Thursday, November 3, 2011

Is Your Business Ready to Evolve?


By: Jennifer Hice on Tuesday, October 25, 2011

For many small business owners, the terms rebrand, reinvent and redesign may as well be evil, four-letter words. However, the world is constantly changing, and as such, a business should be built to evolve in such a way that they can weather the storm. Change is always going to be difficult and will cause even the most successful entrepreneur to experience a burning case of anxiety. Yet, one’s ability to adapt is absolutely necessary in order to foster and sustain growth, both personally and professionally. While the idea of dismantling and rebuilding a brand you have spent years creating may sound like the worst idea of all time, doing so could mean the difference between watching your company fail and seeing it continue to succeed. When done correctly, rebranding can be the very change needed to spark new life back into your business. In fact, there are always going to be reasons you need to adjust and tweak your business plan. After all, a business’ brand is its identity, and as strange as this may seem, it has a certain personality, or life, of its very own. As such, it could easily perish if left stagnant and unchanged for too long. A successful brand has the ability to evoke a positive response in its audience. So, given the limited resources and capital you may be managing as a small business owner, how do you remain on top amidst this ever-changing economic climate and corporate environment?

Businesses change for a number of different reasons, including advances in technology, an increase in competition and the like. Consider the introduction of the Internet for a moment. The web has dramatically transformed the world of business marketing and communications as a whole. A business’ ability to reach out to their current and potential customer base is virtually limitless. Moreover, in today’s technology-driven environment, information about you and your company is available on demand.

For example, let’s say that you own a small dry cleaning business. You’ve always had a fairly steady stream of regular customers, until a chain store, offering discounted dry cleaning services, opens in your area. There’s no question that both your level of service overwhelmingly outshines that of your new, corporate competitor. However, ABC Corporate Dry Cleaning utilizes a number of different technology-based communication platforms in order to drum up and even steal your business. For instance, they utilize Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to frequently post status updates featuring coupons and perks for new customers, establishing a relationship with the very customers you are desperate to reach. Also, they’ve written the content on their website in such a way that it is now “optimized”, allowing search engines like Google and Yahoo to recognize their site’s domain name as a credible and valuable. This credibility prompts Google to rank your competition’s website above your own when search results are displayed. With just a few quick strikes of the keyboard, a potential customer has already found and interacted with your competitor. I know what you’re thinking…Not cool, Google. Not cool! So, make Google work for YOU instead! Take a moment and research the term, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Read more about the simple and affordable things you can easily do to help your business remain relevant, searchable and competitive.

Also, consider the recent commoditization of cell phones. A large percentage of the population now communicates almost exclusively using their smartphone. Gone are the days that business use flashy and expensive direct mail pieces to capture the attention of their target audience. Today, companies are reaching out to consumers with text messages, e-mails and smartphone-friendly applications that can load fully functional websites with just a tap on a touchscreen. It’s incredible. Regardless of the size of your business, there are so many ways in which you can take advantage of technology and make it work in your favor. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Let’s use the example of the dry cleaning business again. Remember, you run a small, family-owned dry cleaning business that’s been serving the local community for almost 10 years. So here’s an idea…when people come in to drop off or pick up their garments, ask if they’d like to receive coupons and information on weekly specials via email. You’ll be amazed by how many people will gladly opt-in to receiving your messages. Before you know it, you’ll have your very own e-mail distribution list. Moreover, your customers will feel as if they are receiving valuable and relevant communication pieces from your business. You’re will not be deemed “junk” mail. You’re 10 percent off e-mail coupon will be saved, printed, utilized and appreciated. Plus, in today’s economic climate, many consumers select their service providers based not only on financial value, but also on how valuable they feel as a customer. As a small business owner, you are truly the backbone of America’s economy. You employ locally based employees, and your business supports the local community. You’d be surprised to know how many consumers will go out of their way to support you, wanting you to succeed. Just be sure you’re giving them the chance to do so by continuing to adapt and evolve in such a way that you’re able to communicate effectively and remain accessible.

Another way to ensure your business survives the rough seas of change is to focus on your existing customer base. They are your “bread and butter,” so don’t lose them! Customer retention and satisfaction is key! Think about creating and providing some value-added products or services, expanding your current offerings. For instance (using the dry cleaning business example again), you could develop a safe and cost-effective way to provide 24-hour drop off and pick up service for your customers. You could create a Refer-a-Friend Rewards program. You could even develop a VIP Program, providing customers with a unique and fun way to earn their way to achieving Bronze, Silver, and Gold status based on frequency of visit or dollars spent. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks and expand the vision of your business. Sit down, brainstorm and develop new and interesting ways in which you can engage current and potential consumers. Network with the local business community and strategic partners in order to foster an environment of mutually beneficial growth and support. For example (yup, another example using the dry cleaning business)…your store is located next to a popular clothing boutique, heavily frequented by local shop-a-holics. Business idea: Why not partner with said boutique, which happens to sell many items that are dry-clean-only, and have them staple a coupon for cleaning services to their customer’s receipt at the time of checkout?

It really doesn’t take a lot of extra time or money to keep your business thriving. Maximize your resources. Ride the winds of change on to new horizons, rather than allowing them to knock your small business down. In today’s ever-changing business environment, adaptability is key. Embrace change…make it work for you, rather than against you!