The Biden administration recently emphasized the strength of the US economy.
That’s good news for small businesses, as it gives you the chance to expand sales and operations. The steps you take in the next months will set the stage for the entire year.
To help you get off to a flying start, the list of small business tips below is based on emerging trends in the entrepreneurial sphere. Business owners everywhere can apply these tips and come out stronger than ever.
How to make a small business successful
Not everyone has the budget to hire for growth. However, don’t let this stop you from pursuing your passion and business ideas. Here are 18 small business tips to help you get more customers and gradually expand your business.
- Get organized
- Narrow your focus
- Build a brand
- Create photos just for your business
- Make it easy to buy from you
- Find ways to cut costs
- Stay on top of marketing trends
- Start networking
- Build a team
- Create great content
- Build an email list
- Solve a burning problem
- Provide great customer service
- Analyze your competitors
- Automate repetitive tasks
- Limit distractions
- Look after yourself
- Invest in technology
1. Get organized
You only have so many hours in a day, so use them wisely. Start each day by creating a to-do list of tasks you need to get done, and prioritize the most critical projects based on when you’re most productive.
For instance, you can work on challenging tasks in the morning and answer emails in the afternoon, when you’re less focused. Tools like Wrike or Asana can help you improve time management and track your deadlines.
It also helps to:
- Plan the tasks you’ll do each day the night before
- Create a consistent schedule to follow for which hours you’ll work
- Find your most productive hours and schedule essential tasks for those times
2. Narrow your focus
Amazon is able to sell in a variety of markets due to its size. It has a great deal of capital to invest in branding, marketing, and customer service. A small business owner doesn’t have that luxury, so being hyper-focused is the best strategy for success.
For example, if you’re interested in starting a clothing brand online, you could narrow down your focus to women’s formal dresses, women’s party clothing, and so on. Niche research tools like Keywords Everywhere can help you find high-potential niches to explore for your business.
3. Build a brand
Branding involves creating a unique identity for your business, product, or service, which makes it stand out from the competition. A strong brand conveys the values, mission, and personality of your company. It involves creating cohesive brand elements such as a unique brand name, logo, visual aesthetics, and a consistent message across all platforms.
Say you’re developing an online clothing store called Boho Chic. You start by designing an intricate, whimsical logo. An earthy, vibrant color palette, like turquoise and burnt orange, paired with a carefree, flowing font, signifies the relaxed and artistic vibe of your brand.
“One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is maintaining consistency and a cohesive brand identity across all channels,” says David Louvet, CEO of Innovet Pet. To address this, I’ve set up clear branding and messaging guidelines and regularly monitor and update our campaigns.”
Need help setting up your brand? Try the following branding tools from Shopify:
4. Create photos just for your business
The purpose of creating photos is to promote your brand, products, or services accurately. Your photos should be aligned with your branding, values, and messaging, which helps build trust with customers. Marketing strategies also rely on these visuals across a variety of platforms, including websites, social media, advertising, and product listings.
Consider the Boho Chic brand above. Models wearing its clothing would ideally pose in a natural, outdoor setting and portray a relaxed, joyful vibe. You’d style the images to reflect the brand’s eclectic, expressive personality and use an earthy and vibrant color palette.
“[Product photography] is one type of photography that you need, but you also need photography on people, so people can really relate and see, ‘It’s going to look like this on me,’” says Camille Ouellette, owner of Camillette. “I’m trying, as well, to have different types of skin colors and bodies to show the jewelry on different types of people.”
[Product photography] is one type of photography that you need, but you also need photography on people, so people can really relate and see, ‘It’s going to look like this on me.’
5. Make it easy to buy from you
Consumers are insanely busy people, so you must do everything in your power to simplify your buying process. Start by reducing the number of form fields, eliminating unnecessary steps, and displaying the order summary on your checkout page. For payments, offer as many options as you can, as different customers have different preferences for how they want to pay.
Ideally, you’ll want to use a system like Shop Pay, which allows customers to check out with one tap. A study by a Big Three global management consulting company found that Shop Pay lifts conversions by up to 50% relative to guest checkout, and outpaces other accelerated checkouts by at least 10%.
You also want to ensure that your product or service pages are clear and easy to navigate. Make your Call to Action buttons visible, add zoom or pan functionality on images, and display shipping fees within the pricing section of the page. Sometimes, a great browsing experience is all that’s needed to attract and convert customers.
