I talk with small business owners every day, and the surprising thing is that although they may operate in different markets and industries, they tend to struggle with the same issues. The problem? Most have great business ideas but don’t know how to run a business. Can you relate? Fixing your business – identifying the holes and patching them – will help you regain control of your business and your life. This topic inspired my book Fix Your Business: A 90-Day Plan to Get Back Your Life and Reduce Chaos in Your Business. And with a recession looming over our heads, I think now is a great time to return to this subject.
I’m calling this my 5×5 plan for fixing your business because it’s based on my book and groups my recommendations into five key areas:
- Hiring & Leadership
- Money & Finance
- Systems & Processes
- Customers & Product
- Marketing & Sales
I’m sharing five tips for each area based on the major challenges I see small business owners struggling with today. Check out the list below, identify your highest priorities, and let’s get to work fixing your business!
A 5X5 Plan for Fixing Your Business
Want to improve your business? These are the five areas I believe you should focus on, with my top tips for each area. Growing your business means fixing what’s broken so you can get ahead!
Area #1: Hiring & Leadership
1. Change Your Mindset
Many small business owners try to do everything themselves. But just because you can do something (even if you can do it well!) doesn’t mean you should do something. Learning to delegate starts with changing your mindset. Your main job is to run the company, develop the business strategy, and think strategically about sales. Delegating your other responsibilities will free you up to focus on what is most important, so start by changing your mindset.
2. Hire Help
With your mindset adjusted, it’s time to go out and hire people to help you in your business. Look at where you are spending your time. If someone else can do the same task for $20, you’re not spending your time wisely there, and it’s time to hire someone to do that job. For ideas, check out my article Hiring Tips for Your Small Business.
3. Start with Strong Onboarding
When you hire someone, you’ll want a process to train them in the ins and outs of your business and their job. Instead of training people individually, create documents so the training process can be repeated. By starting with strong onboarding, your staff will understand the expectations and requirements of the job and be more likely to succeed.
4. Establish Company Culture
Company culture is the environment you and your employees work in, and it is something you can create actively. Your culture might be focused on collaboration, innovation, the greater good, or something else. For ideas, check out this list of major types of company cultures.
5. Develop Your Leadership Style
As you start to hire employees, you’ll also need to develop your leadership style. You’ll learn what works for your personality, staff, and the company culture you are trying to create. Pay attention to how your team responds to how you lead and what gets the best results.
Area #2: Money & Finance
6. Own Money Management
Let’s face it – not everyone loves dealing with money and finances. However, as a small business owner, you must get comfortable with managing cash flow. Some things to pay attention to include bill management, credit lines, accounts receivable and accounts payable. It may not be your favorite part of running a small business, but you must own it!
7. Tighten Accounting
Are you still using a spreadsheet to manage your accounting? Then it’s probably time for an upgrade. Accounting software is affordable, easy to use, and can help you manage your monthly accounting and banking records. If needed, hire a bookkeeper or accountant to help with this important task.
8. Stay on Top of Your Taxes
Fixing your business doesn’t just mean paying attention to taxes at tax time. It’s a year-long job that you need to stay on top of. You’ll need to make quarterly tax payments as a small business owner. You also have to manage payroll taxes if you don’t use a payroll service. Neglecting this area can get you in trouble with the IRS, so reach out to a tax professional for advice and planning.
9. Consider Funding
It’s hard to run an undercapitalized business, so it’s time to consider funding if you’re in this position. Maybe you’ve been reluctant about getting a business loan or line of credit but doing so will help you manage cash flow and give you money to invest in your business. It’s impossible to improve your business without the funds to do so! Back in March, I wrote a special article about grants and funding options for women business owners, and you can check that out here.
10. Establish a Collections Process
Do you struggle with clients not paying on time? It can be a growing problem during a recession and economic downswings, and you need a process to deal with it. Consider discounting invoices that are paid early or adding penalties for late payments. Communicate the collections process to customers, so they understand your terms.
Area #3: Systems & Processes
11. Identify Areas Needing Improvement
Systems and processes will make your business run smoothly and help you quickly improve your business (with visible results!). The first step is to identify areas that need improvement. Take a week to evaluate how every aspect of your business runs. Write down each area and categorize it as working (doesn’t need to be updated right now), somewhat working (could use some tweaks), or not working (needs major changes or updates).
