Solutions to your top 5 business challenges.
1) Marketing: How do you connect with customers?
Narrow your target.
Small business owners tell us all the time that they cast a wide net to find anyone who could be a customer. There are two problems with this approach: First, it spreads your limited marketing resources too thin. Second, by targeting everyone and anyone, you may reach the wrong clients.
Here’s how to find the right ones: Review your current client list and choose the clients that you like the best and enjoy working with most. Then list the reasons why you enjoy working with them. Those are the characteristics of the prospects that you’ll target going forward.
Invest in social media.
You don’t need to be on every social channel – you just need to be on the ones where your customers are most active. Ask them which social media platforms they use, both personally and professionally. How did they find you? Where do they go for answers to their questions? Focus your marketing programs on the most relevant ones.
Start using a CRM system.
A customer relationship management (CRM) system can automate how you keep track of customers, much more effectively than a spreadsheet or a bunch of scattered emails. A good CRM system can show you what your customers need from your business, how you’ve solved problems in the past, and when you last contacted them with promotions and outreach. Check out systems like Zoho, Insightly, and Copper to start.
2) Time management: How do you make choices about what to do - and how to do it?
Break your day into blocks.
Think about when your brain is most and least sharp. Build a new schedule with your most challenging tasks at the time of day when you're most sharp. You have to budget time for functions like marketing, accounting, and product development. Sometimes that means closing doors and shutting off email and devices so you can focus on the critical work of building your business – without getting distracted by tasks that can wait.
Do what you do best, and outsource the rest.
Not only can you not do everything at once, you can’t do it perfectly. Find experts who can take on the jobs you don’t want to (or shouldn’t) do. Then take all of your newly available time and devote it to sales, marketing, hiring and other activities to grow your business.
Pause and reflect.
Every small business owner has a never-ending to-do list. It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy without truly understanding which of your actions are generating results. Take 5 minutes per week, 1 hour per month and 2 hours per quarter to step away from activity and pause and reflect. Do your actions = results? If not, change your actions.
3) Creating a sustainable business: How do you work more efficiently?
Shop for point of sale (POS) systems.
If you run a real-world storefront, you need fast and easy ways for customers to pay for services using multiple payment methods – not just credit cards, but PayPal and Venmo too. If you also sell online, you need a POS system that’s integrated with your real-world store so that customer transactions and inventory are all in one place.
Consider adding human resources platforms.
If you have more than 5 employees, a cloud-based HR system can help you move away from paper files and clunky spreadsheets. Many of these systems integrate with payroll, making payday a lot easier. Consider Namely, Bamboo, or Zenefits and ask for online demos.
Add reporting tools.
You need data, not just estimates of how many products you’ve sold or how much revenue you took in. Look for systems that can generate easy-to-understand snapshots of how your business is doing day to day, month to month, and year to year. Ask your software provider or a consultant to recommend a good reporting tool that works with your business systems.
4) Finding customers: How do you build a loyal customer base?
Connect with customers.
You’re never just marketing and selling – you’re making connections. Create strategies to reach out to customers on a regular basis, perhaps quarterly, whether on social media or at in-person events. Schedule a free customer event at your location. Offer samples, training, demonstrations, and free products.
Make it effortless.
Delivering an effortless experience is what keeps customers happy and coming back for more. The truest test of loyalty is when something goes wrong. By exceeding customer expectations and offering a flawless service interaction, you can directly impact the likelihood of customers repurchasing your product or service. Use survey software like SurveyMonkey to find out from your customers where you can be doing better.
Use your data.
What customers were buying from you last year that aren't buying as much this year? What products are your best sellers? Hire a consultant to dig into your data and provide answers to these questions. If you have a CRM system, you can gather information about your customers to target promotions and other outreach to them.
5) Managing change: How do you tackle taxes and healthcare costs?
Meet regularly with your accountant.
Review last year's tax returns and update your accountant on what you've been doing this year. What can you do to minimize your taxes? Improve profitability? Your accountant can tell you whether incorporating is a good move for you, and how you can take advantage of tax credits and incentives that could save you money.
Talk to a benefits consultant.
Managing healthcare costs is a big worry for small business owners. Research benefits consulting firms in your area and invite two of them in separately to review your health insurance, retirement plans and other benefits. Compare their advice to what your current benefits firm is doing and give them a chance to respond.
Be prepared for tough times.
Make contingency plans now, and you’ll be better prepared for unexpected events. For example, make sure you have at least 6 months of cash in your bank. If you experience a revenue shortfall, where might you find emergency funding? If you lose employees at a peak time, how can you shore up your workforce? Always have a plan B for when times get tough.
Gene Marks, Small Business Expert
Gene is a columnist, author and business owner. He writes every day for The Washington Post, weekly for Forbes, Inc. and Entrepreneur, and has written 5 books on business management. Gene enjoys helping business owners understand trends and how they can take action.
Carissa Reiniger, Founder, Silver Lining Ltd.
Carissa started Small Business Silver Lining with a mission to help small businesses become more profitable and sustainable. She created SLAP, the Silver Lining Action Plan, a 13-month growth program based in behavior change science, helping small business owners adopt the right behaviors and take the right actions to grow their business. She also regularly writes, speaks and advises on small businesses.
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