Need help reenergizing your business? Out of creative ideas for reaching your business goals? We've compiled a list of the top 100 tips to improve your business. Consider it your checklist for maintaining a successful business.
Expand Your Business
1. Take on the World
Want your company to go global? Keep these 9 tips in mind when eyeing foreign shores:
- Research and map out your export journey.
- Know where you want to go and go there.
- Take that decisive step and follow it up with sensible judgment. Jump in with both feet first, but keep them firmly planted on the ground.
- Keep your ego in check. Don't let the prospect of "going global" inflate your ego and cause misjudgments.
- If it smells, looks, or feels bad, don't try to rationalize otherwise. Trust your instincts.
- Treat people as you yourself want to be treated.
- Make personal contact with attentiveness, courtesy, professionalism, and consistency.
- Factor in a three-year lead-time for world market penetration. It takes time and patience.
- In a global marketplace, welcome the unknown.
2. Where to Find Expansion Financing
You may have used personal savings or money borrowed from friends and family to get started, but where do you go when it's time to grow your business? If you've been in business for less than three years or have nothing to offer as collateral, you might find traditional lending institutions unwilling to finance your business. There are options, though--if you know where to look. Try these three funding sources to fund your expansion plans:
- Go back to those same friends and family. If your first loan wasn't formalized, do it this time by drawing up documents with a set repayment plan and interest.
- Go the government route. Many entrepreneurs get financing, including microloans, from SBA-backed lenders.
- Talk to your vendors. Another method of obtaining financing for supplies or materials is to approach vendors of those products about opening a line of credit with them so you can stock your inventory or buy raw materials for your product without having to put the cash upfront.
3. Should You Open Another Location?
This might not be your best choice for business expansion, but it's what often comes to mind first for so many entrepreneurs considering expansion. Take a look at the following six tips to see if opening a second location is the right move for your business:
- Make sure you're maintaining a consistent bottom-line profit and that you've shown steady growth over the past few years.
- Look at the trends, both economic and consumer, for indications on your company's staying power.
- Make sure your administrative systems and management team are extraordinary-you'll need them to get a new location up and running.
- Prepare a complete business plan for a new location.
- Determine where and how you'll obtain financing.
- Choose your location based on what's best for your business, not your wallet.
4. Franchising and Licensing
Have you ever considered turning your business into a franchise or business opportunity? The key question to ask yourself is if your business can be converted into a business format that somebody else could operate (a franchise) or if you have a standardized product or service that someone could resell multiple times (a business opportunity). While you may think that expanding your business requires raising capital, hiring employees, buying equipment and leasing office or warehouse space, it's often more profitable-and less risky-to license your product to a big corporation with manufacturing capabilities and an existing sales force to do the work for you.5. How to Target Other Markets
If you sell to teens, start marketing to college students. If you sell to working moms, maybe your product will work for stay-at-home moms with a few modifications. Another strategy is to take a retail-oriented product or service and sell it wholesale. For example, a catering business that specializes in cakes, pies and other tasty desserts can contact local bakeries to sell its goods on a wholesale basis. While the price you get from the bakeries will be lower (because the bakeries need to mark it up to their customers to make a profit), you'll sell more products and generate consistent cash flow that you can bank on.
Continuing Your Personal Development
6. Take a Vacation!
Many small-business owners brag about how indispensable they are and that they never take vacations. But if you're not taking time to unwind, you're setting a terrible example for your employees. Not taking a vacation is not a sign of an indispensable business owner; it's proof of an ineffective leader. It's the mark of an irritable boss with high employee turnover.
You've got to prepare for that first vacation so you can really take it easy while you're sipping piña coladas on your Caribbean lounge chair. If you're afraid to take a vacation, you may be too active in the mundane day-to-day tasks of your business and not be allowing If you're doing the same tasks as your employees, stop it immediately-you're the boss, the leader, the visionary.
You have to start by making sure you've adequately trained your employees to do their jobs. Then allow them to perform those responsibilities without you always looking over their shoulders. As your employees have more success and fewer failures, they will relish the more demanding challenges ahead-leaving you time to build your business--and leaving you time for a vacation.
7. Develop Your Social Capital
Social capital is very similar to its monetary sibling. It, like monetary capital, is accumulated by an individual or a business and used in the production of wealth. Put more simply, it's the accumulation of resources developed through personal and professional networks. These resources include ideas, knowledge, information, opportunities, contacts and, of course, referrals.
Effectively developing your social capital can be a daunting task. However, doing so within a structured, organized networking framework will leverage your efforts and help you begin building your balance of capital to positively impact your bottom line. A key way that social capital is acquired is through networking because successful networking is all about building and maintaining solid, professional relationships. Plan your word-of-mouth marketing efforts just as you would any marketing effort. Give referrals constantly. It helps build your contact network, and good business karma as well. And show professionalism at all times. Being dependable, delivering a product on time, meeting appointments consistently and treating others with courtesy will give you a professional reputation and cause you to be remembered by those you wish to have become a contributor to your social capital.
8. Creating a Think Tank for Your Business
As a business professional, you need a constant supply of information to achieve success. You must stay aware of trends and issues and keep up with rapid economic and technological changes to become and stay competitive.
You may have already discovered that it's next to impossible to keep up with all this information on your own. There is simply too much of it. Fortunately, the knowledge you lack is always someone else's specialty, so you can turn to others for help. There are usually at least a few people who can help you deal with certain issues or special problems that you may encounter in the business or profession you are in or are interested in entering. In lieu of specific knowledge, you must know in advance whom to contact and where to go to get the information you need.