12. Build Your Systems and Procedures
With the weak areas identified, it’s time to start building your systems and procedures. Document how you want things done, map the process, fill in the missing gaps, and create a system that your employees can easily replicate.
13. Find the Right Technology
One important aspect of setting up systems and processes is selecting the right technology to help you get the job done. Technology is important to growing your business because you can automate much of your work with the right tools. There is a tool or software for almost everything you want to do with your business. And yes, there may be a cost, but the right technology is always worth the expense.
14. Stay on Top of Industry and Tech Trends
Another thing about nailing your systems and processes is not to settle for ‘good enough.’ Advancements happen daily, so you could quickly fall behind the competition if you’re not paying attention. Evaluate your software, equipment, and processes at least once a year to make sure out-of-date tech or procedures are not holding your business back.
15. Measure Your Results
It’s also important not to set up systems and processes and assume they work without evaluating how they impact your business. Are you saving time, money, or hassle? Reducing waste and friction? Increasing agility, compliance, and productivity? Measure and find out.
Area #4: Customers & Product
16. Claim Your Niche
The key to fixing your business is often narrowing down, not expanding. Have you been trying to be all things for all people? It’s not doing your small business any good. Take some time to identify your specific audience so you can claim your niche. And if you already have a niche, now is the time to evaluate whether it is still relevant. Maybe you started in one segment but migrated to a new focus. Does your niche need updating?
17. Identify Your USP
Your USP is your unique selling proposition. It’s what makes your business, products, and services better than the competition. Once you know your USP, you can use it in your marketing and sales efforts. How do you solve problems for our customers? What is so special about how you do business?
18. Know Why and How Customers Buy from You
If identifying your USP is tricky, you can always look to your customers for answers. Understanding why and how they buy from you can help you determine what makes you different in your market and what customers want from you. Try using surveys to get feedback from your customers to understand their buying journey and why they choose you over the competition.
19. Anticipate Customer Needs
Customer feedback is also important because it helps you stay tapped into what customers are thinking and doing. By anticipating their needs, you can create new products, make adjustments, and improve your business in ways that will be significant to them. Staying ahead of your customers will allow your small business to shine.
20. Focus on Customer Satisfaction
Customer satisfaction is everything for a small business, which is why it is one of the most important ways of fixing your business when things seem ‘off.’ Once again, feedback is your friend! Post sales surveys and checking out reviews on online websites will help you identify if customers are happy with your business and where you need to improve.
Area #5: Marketing & Sales
21. Refresh Your Brand
Could the key to growing your business lie in a brand refresh? If you’ve been in business for a while, it’s time to review your branding assets to see if you need to evolve with the changing market. Your business might have changed throughout the years. Does your branding still reflect who you are and who you serve? If not, then now is the time to take another look at branding.
22. Improve Your Mobile Marketing
It’s a mobile-first world, so every small business owner must spend time building their brand online. Does your website look great on a mobile device? Do you have a social media presence? Have you tried out online advertising? What about content marketing? There is a lot of potential in online marketing, so dive in or explore new waters.
23. Create a Sales Process
I spoke about systems and processes earlier but having a sales process is so vital that I want to call it out separately. What is your ideal customer profile? How do customers end up in your sales funnel? How do you nurture leads and move them toward a sale? Do you have a follow-up process after a sale is made? Think about how sales work from start to finish and document your processes.
24. Hire a Salesperson
Or another salesperson, if needed. You shouldn’t be the only person in your business generating sales. A dedicated sales rep (or two) can help you reach more customers so you can focus on sales strategy. Plus, if you followed tip #23 above, you have a documented sales process that you can share with your new hire.
25. Pay Attention to Competitors & Trends
You can gain a competitive advantage in marketing and sales by paying attention to what is happening around you. Know your competitors. Watch what they are marketing and how they are launching new products. Stay informed about industry news and hop on board with changes that will improve your business. Marketing and sales are constantly moving, so don’t get left behind.
Fixing Your Business Is an Ongoing Task
Chances are you’ve identified several areas from this list that you’d like to improve in your small business. Great! You can get started today! But also, keep in mind that fixing your business is an ongoing task. No business is ever ‘fixed’! To stay relevant and profitable, you must continually evolve and grow. So try out these tips, and for more in-depth advice, grab a copy of my book Fix Your Business: A 90-Day Plan to Get Back Your Life and Reduce Chaos in Your Business.