6. Find ways to cut costs
Cutting costs is a quick and easy way to improve your small business finances. Find out where your money is going and evaluate what areas could use a little trim. Good accounting software like Wave can help you categorize expenses to see where you are spending your capital.
Perhaps you can save by cutting down on unnecessary software subscriptions, switching to shared office space or renting, leasing, or buying used equipment. Run an online store? Finding a wholesale supplier for your business is an effective way to reduce overheads. Marketplaces like Faire have made it easy for small businesses to find wholesalers for different items.
Remember, every dollar counts when you’re a small business, so cut or adjust whatever you can to develop a healthier cash flow and financial standing.
7. Stay on top of marketing trends
Your business won’t grow if nobody knows about it, so you’ll need to run at least a few campaigns to get the word out. Staying up to date with the latest marketing trends will help you create promotions that actively engage your target audience.
There are several ways to keep up with developments in the marketing world. Consider:
- Following marketing thought leaders on LinkedIn
- Read marketing blogs like HubSpot
- Listening to podcasts like Marketing School
- Attending marketing conferences such as Yoastcon
It’s also a good idea to connect with marketing professionals in your community. The discussions you have with them will give you an insight into the type of promotions that resonate with local audiences.
8. Start networking
Networking is crucial to building a successful business. It helps you learn from what’s working for others and identify best practices. Plus, the contacts you make when you strike up conversations can open doors for new opportunities.
Start by joining online networking forums and groups related to your industry. Participate in conversations by commenting on other people’s threads, or start your own thread in areas that are a good fit for your skills and interests.
It’s worth remembering that networking is a two-way street, so offer something valuable to people when they have a conversation with you. For instance, if you are in the advertising business, you can make your best prediction on how Facebook Ads will play out this year in terms of ROI.
9. Build a team
A one-person business might be cost-effective and easy to manage, but it’s also extremely limited. No matter how talented you are as an entrepreneur, there will likely be some gaps in your skill set that need to be filled in order for your company to thrive.
Think about the things you really can’t afford to handle on your own. For instance, if you make an error while doing your taxes and accounts, you could end up facing huge fines and have time-consuming audits to worry about. The right team will take some of the pressure off your shoulders and ensure you can focus on what you do best.
Tips for building a team:
- Use sites like Upwork and PeoplePerHour to find relevant candidates.
- Create onboarding strategies to set your new hires up for success.
- Be clear on job responsibilities and communicate with staff regularly.
If you don’t want to manage a team and would rather hire an agency or freelancer to grow your business, check out Shopify Experts. You can find and hire experienced professionals specializing in marketing, store setup, design, development, and photography, to help enhance your online store.
10. Create great content
Looking to build an online presence? Content marketing can get people talking about your products, brand, and customer service. Your content can range from company updates to tips and tricks related to your products—diversity is the key to keeping your audience interested.
If you really want to up the ante, make sure to:
- Offer a fresh perspective on a popular topic
- Answer customer questions through your blog
- Mix it up with case studies, infographics, video content, etc.
11. Build an email list
Did you know that email marketing offers one of the highest ROIs among all small businesses marketing strategies? Of course, you won’t earn anything until you have a list of people to send emails to, so start gathering those addresses from day one.
You’ll need a sign-up form to get people on your list. See if the website platform you’re using allows you to add one from within its software.
Alternatively, if you’re using Shopify, you can use Shopify Email, a native marketing tool that lets you create email marketing campaigns and send them from your admin. You can design your emails to match your brand and link directly to products to share them with your customers.
12. Solve a burning problem
Another piece of advice for small business owners is to think of solutions to the issues people feel strongly about. For example, shipping delays during the holiday season are a frustrating experience for most consumers. When packages fail to arrive on time, they’re left with no choice but to wait in anger and disappointment.
If you can think of a solution to address their pain points, you’ll gain long-term customers who keep coming back and spreading the word about your business. A great example of this is SUGAR Cosmetics. The brand’s audience includes women in the Indian market underserved by current cosmetics brands.
Most established brands failed to cater to India’s beauty needs: products that took into account the region’s hot, humid climate and monsoon season, and the need for shades and colors suited to darker skin tones.
“While we were running our ecommerce business between 2012 and 2015, we realized that there were a lot of millennial women who couldn’t find that perfect nude lipstick or a perfect red lipstick,” Vineeta Singh, founder of SUGAR Cosmetics, says in a Shopify Masters episode. “There were a lot of colors that were perfect for, say, Caucasian skin, but wouldn’t work on the deeper Indian skin tones.”
