you wished you’d done more of?
The answers: Marketing! Marketing! You have to ask? – Marketing!
The answers surprised me. Not that “the marketing answer” was unexpected but I did not expect it to be the answer from so many of the respondents.
But what is marketing?
Never mind the highfalutin definitions you hear, simply stated, marketing is everything you do to place your product/service in the hands of potential customers in return for a profit for yourself.
Even as they acknowledge marketing as a powerful business solution to explode their business success, many small business people are actually afraid of marketing. As a matter of fact, many will avoid it at all costs.
I can relate to this fear.
When I started my business over 17 years ago, the one thing I was sure I was going to outsource was marketing. And I tried. But repeatedly, the marketing experts just kept trying to market my service business like I was selling products.
Very soon I discovered that no marketer I tried could quite translate the passion I felt in my belly and present it to the world as I wanted it presented.
So, I had no choice – kicking and screaming - but to learn how to market myself and my business. This was necessary because however good my product and or service is, if no one knows about it, then I will make no sales.
For services the approach has to be different. But what is a service?
Simply put, it's an activity or benefit that is essentially intangible and does not result in the ownership of anything. Its existence may or may not be tied to a physical product.
Incidentally, have you ever tried returning a service you didn’t like?
This means that effectively marketing a service depends on building a series of relationship at which, you the service provider, are at the core. This requires you to learn how to differentiate and sell yourself. No excuses.
Here are 3 great marketing tips provided by Clate Mask, Co-Founder and CEO of Infusionsoft:
First, you need to be consistent in your marketing.
The majority of small businesses are inconsistent in their follow-up. They might send an email or direct mail piece and then wait months before sending another one. Without consistency, your prospect has no idea who you are.
Furthermore, inconsistency can cause a perception of ineffectiveness. Nobody wants to buy from a company they don't trust.
Second, establish your expertise.
Too often entrepreneurs, struggling to survive, send emails and direct mail pieces simply to promote their products.
Now, promoting your products is great. But you need to do a lot more than that with your marketing. Your marketing messages should be positioning you as a respected authority in your industry.
Be sure to include testimonials, endorsements, and awards your company has won, along with your sales message.
Third, educate your prospects.
Your follow-up must be informative. You need to provide valuable information. If you're showing up with no value, you'll wear out your welcome fast. You need to communicate that you are on their side and deserve to be trusted. You'll accomplish this if you provide them with accurate, insightful information.
Just remember, when your marketing becomes consistent, promotes your expert status, and educates your prospects, you will soon have prospects knocking at your door, rather than you knocking at theirs.
Which one of these signature business solutions will most explode your business growth? Marketing will do it for you!
Your next "Business Solutions" Step...
So here you are..the proud owner of 10 business solutions to really explode your business growth.
I know you're happy to have them because you didn't invest the blood, sweat, tears and money in your business to want nothing but the best for it.
You see, I also know you just can't read this post and continue on like it never happened.
If you want to be a successful business person, if you want to make money with your business, if you want to make a difference in your world, then these business solutions are for you.
So let me remind you of them once again:
1. Commit to continuous personal development (CPD)
2. Train and develop your employees/team
3. Lead so that others want to follow you
4. Be flexible/adaptable in business
5. Learn how to be truly productive
6. Build a strong personal network around you
7. Understand the big picture of your business
8. Take action to keep you moving forward
9. Learn the key business communications skills & use them
10. Market, market and then market some more
If you are one of those people who begin reading from the end, please go forward and read the full post. Your business deserves no less.
Now PLEASE go ahead and select the one business solution that will bring you the most results the fastest. Whichever one you choose, you will be doing # 8…Isn’t that great?
Remember…If you do nothing you are actually going backwards because those taking action will be passing you out…
So what will be your next step forward?
I trust you to decide and take it...