13 Common Mistakes Small Businesses Don’t Correct

Small Business that went bustThere is a significant difference between being frugal, and and being cheap. People that are frugal always try to get their absolute best bang for their buck, while cheap people simply just want to pay the least amount of possible for anything. Over the last couple of years, I’ve sort of beat myself up over what I believed was my ability to convey the value that I bring to a business. Recently thought, I’ve realized that it’s not me, the business owner is just trying to save money in the wrong places.

I do realize that I’m in the web development, and marketing space, so I don’t blame you if you take this with a grain of salt.

Website

There is significantly more to building a website than just putting up some text, images, and navigation between pages. There are graphic design, marketing, branding, technical, and user experience elements that have to be considered when building a site. When I sit down with a potential client, one the first things that I ask is about analytics. Usually I get a blank stare back.

The trade or profession specific cookie cutter designs are the worst thing that a small business owner, or professional can buy. Even worse are the generic cookie cutter ones, where the only variation is color scheme. In my opinion, these are a complete waste of money. You are buying a generic cookie cutter website, that was been slightly modified for you. Most websites for realtors, dentists, and insurance agents fall under this category. Usually, you also get charged a higher monthly fee for hosting it and worse performance, than if you bought the hosting yourself. And heaven forbid that you ever have to hire someone to work on it.

It’s hard to blame these folks, when they really don’t know any better, and the alternatives have obnoxious prices attached to them. Ask a graphic designer to design you a basic website, say like 5 pages. It will be beautiful, and the price will have 4 digits in it. Most graphic designers a taught to make beautiful things, but generally speaking don’t take marketing, SEO, user experience, or anything like that into account. There are designers that can built beautiful sites, that have a CMS, and are engineered, but we’re still talking about a 4 figure price tag. Please don’t for one second think that I’m putting graphic designers down. They get paid to build beautiful things and they deliver, but they deserve to be paid for their time.

The ultimate goal of a website is to make sure that you stand out, and are memorable. Your site needs to be customized to you, and your brand, while incorporating marketing elements, and good calls to action. If you’re technically capable and have the time to learn via trial and error, I suggest that you take a shot at doing it yourself. Get a hosting account with someone, and setup a wordpress install. I’m a fan of Blue Host(affiliate link). I’ve had to work with other shared hosting providers, and bluehost hasn’t given me a headache like the others do, and you get a free domain for a year. Once you setup your wordpress install, browse through this list of 100 free themes on Smashing Magaznine, install it, and then you’re off to the races.

Marketing

When things get tough, like in the current economy, small businesses tend to shy away from marketing. This is a mistake. You have to be more scrappy, more efficient, and you have to look at using other channels, but you need to double or triple down your efforts. If you’re competition is cutting their advertising, then you’re just been given a golden opportunity to pick up market share. The bottom line is that you have to hustle. I could write a whole post on how to get more exposure out of your current overhead and marketing expenses, but that will have to be another post.

Your website has to have an opt-in form, and you must have an email marketing strategy. Next to having someone’s phone number, email is the closest form of contact you can have with a person. When you pay for traffic, you have to do your best to try and collect an email address, this means you have to offer a killer value proposition, and deliver value each time that you email these people. Having someone’s email address is not a license to spam.

Renegotiate Your Contracts

The reality is that everyone is hurting right now. You should be tracking your expenses using a spreadsheet, quickbooks, quicken, In Dinero, etc… Look at what expenses you can either cut, or renegotiate. If you can get 1/3 of your vendors to cut their costs by 10-20% the savings really add up over time.

Ask your landlord for a 20% rent reduction. If you’ve been on the premises for 3+ years (depending on the location and contract) you might be off the hook for any normal wear and tear, and they’ll have to refund your deposit. Commercial real estate is staying vacant for longer, and rehab costs can easily be in the thousands of Dollars to get it in rentable condition. The cost of renovation plus a few months of it being vacant, will be more than giving you a discount. Other than staff, this is usually a company’s largest expense. Cutting this by even 10% can save you thousands of Dollars.

Buy good coffee beans. Either find them online, or go to an independent coffee shop and have them sell you a blended pound. 70% Medium roast, and 30% espresso is an awesome blend. This may get pricy depending on the size of your business, but the productivity boost of saving your employees a trip to Starbucks will make it more than worthwhile. Stay away from soda, it makes your employees crash.

Find open source alternatives to software that you’re paying licenses for. It will take you a short while to get used to the new menus, but it could save you tons of money in the long run.

As old school as it might sound, look and see if there’s ways you can trade for things that you need. Essentially you’ll be trading wholesale (or sweat equity) for something that you would normally pay retail for.

Move Your Business Online

If you’re in retail business, consider setting up an e-commerce solution. If you can’t set it up yourself, you’ll incur some expenses, but putting your store online essentially allows you to open up location numbers 2,3,4,5,6… you get the point. Remember that niches online are millions of people.

Social Media

Everyone’s talking about how every business needs to be on social media, and they should be. The real key to doing social media correctly is to realize that you need to exercise leadership principles online, and not be a spam factory. I suggest you read Crush it! by Gary Vaynerchuk, and The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

Twitter Searches will be your best friend to find and connect with people that are local, or in your vertical that you can start relationships with, and even a few that may be looking for your product or service. Remember though, that you have to lead with value. People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Social media is a slow burn process. It can lead to spikes in traffic if your content is good and shared, but it’s really all about building and engaging a community. When you build a community and have added tons of value into it, then you’ll have the ability to influence them to buy something from your more easily.

People don’t like to hear it, but every business needs to be producing content. I don’t care if you run a liquor store, or a gym, you need to be producing content. On a side note, I’d always thought it’d be kind of cool to have a liquor store owner review every product that they have in stock. If you don’t have time or the staff, find someone to write the posts for you (this should be a last resort), but you have to set the agenda and be involved in the creation process. Blindly outsourcing this process, or trusting your community to someone else, is downright dangerous. It just goes to show that you don’t care, and heaven forbid that your community finds out that you’ve got no involvement in how your business communicates and engages with them. This is where looking at where your staff spends their time comes in really handy. A handful of employees collaborating together using Google docs, can turn 20-30 minutes a week when things slow down, into really interesting blog posts.

Additional Reading

If you’re a small business, I highly recommend reading this post by Tj McCue. He went around to 71 small businesses, and recounted his experience.

Local Small Business meets Local Search meets Secret Shopper