Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Smarter Business in Three Simple Steps

By: Brent Barnhart on Sunday, January 29, 2012

We're always trying to find bits of knowledge here and there to make ourselves a little bit wiser. Why can't we adapt the same attitude for our small businesses? As businesses continue to suffer a seemingly uncertain economy, it's not surprise that only the strong will survive. Such survival will come to the business that makes wise choices and looks before it leaps. We've detailed three smart business strategies that will pay off this year based on what we've learned from the trends of the year prior. Start this year off right by starting off smart.

Smarter Selling

When we talk about “smart selling,” we're not talking about selling at the best product or selling the absolute best product. In fact, it's not much about “selling” at all. It's about giving something away for free.

How does giving something away for free equal smart selling? Because free trials and free products result in profit. There are a number of products and services out there today that are seeing huge returns by “giving a taste” to the public for free and saving the best features for paid customers.

Consider the new streaming music service Spotify which just saw its release in the United States last year. The service offers a massive music library of just about anything you could imagine, available to you absolutely free. The paid version of the application removes the occasional commercials and allows you to access the service on your phone in addition to your computer. Once the customer has had a taste of the paid service, it'd be quite difficult to go back to the free version. Spotify knows this and offers a free trial of the paid version for one month. If you offer your customers enough value, they'll want to hang on to your product.

Free applications and software are immensely popular and for good reason; there's no barrier to entry. If you can offer something up for free to your customer base this year, do it. If you're selling a more concrete product, this may seem like a difficult task. Don't be afraid to get creative. There are always ways to harness the power of “free” that will help you out in the long-run and result in sales.

Smarter Social

Speaking of free, you can't talk much about “free” and “small businesses” without Social Media coming up as a buzzword. To some companies, however, Social Media is anything but “free.” It's not uncommon for companies to have Social Media specialists these days, and pump tons of cash into campaigns that result in few or no long-term customers. Letting cash slide down the drain isn't smart. So what can you do as a small business owner?

Once again, harness the power of “free” and sell smart. Don't get caught up in the sexiness and hype of Social Media; do what works for you and your business and only spend the time and money necessary. In fact, a smart social strategy can be done by yourself for absolutely free. No gimmicks, no “experts.” How?

Facebook?  Free. Twitter? Free. Google Plus? Free. Analytics?  There are free options.

Now, how much is your time worth? What about your “free” time? You can integrate a smart selling strategy with your social strategy by giving something away for free. But we're not talking about products and services here; we're talking about content. Producing and distributing content about your business and industry through Social Media and blogs is invaluable. Why? Because it spreads the word about your business and helps you and your business get found through the major search engines. It could take some advice and expertise to fine-tune your strategy, but you don't need to hire a specific “expert” or pump a bunch of money into campaigns.

Test the waters of Social Media before diving in and see what you find. Have a plan. That's what “smart social” is all about.

Smarter Sustainability

A final way you may make your business smart this year is by investing in sustainability. This may seem somewhat off-topic, but more and more businesses are getting on board and for good reason. Customers are becoming more and more eco-conscious and want the businesses they frequent to do the same. It's another way that you can win over a new customer base, meanwhile also doing good for the environment. There's no better time to start than now.

Make your sustainability goals clear and take them one step at a time. Flying blindly and trying to overhaul everything in your office to be eco-friendly simply won't work. Take small steps. Consider your building's lighting. Shipping supplies. Paper usage. Tackle these obstacles one-by-one and you'll make sure to get them done and not put yourself in financial ruin in the process. It may seem daunting, but your efforts will pay off in the long-run, either to your wallet or in the eyes of your customers.

Choose to be the “smarter” business this year. Don't be afraid to take risks, but make sure to look before you leap. Be optimistic, but also be mindful and cautious. It's a tough climate for small businesses out there right now, and only the smart may survive. Will you be one of those survivors?