“Our bestselling product is this liquid lipstick that’s really matte and extremely long lasting. So you put it on and it doesn’t come off. When we first started working on liquid lipsticks, this was in 2015, at the time of launching SUGAR, and we knew that this would be the perfect product for India, because we realized that, in India, women wanted an intense color that would stay all day. It was very different from the requirements in other Southeast Asian markets or Western countries.”
Sugar’s dedication to solving a burning problem proved successful. The brand grew from being online-only to having more than 10,000 retail touchpoints, and raised $21 million in Series C financing.
13. Provide great customer service
When it comes to small business tips for getting repeat business, there’s nothing more effective than delivering great customer service. Excellent customer service creates satisfied customers who are likely to remain loyal to your brand and refer it to family, friends, and colleagues.
A great way to ensure you’re providing excellent service is to keep your finger on the pulse of your target audience. Use tools like Shopify Inbox to let customers chat with you from your online store and in the Shop app. From Shopify Inbox, you can respond to customer messages, and send product links, discount codes, and images.
Take time to review the feedback to identify areas for improvement and make changes that help improve your customer experience. Once you’ve done that, ask customers to review your business on platforms like Google and Trustpilot. Doing this will help you build social proof, which can be a powerful revenue driver for a small business.
14. Analyze your competitors
No matter the nature of your business, you will have competitors.
To be successful, you need to research their practices and find out as much as possible what consumers like about their products. The benefit of doing this is that you’ll develop strategies that will allow you to stand out from other businesses over time.
To create a winning strategy, see which companies offer similar products or services in your market. Then evaluate your strengths and weaknesses in comparison to theirs. You can use a free tool like Quick Search to analyze, track, and learn from your competitors’ strategies.
15. Automate repetitive tasks
Are you constantly doing things on repeat? Do you find that you have limited time to work on the things you’re really passionate about? Automation can help you break the monotony and regain freedom in your business.
There are numerous tools for automating different tasks, but not all are productive or necessary for small businesses. For example, tools that automate tasks requiring lots of creativity are barely worth using, as AI can’t replace the imagination network of the human brain. Ideally, you want to use tools that automate the small, mundane tasks in your business.
Here are some automation tools to use:
- Trello lets you track projects and collaborate across your business
- Invoicely simplifies the process of tracking billed tasks and expenses
- Mixmax helps you schedule emails and set reminders to follow up
16. Limit distractions
With many of today’s small business owners working from home, the chances of getting distracted and losing focus are high.
From text and social media alerts to kids and household responsibilities, there can be so many distractions on a daily basis. Rather than letting them constantly interrupt your workflow, find ways to eliminate them or at least minimize the impact they have on your productivity.
For example, if you find that email and social media messages are your biggest attention drainers, you can shut off notifications for periods when you need to be working. If noise is an issue, get noise-canceling headphones or install a soundproof weatherstrip to block out the sound. While it’s impossible to eliminate all distractions, get rid of the ones you can to improve your focus.
17. Look after yourself
As tempting as it might be to focus all your time on keeping your business healthy, it would mean little if you end up sacrificing your own well-being in return. Sure, there will be periods of stress, but don’t let that stop you from nourishing your mind and body.
No matter how hectic things get, remember to:
- Get plenty of sleep—at least seven to nine hours per night
- Exercise regularly and get away from the office at times
- Eat nutritious meals to fuel your body and mind
- Find a work-life balance and remember to spend your time doing the things you love
18. Invest in technology
Some small business owners are reluctant to invest in new tech. Why? Some tools can be hard to learn or implement, and SMB owners think they can get by spending less money. And it’s true, most can. However, when they do invest in technology, they can improve the customer experience, expand their offerings, and grow the business.
Consider a fictional small bakery named Sweet Harmony. Initially, it managed orders, inventory, and customer information manually, which is time-consuming and error-prone.
By investing in technology, they implemented a point-of-sale (POS) system that automated sales, inventory management, and customer relationship management. They also employed digital marketing tools to build an online presence, use ecommerce platforms to sell online, and leverage data analytics to make informed business decisions.
These investments helped Sweet Harmony streamline operations, reach a wider audience, and provide better customer service, ultimately leading to more revenue and business growth.
Start growing with these small business tips
The road to small business success is bumpy and full of challenges. For many entrepreneurs, the journey will have obstacles that test their patience, persistence, and perseverance. The good news? If you implement the small business tips above, you’ll find it easier to break down the barriers to growth and thrive.