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C. Norman Beckert: 7 tips from 2 pros on sustaining and growing your business

Not all SCORE members are retirees. Several continue to operate successful small businesses. Many of our clients ask what they should be doing to sustain and grow their businesses. Since we have a cadre of current and past business owners, and I have asked several to share the practices they incorporate as part of their management.

Martin Ackerman owns a sign and graphics company. Martin’s business is also part of a national franchise, which he started in 2006.

Jeff Weeks started a proprietary custom software company in 2002. As with many software companies, the business continues to change, and Jeff continues to offer solutions to a variety of businesses.

Both Martin and Jeff make time available to volunteer with Treasure Valley SCORE to meet with aspiring entrepreneurs and share the challenges and experiences they have faced. I asked them to summarize their priorities for sustaining and growing their businesses.

The customer comes first. Business starts and ends with your customers. Above all, honor your commitments irrespective of cost. It is necessary to listen, to identify the customer’s needs, to offer solutions that provide a measurable benefit and to follow-up to assure customer satisfaction. Ask your customers what you can do better.

Know the numbers. Martin and Jeff have several key financial indicators they review weekly. They review sales and expenses, compare current numbers with previous data, and compare the actuals with their projections.

Hire great people. Martin and Jeff emphasize selecting team players. They look for people smarter than themselves. They note that as they add responsibility, they expect accountability. The employees must share a commitment to customer satisfaction.

Planning never ends. Planning is a process that includes establishing goals and regularly measuring progress. If expectations are not being met, the plans are modified to meet environmental and market changes.

Marketing is a key element of the business plan. Sustaining repeat business and securing referrals from satisfied customers are major elements of marketing plans. In the case of Martin’s sign business, social media now plays a bigger role in introducing new products and services to drive business to his site.

Innovation. To grow a business you can’t sit and wait. The marketplace rewards those who offer new or improved products. Jeff and Martin emphasized the need to be leaders in their fields rather than followers.

Seek advice. Identify folks you can approach to discuss issues as they arise. Through their affiliation with SCORE. Jeff and Martin have a broad-based cadre of business professionals from whom they can seek advice. As a franchisee, Martin has the resources available to measure his company’s performance as well as identify other sister businesses he can benchmark.

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