In light of National Small Business Week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the challenges that keep small businesses from doing more business and what these entrepreneurs, who already wear so many hats, can do to overcome them.
Recently, I partnered with Constant Contact on a new national survey of small business owners, looking at how these entrepreneurs approach and prioritize things like operations, marketing and strategic planning. The results shed light on important pain points that are impacting small business owners and provide a big-picture perspective on the challenges that face many of the small businesses and entrepreneurs with whom I work day-to-day. Below I’ll take a closer look at three key challenges and outline simple, effective actions small business owners and entrepreneurs can take to tackle these challenges head-on while also growing their business.
Reacting vs. looking ahead
Every business owner knows how important it is to stay on top of day-to-day operations, but survey results suggest “short-termism” is a common problem amongst small business owners. The survey found that most small business owners (63 percent) plan strategically just a year or less in advance, which is understandable -- business owners often need to prioritize issues of the day and immediate objectives over longer-term plans -- but strategic opportunities may be missed when you are only looking at the business challenges that are right in front of you.
If you are constantly reacting, you miss the opportunity to engage in longer-term strategic partnerships, or to develop new products or services that meet your customers’ evolving needs, and you generally aren’t able to track your financials or promote your business as well as you should.
The solution? Create a schedule. Set regular times each quarter, and each month, to take stock of your longer-term plans, review financials and evaluate new opportunities. Here is a sample planning structure:
Monthly Plan: Choose your top-three initiatives for the month (e.g., improve product, build partnerships, drive traffic to your website) and set clear metrics that define how you will measure success for each of them.
Weekly Plan: Select the specific projects you will focus on that week that relate to each of your initiatives. Based on your time and availability, decide how many activities you can do that week and block time in your calendar to work on them.
Daily Plan: Review your weekly tasks and choose small, specific things to do that day (e.g., make three LinkedIn connections, send a marketing email to your distribution list, fix two bugs in your product).
Planning like this does not take a lot of time, but it has huge return. It is better to do 15 minutes of focused work a day on your longer-term initiatives than avoiding them for months, then having to stay up for two days straight to catch up.
Getting it all done.
When you own your own business, there are simply never enough hours in the day. Nnearly a quarter of small business owners surveyed (22 percent) say that having enough time to do everything they need to do is their single biggest challenge in business.
One of the best things small business owners can do to make the most of their time and resources is to take advantage of new technology. Things like AI and automation may seem complex and “buzzwordy,” but with the right partners, it can actually make things surprisingly easy and fast. Automating common processes like scheduling and responding to customer questions, or preparing marketing materials helps free up more of your time, with the added bonus of making those activities more effective and efficient without sacrificing quality.
Making the most of your marketing.
Most small business owners aren’t marketers by trade, but almost all (95 percent) do some form of marketing for themselves, and many need to master what can feel like a very steep learning curve quickly. Most entrepreneurs and small business owners (64 percent) are self-taught and less than half (46 percent) consider themselves “marketing savvy.”
Marketing can be hard and it’s not always intuitive, but it’s important to not let perfect become the enemy of good. Marketing doesn’t have to be an all or nothing endeavor. Small, everyday steps can go a long way to make promoting your business more consistent, less time consuming and more effective.
When you are growing a business, you can get so busy building, hustling and responding to the needs of the day, that it can feel impossible to hit pause and take stock of where you are and how to get where you want to go. This National Small Business Week, take some time to focus on your growth. Take advantage of free educational sessions hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration and SCORE Association during the National Small Business Week Virtual Conference, or think about small steps you can take to overcome common barriers today. It will be time well spent and ultimately a benefit to your bottom line.