Small businesses play a vital role in the U.S. economy where they are incubators for innovation and employment growth. About 97 percent of U.S. companies are small businesses, but their combined revenues are 66 percent the nation’s total business revenues.
And a new business is risky, with about 50 percent still in operation after five years.
So what should new business owners do to grow their companies?
Margot Dorfman, CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce has keen insights. As an experienced business owner herself and the co-founder and leader of the national chamber of commerce for women, Dorfman understands how to generate business growth quickly and affordably.
Here are Dorfman’s quick tips for a fast start:
1. Present Yourself as an Expert.
Present yourself (and your company) as an expert in your field.
“I hear consistently from buyers that they want to buy from the person with the most experience, passion, and focus,” Dorman says. “Typically that is the owner. If you have sales people on the front line, make sure they communicate knowledgeably about the company and the industry and deliver a strong message professionally.”
Avoid the, “I do everything” trap. Many new business owners take on too much and present themselves as an unfocused “jack of all trades.” Build your business in one solid area of focus where you are indeed an expert.
2. Leverage Free Visibility.
Demonstrate your expertise by writing articles for trade journals, local newspapers and magazines, and making presentations at meetings and conferences. If you are involved in government contracting, attend and speak at city council and commission meetings. Share your expertise and let people see who you are. You may also pick up tips from these meetings about new opportunities for your company.
“I was presenting at an event recently when one business owner said that she had time to only attend her one organization luncheon each month,” Dorman says. “The attendees were other women business owners having the same struggles, and this was a support network for her.”
Dorfman challenged her to broaden her network by stepping out to a range of meetings and activities so that she would be meeting new people — and they would be meeting her.
3. Make the Most Of Opportunities Nearby.
Identify buyers and potential buyers within a five-mile radius of your business. Look at consumers, small businesses, schools, local, county and state governments, large corporations, and any federal agencies, including military bases. Make a target list and reach out to these buyers to begin building relationships.
4. Expand Your Network Through Volunteering.
Business startups are more than a full-time job and can leave little (if any) time to attend industry meetings or become actively involved in your community. However, it is these very relationships that provide new opportunities for business growth.
Volunteering or serving on not-for-profit boards for causes with which you are aligned gives you the ability to meet other professionals that may be in need of your product or service.
5. Be Prepared and Present Solutions.
When approaching buyers, make sure you have done your homework first. What sets you apart in the conversation? Research the companies or agencies to see if they buy what you sell. If yes, understand their pitfalls and lead the conversation with solutions to their challenges.
6. Above All, Follow Up!
The biggest downfall to potential business is the lack of follow up.
Send follow up email, keep in touch with relevant information, and deliver on promises.
“One buyer I know says he sees the 80/20 rule reign here,” advises Dorfman. “Twenty percent of the businesses he meets respond 80 percent of the time. What happens to the rest? They make contact, don’t follow up, and lose his business. There are a lot of good companies with which he would have welcomed the opportunity to do business.”
Dorfman has learned, from her own experience as an entrepreneur and her experience coaching other small businesses, that companies that are successful have created a wide network of targeted connections.
Successful business owners limit their efforts to targeted regions or areas of focus, establish themselves as experts, provide appropriate solutions for each customer, and follow up consistently.
Every small-business owner can build a successful business by making a commitment to building relationships, providing a quality product or service, being a market leader, and keeping those relationships going with good follow up.