Posted by : Amanda Stein Thursday, May 9, 2013




There are 23 million small businesses in the United States, which accounts for 54 percent of all sales in America, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Between those and the giant corporations, the field is crowded and the competition is fierce. If your small business is going to compete, just doing one thing well isn't enough. You'll have to offer new and innovative products and great customer service to cut through the noise of an extremely busy marketplace.

If this doesn't sound like your business, you might be in danger of losing out to entrepreneurs who are more agile and digitally savvy than you. Here are five tips to help make sure your business not only competes, but excels in a world of next-day shipping, 24-hour convenience and endless product variety.


Explore New Markets

The local movement is great, but it can only take your business so far. If you're spending all of your resources getting your product to the local farmer's market or advertising on the local radio, you're missing out on a broader and potentially much more lucrative market.

If you don’t have an online storefront, you need to create one. This will help you expand your business across the country through domestic shipping, and getting your product to customers who are not at your doorstep. According to Jessica Kril, a researcher on statista.com, e-commerce sales reached $289 billion in 2012, and $186.2 billion of that number came from retail shopping websites. If you only provide the option of customers buying product from your brick-and-mortar store, you could be missing out on a chunk of change.

If you already have an online storefront, good for you. Now consider branching out internationally. According to Gwen Moran of entrepreneur.com, Brazil is an example of an economy hungry for consumer products. With a fast-growing economy and the largest population in Europe, Brazil's economy grew 3.11 percent last year, and their demand for international products shows no sign of waning. The same goes for Colombia, India and Indonesia. You might just be surprised how far your products can reach.


Embrace Technology

According to a recent Bank of America Small Business Owner Survey, 64 percent of respondents said they wish they'd taken better advantage of technology innovations in managing their business. Whether it's shipping, social media outreach or even email marketing, a host of technologies exist to help grow brands and ease logistical concerns. Many of these are low-cost options (some are even free) and present business owners with a raft of options unavailable even a decade ago.


Build the Right Team

The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics notes that the average direct cost for adding a new employee is $57,968. That's a sobering sum, even for the most successful small business. If the right employee is not hired the first time, the costs continue to add up. According to the same report, the cost of replacing an $8-an-hour employee is around $5,500. The costs associated with this include recruitment, training, administrative and operational costs and lost productivity. Imagine the cost of replacing an $18-an-hour employee every few months. This may mean additional time spent screening or hiring or even engaging a third-party recruiter, but whatever option you choose, the value of making the right hire can hardly be ignored.


Diversify

Gone are the days when a company can only do one thing and still be successful. If you make one great tea or build one really exceptional canoe, that's marvelous. But to be successful in today's crowded marketplace, you need to offer a range of products. This doesn't mean that you need to branch out into areas that aren't a core competency or that you aren't interested in. Instead, listen to your customers, find out what they want and create new products to meet their needs.

Consider the case of Rebecca Cutler and Jennifer Krane, creators of the Raising a Racquet line of maternity tennis clothing.

"We had always planned to expand into other 'thematic' kits, consistent with our philosophies of versatility, style, health and fun," Cutler said in an article published on entrepreneur.com. "Once we'd begun to establish a loyal wholesale customer base and achieve some retail brand recognition, we then broadened our product base with two line extensions, Raising a Racquet golf and Raising a Racquet yoga."

"It also broadened our target audience and increased our presence in the marketplace, giving us the credibility to approach much larger retailers," Cutler said.

In short, if your customers love you, they probably want more of what you have to offer.


Be Human

One of the best things about doing business with a small business is the transparency between customer and entrepreneur. Small businesses can offer exceptional customer service and a response time that the giants can't match. To do this, your company needs customer support that's reachable, and most of all, human.


There are a range of tools available to small business owners, including ZenDesk and SmarterTrack. These two products offer simple and tech-forward solutions for managing customer service needs. ZenDesk, for example, even helps Groupon improve customer service, but it works for small businesses as well.


Above all else, the key to providing great customer service is to be reachable. Beat the big guys by having a phone number on your website, social media sites, shop door, white pages, basically anywhere a customer may go looking for your company. This will help connect customers to a live human without the stress and aggravation of an automated phone tree. The result will be repeat business and outstanding word-of-mouth evangelism. Because at the end of the day, your customers are your most powerful marketing tool.


This article was written by Brandon Serna from Craters & Freighters. Craters & Freighters specializes in custom shipping solutions offering both international and domestic shipping options.

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