When you've identified your most important contacts, start connecting with these people to enhance and improve your knowledge network. As you do this, your network and the information you need to build your business will expand and grow.
9. How to Undertake a Personal Learning Program
What do you have to do to enjoy the long-term benefits of a personal learning program? Subscribe to business magazines and e-mail newsletters, and read them consistently. If you have a Palm or Pocket PC, use e-book software to read business articles and e-books. Listen to audiotapes in your car. Commit yourself to reading (or listening to) at least one or two business books each month. Register for seminars and short classes that teach hands-on skills such as marketing, sales, accounting, legal issues, etc.-the more you know about each such subject, the better you'll be at supervising people who do those tasks for you. In general, you must make your education a priority and schedule significant amounts of time for it. While some of this can be squeezed into your day (such as reading while waiting in line), much of it will require you to give up something else that probably isn't as important (such as watching television). 10. Why You Should Never Stop Learning
Long-term business success relies on continuous personal growth. Achieving that means being better today than you were yesterday, and being better tomorrow than you are today. A common mistake for many entrepreneurs is that they "just don't have time" to work on the things that will make them better at what they do. They get caught up in the daily operations of their business and can't see past that. You may have heard the old saw that some things are urgent and some are important, but few things are both. Many business owners spend their time on the urgent things because their lack of planning and long-term perspective continually creates additional urgent things. Self-education is a good example of something that is extremely important but not at all urgent.
What you must do is immerse yourself in data and make it your goal to absorb and understand that information, turn it into knowledge and then use that knowledge to gain experience. This, of course, is a long-term task, and the main reason most people fail to stay with it is because the feedback loop is so long. It often takes months of hard work before you start to see positive changes-you won't see the changes as they happen, but you'll look back one day and be amazed at how much your judgment and business skills have grown. You'll feel yourself start to think more clearly, you'll understand more of what you see and hear, and your entrepreneurial vision will become clearer.
Smart Money-Saving Tactics
11. Buying Brainpower
Sometimes it's not what you buy, but how you buy that will save you money. Check out these smart shopping tips:
- Stretch your budget with barter. Swapping one product or service for another is a good way to avoid cash outlays-and unload slow-moving inventory. If you'd rather not bargain with other businesses directly, hire a commissioned barter broker (listed in the Yellow Pages under "Barter"), or join a commercial barter club or exchange.
- Time your payments. Ask suppliers if they give discounts for early payment. If not, it's to your advantage to pay your bills-including utilities, taxes and suppliers-as late as possible without incurring a fee. The longer money is in your account, the longer it's earning interest for you.
- Join an association. Many trade and business associations have reasonable membership fees and offer discounts on everything from insurance, travel and car rental to long-distance phone service, prescriptions and even golf course fees.
- Seek at least three bids on everything. Even mundane purchases merit shopping around. If you quote a competitor's lower price, a supplier or vendor will often match that price to win your business.
- 12. Employee Economics
Employees can be your most costly investment. If you're not sure you're ready to take the jump to hire a full-time employee-and pay for their benefits and deal with the HR headaches-there are alternatives. Employee leasing-in which you turn over your work force to a professional employer organization that leases your employees back to you-can save you substantial cash on employee benefits, says Bruce Steinberg at the American Staffing Association (ASA).
Or, rather than paying for employees who sit idle when business is slow, consider hiring temporary employees to handle surges in business. Anther way to get free or low-cost help-and give college students a chance to learn the ropes-is by hiring interns. Check with your local university for more information.
13. Insurance Intelligence
Buying insurance is one of those necessary evils all smart entrepreneurs put up with. But that doesn't mean you have to break the bank. Here are some cost-cutting ideas:
- Save by association. When looking for insurance, check with your trade association. Many associations offer competitive group insurance.
- Raise your deductible. Raising the deductible on your insurance usually lowers your premiums. Even if you end up having to pay the deductible, it's likely to be less than the amount you save.
- Make a foul-weather friend. By arranging for an alternative place to run your business in case of a major disaster, you may be able to save on business interruption insurance, advises the Insurance Information Institute. For instance, you could arrange with a firm in the same industry to use their facilities in case of damage, and vice versa.
- 14. Office Overhead
Small office essentials can nickel-and-dime you to death, unless you buy smart. Purchase recycled printer cartridges. Check Google or your Yellow Pages for a local recycled printer cartridge supplier. You can also find free forms online that you can download, customize and print. Start with our forms on Formnet. Another way to save money is buying used equipment. You can save up to 60 percent with used computer equipment, copiers and office furniture.
15. Penny-Pinching Promotions
Want to market your business on a budget? The people you know can help. Here are three ways the people in your network can assist your marketing efforts: 1. Split advertising and promotion costs with neighboring businesses. Jointly promote a sidewalk sale, or take your marketing alliance further by sharing mailing lists, distribution channels and suppliers with businesses that sell complementary goods or services. 2. Ask the people you know for help. The kind of support you'd most like to get from your contacts is referrals-the names of specific individuals who need your products and services. So go ahead and ask! Your contacts can also give prospects your name and number. As the number of referrals you receive increases, so does your potential for increasing the percentage of your business generated through referrals. 3. Got a happy customer? By telling others what they've gained from using your products or services in presentations or informal conversations, your sources can encourage others to use your products or services.