Obstacles to a small business often can reveal opportunities for growth. Whether the obstacle hinders your business or helps it can be a matter of perspective. These six entrepreneurs share the lessons they learned in how to turn the proverbial lemons of small business into lemonade.
Problem: Slow contract negotiation
Mike Ragsdale of TownWizard, which creates localized mobile guides, was frustrated by the cumbersome contract process involved in securing deals when TownWizard was getting off the ground. The process was fraught with delays, changes in wording, lawyer negotiations and lost opportunities.
Solution: No contracts
“Then we realized something,” Ragsdale said. “The contract was only useful if partners were trying to quit. By that point, we’d already lost them. So we did away with contracts altogether and decided instead to focus on making sure that our partners were happy and successful. Since that decision, our business has exploded.”
Problem: Employee leave
When you’re a small business with limited financial and labor resources, temporarily losing employees to circumstances such as maternity and paternity leave or family obligations can feel like a drain on operations.
Solution: Part-time positions
Instead of viewing them as a disruption, Chris Whitelaw, president and founder of I Spy Marketing, said he embraces these life circumstances as opportunities to create win-win situations for both business and employee.
“Small businesses can actually benefit from supporting mothers in the workplace. The smaller the business, the harder it is to justify a fulltime pay packet, especially at senior levels. Some working mothers, many of whom are highly skilled and experienced, may prefer to work part time . Meaning small businesses can buy top-level expertise on an affordable basis,” Whitelaw told BusinessNewsDaily.
Problem: Bad online reviews
Technology has created an environment in which consumers have an instant opportunity to sound off on your business to anyone who will listen. This lack of control can be a scary thing for small businesses. One bad review or customer experience and all that hard work you’ve done building your brand could be for naught.
Solution: Fostering loyalty
Steve Baxter, founder and CEO of Systino, a customer loyalty software provider, reminded business owners that there is a way to transform consumer commentary into a valuable marketing opportunity.
“With the right tools, even an unhappy customer can be transformed into a brand promoter. The trick to turning customers into your own personal digital sales team is to identify loyal customers, create a successful loyalty program and provide a platform where promoters can spread the word and convert friends, family and associates into customers, too. By building great word of mouth, you develop a strong sales force that generates leads, boosts sales and leverages marketing dollars."
Problem: Poor service
Many entrepreneurs have issues concerning less-than-stellar performance or service.
Solution: Acknowledge and correct
Michele Salatar, president of the online marketing firm Sūmèr, advises entrepreneurs to seize those problems and transform them into a powerful testament to the way your company handles challenges.
“Instead of getting offended or embarrassed when your product doesn’t ship the right way or someone bad-mouths your brand in attempt to elevate their own, look at the problem as a direct route to connect with your customers or competition. If your customers are unhappy, correct the problem and give them a story to tell about how well you listen to concerns. If a competitor is dumping on your brand, figure out if there is any weight to their argument, and make corrections. Then thank them publicly for pointing it out,” Salatar said.
Problem: Lack of funds
Many entrepreneurs find themselves unable to grow their business because of resource limitations.
Jani Penttinen co-founder and CEO of the company behind multilingual social network Xiha and Premium Fan Page, reminds fellow entrepreneurs to lean on existing tools and resources that offer accessible ways to grow .
“Most businesses fail because they’re spending resources in fighting problems that have already been solved,” Penttinen said. “For example, you can offer a service in a language you don’t speak — just find a company who can provide the service for you. No need to hire staff or open a branch office abroad from day one. This allows you to build rather massive systems with small budgets and minimal staff.”
Problem: High overhead
Entrepreneurs are always looking to reduce costs. Failing to do so has been the ruin of countless businesses.
Solution: Cut costs in-house
Bob Grand, CEO of Quality Controlled Manufacturing, which specializes in production runs of highly complex parts and assemblies, advises entrepreneurs to run as lean an operation as possible, in every process from manufacturing to administrative functions. “Have managers assign the employees themselves the job of figuring out ways to break down how they do their jobs,” Grand said. “Who better to know what slows production down, or what can be done to assure quality?”