Are you making big changes to your small business?
Whether you're entering a new market, eliminating services that your clients love but no longer work for you, or changing the structure of your business entirely, follow these three tips to shake up your small business without losing revenue or hurting your reputation.
1. Be considerate of your customers.
When you take your small business in a new direction, you're likely to lose customers at first. In that moment, how you treat your departing customers has an outsized impact on your company's reputation.
Can you phase out your old services slowly to help clients adjust? Can you offer "final sale" deals to let customers stock up on favorite products before they're gone? Can you recommend a new service provider that will be a better fit?
Helping your customers make the transition with you takes time and energy, but it demonstrates both your integrity as a business owner and how much you appreciate their business.
Kurt Rathmann, the CEO and founder of ScaleFactor, lost several customers when his company transitioned from offering accounting services to creating specialized accounting software. "We found we had a few customers who no longer fit our business model."
He and his team went out of their way to make the transition easy on those customers. "We ultimately phased them out over several months and found those customers new homes that were a better fit for their needs," Rathmann said. "We treated them with care and respect, knowing that they played a huge role in our success so far."
2. Use your data.
For many business owners, the initial impulse to make big changes is the result of a gut feeling. You can tell when something is or is not working, and you want to change course as a result. Though that initial feeling may prompt you to re-evaluate the structure of your business, the actual changes you decide to make should be based on more than just a gut reaction.
"No decision you make about whether to seek out more of a specific type of customer or, even harder, to fire some of your existing customers should be made by feel," Rathmann said. Instead, use the data you have available to determine the best direction for your company before you make major changes.
There is a wealth of tools to help you do this. Your accountant, or accounting software, should be able to pinpoint which products and services are most popular, as well as which ones make the highest profit for the lowest cost in time and money. You should also take advantage of social media analytics, customer reviews, website analytics, and employee feedback to get a full picture of both the health of your business and the interests of your customers.
"Difficult as it may be, avoid making assumptions about your customers at all costs, even those that seem like a no-brainer," Rathmann said. "Everything you know about your ideal customer should be collected through data, experience and research."
3. Imagine the future, not just the immediate profit.
Changing the structure and focus of your business is difficult, and the initial result is not always positive. You may lose customers and revenue. You'll probably second-guess your decision at least once. When that happens, the best way to move forward is to have a clear, long-term vision of what you want for your company, customers and career.
"Your gut will tell you to follow the quickest path to money every time," Rathmann said. But that, he said, isn't the path to a sustainable new business model. "Approach [any changes] cautiously and methodically, and consider not only where your biggest revenue streams come from, but also where your company is headed in the future."
Once you know where you want to head, you'll be able to make decisions in line with your mission, rather than simply chasing an easy profit. This goal-oriented focus will keep you on track, even when you deal with temporary setbacks like lower profits or moments of self-doubt.
"At the time, it was nerve-wracking to walk away from that much revenue," Rathmann said. "Looking back now, I can see with 20/20 vision that this was the right call for us."