As we approach the tail end of summer, many small business owners who are also parents are probably looking forward to getting the kiddies back into the school routine. With a little more structure back in your life and fewer distractions it’ll be a great time – even if you’re not a parent – to refocus your efforts on your business and go “back to basics”.
In this post, we focus on 5 key areas of your business to pulse-check. Not all of this is directly about technology (although nowadays so much is) because this is coming from our experience and lessons learned as business owners who happen to be IT guys. Many might seem like no-brainers but they may also be gaping holes sitting right under your nose. So here goes…
1. Do I have enough (or the right) hardware and software?
Oddly enough, many business owners think that all they need is one computer per employee and Microsoft Office to run a business. First off, you may want to take a look at whether each of your employees has a desktop and/or a laptop. The default choice is usually a desktop, but with the growing work-from-home phenomenon and technology enabling remote working more and more seamlessly, a laptop might make it more convenient to squeeze as much productivity as you can while your worker bees appreciate the flexibility.
As far as software goes, depending on your line of business there are a limitless number of applications specially designed (or customizable) for virtually any industry that you may not realize how many options there are out there to make your day-to-day easier. Finally, what about your network, servers, printers, even mobile devices? We could go on and on here. Suffice it to say that if you look around your office at all of your equipment we’ll bet you’ll see at least one or two areas of opportunity for improvement that could bring higher productivity, time savings, and not cost as much as you think.
2. If a hurricane or other disaster strikes, what will happen to my data?
Hopefully you know the answer to that question – and hopefully your answer to that question is nothing, because you have a backup and storage plan. Your data and servers are being replicated off-site, in the “cloud”, a.k.a. some other remote location that is not your office. If this is not the case, then we need to talk. That would be the equivalent of playing with fire, literally.
3. How does my website look?
With the exception of some legally questionable types of businesses, there is no excuse to not have a website for yours. It’s today’s digital business card. If you don’t have a website yet, you are missing a huge opportunity to tell your story: who you are, what you do, why you do it. You’re also probably well behind your competition. Even if you think all you need is a “basic” website for your small business, it will take some deep thought on your brand and what value you provide to your customers to truly make it stand out. If you have a website already, here’s a good test: ask someone who is not familiar with your business to visit your site and see if they can tell you the following: a) what product/service you provide, b) why they should do business with you, and c) what they need to do to reach you/learn more. You may be surprised at the result.
4. What comes up when I Google my business’ name?
This is one of those questions that seems like it has an obvious answer, right? Well, not so much. If you don’t have a website, you’ll want to make sure your business is at least listed and registered with Google, Yahoo and other local listing sites like www.yellowpages.com. When is the last time you remember dialing “411” to get a phone number? Ignoring the internet and search engines in this day and age is foolish, even if you’re a mom-and-pop corner store. Sites like Groupon, Foursquare and Living Social have made sure of that and succeeded by putting the spotlight on local businesses.
Now that we’ve covered what comes up on Google that you can control, let’s cover what you can’t. Not only are people taking to the internet to find local/small businesses, they are going back to talk about those businesses, for better or worse. Make sure you are aware of any comments or mentions, positive or negative, about your company on a regular basis. An article published earlier this week in the online publication Business Insider gives some helpful tips on how to manage your brand reputation online.
5. How am I marketing my business?
It may seem like we know a lot about marketing for IT guys. Well that’s because it has taken us some time to learn this lesson the hard way. We’ve tried to take the seemingly easier path and hired expensive firms that did not produce results, and we’ve also tried the cheapest option at other times. At the end of the day, no matter how big or small your budget is, you need to know your business well enough to carve out a clear, compelling brand message. If your company was a person what would its personality look like? What value or benefits do you provide to your customer? Notice that we are not talking about the actual product or service, but value – the actual benefit your customer gets from what you do or provide (we recently posted how we feel about being valued vs. appreciated). Finally, who is your ideal customer and how should you reach them? You may decide (like we did) as a strategy that you don’t want to please everyone and only cater to a certain type of customer.
Knowing all this well is the first step. The second step is deciding whether you know marketing well enough to develop and execute a strategy around it. Chances are you’ll figure out (like we did) that you don’t and you’ll never have time to do it yourself. You need good help in the form of an experienced professional. Luckily we found a good one and we are happy to refer her to our clients.
Moral of the story for this post: don’t underestimate the difference made by thinking about all of these things frequently enough. Even if you think you have all the answers, it doesn’t hurt to revisit them every so often because like the old saying goes, the only constant is change. Business owners who don’t realize and embrace that will only go so far.