The Future is small business. A name and a face to where we buy from, product or service. This post is about what I’ve learnt from the almost ten years that I have been on my own. If you are running a small business, this might help.
I have been there, I have done that. I am not claiming to be a Guru of any kind, but whatever I’ve learnt, I’ve learnt it on my own, the hard way, by learning from my mistakes and making new ones. People ask me why I share my knowledge so freely. Well, knowledge should be free for anyone who is seeking it and seeking it desperately. I am not threatened by the fact that someone may learn from me and get ahead. I would be happy if that happens, I will stick my nose up in the air and be proud.
We know what we should do or shouldn’t, but sometimes it helps if someone else told us,it brings clarity. All of these observations are from a handmade and decor business perspective, but it holds good for any small business. So here goes:
1.Be one hundred percent convinced about what you are doing.
I am going to sound like a broken record which repeats “you have to absolutely love and be obsessed about what you are doing”. If you are not convinced, no one else will be. Its ok if your product or service is not up to the mark, commit to constant improvement and you will get there. Its important to know your worth, or else you will be constantly judging yourself through other peoples eyes.
Also, do enough research to know what other people are offering and how it is different from what you do in terms of offering, quality, pricing. Knowledge is really power.
2. Get your word out.
As a small business owner, you are the chief of everything. But while being busy with all the things that take up time, one thing that is non negotiable is letting people know that you exist. You cannot be too busy making awesome products. If know one knows you make awesome products, no one buys them.
So every single day, do at least one small activity to put your word out. It could be doing a social media post or talking to a stranger about what you do. Do it! Commit yourself to marketing activity every single day and you will see results in the long run.
3. Know your customers and then find them.
One big mistake we do is that we assume that anyone can buy our products. Wrong! Every product has its own set of customers. It is possible to define your customer so accurately, you will be surprised. Look at your best customers, analyse who they are, what is their background?, where do they work?, what do they like?, their aesthetic sense and you will see a pattern. That is your ideal customer definition, this is half the battle one. Next step is to find that customer. With the present day technology, its not a big challenge at all. Put out good content about your products on social media and you can attract your target audience right there.
4. Human Interaction is what it is all about.
How many of us are tired of going to the mall to buy! In the last couple of weeks itself, I’ve met so many people who go to the mall only and only if it is necessary and during weekdays, so they minimize the feeling of being a customer number. Buying online and buying from brand chains has come to a saturation point for a lot of people. I am not an overly outgoing person, but I love buying from a bushiness that has a name and a face that knows me by my name and face. In my decorating projects, I try and include as many small business products as I can, sometimes even forcing it on a customer who has come back to me and said how much they appreciate it now.
Like all trends go out of fashion and come back, its being predicted that heavy globalization is a trend that will not last long and going local and small will be back. Use technology where you have to, but dont forget to put yourself in front of the customer at every opportunity you get.
5. Take Feedback constructively, own up!
When asked for feedback, I give honest upfront and sometimes critical feedback. Most of the time I see the person seeking feedback takes it with a positive spirit and works towards implementing it. I have also met people who are offended, get defensive and start making excuses. As a person who is on your own, you cannot take things personally or get too touchy about critical feedback. Do not get caught up with people who only give you negative feedback and only criticize.Take feedback from people whose feedback you value, who add value to your work.
I had an instance where a client gave me full charge and told me she trusted me and asked me to go ahead with making all color decisions. While on inspection, she was happy with everything else except one feature wall color. The minute she saw it, she was like “Preethi, I hate it!”. I shrugged and pulled out the shade cards and asked her what I should replace it with. Next day the color was changed at my cost. Why my cost? What is the cost of getting a customer who will trust you one hundred percent and let you make all decisions? compared to that, this was a very tiny cost for me!
6. Build a community
As I see it, unless you are building something purely for valuation and plan to sell your company, you dont really need to worry about competition. People who buy from an individual, buy from you coz of who you are and how much passion you put in. Even if your prices are a little higher, people are willing to pay that for the experience they get with you. Know it and appreciate it.
Build a community of your customers and a community of people like you who are working on their own. Never isolate yourself. Its easy to get caught up in your own web, when you get out and meet people, new ideas form, new collaborations happen. Also, when you are shopping with another small business, be the customer you want for yourself. If you want people to pay you a fair price and if you demand it, be willing to pay it to someone else too.
7. Have a support group
Someone said entrepreneurship is a lonely journey. It need not be! Write down the names of all of the people who genuinely support you in what you do. I am serious! WRITE IT DOWN! Could be anyone, family, friends, someone you met online, an ex colleague who is a well wisher. Whenever there is a need, reach out to your support group for ideas, clarifications, spreading your word, anything that they are willing to do for you. “Hey, I am having a sale, sould you send it to your friends?”, “Please share this on your social media”. Anything! Ask and it will happen. Be willing to do the same for them too. Eventually you will have a support group that looks out for each other. I say write it down coz in bad times, its difficult to remember who to call or take help from, so a written list helps.
This is officially the longest blog post ever. But also comes at a very special time. This year, I am completing ten years of being on my own. Its been a crazy roller coaster, but every bit of it is worth it!
If you found this blog post useful please let me know in the comments below. If you think someone else will find it useful, please share. I am running a “Instagram for Small Business” workshop this Saturday, you can get more details and buy your ticket here.