Doing more with less has been the norm for many small businesses over the past few years, and that hasn’t changed so far in 2014. But, even though you are constantly pressed for time and have limited resources, there are ways to grow without breaking the budget.
“Running lean and mean is no longer a mantra used solely in manufacturing,” says Chuck Fried, president and chief executive of TxMQ, an IT services company. “We're observing companies of all sizes strategically learning to do more with less human capital.”
With shoestring budgets common among business owners, it may be worth stretching the pennies you do have to hire all-star performers, says Fried.
“If you need to invest a bit more in training or salaries to onboard 5 top-notch, do-it-all employees with a can-do attitude, do it,” says Fried. “Those individuals will likely have the capability to do more than your company's next 15 most-productive employees.”
Hang out on Twitter, Facebook
Even with marketing, small businesses can get creative and save some money. One way is to partake in real time conversations with your existing base, peers and potential customers online, usually via Twitter, says Shawn Prez, CEO and founder of Power Moves, Inc., a grassroots marketing company.
Take the Super Bowl, for example. Businesses of all sorts and sizes spent millions to run 30 second adds during one of the most watched sporting events of the year. But some other businesses didn’t spend a dime yet they became part of the conversation by tweeting about the game and the commercials.
“Being part of the conversation online has been effective in terms of attracting consumers to your Website,” says Prez.
Partner with local entrepreneurs
Online collaboration is fun, easy and cheap. But Shannon Wilburn, chief executive and co-founder of Just Between Friends Franchise Systems, a seasonal sales event company that runs community-based consignment sales of gently used children’s and maternity clothing, says small businesses should expand their collaboration outside the confines of their office walls.
“Sharing the work load with other small businesses to create a powerful team is a great way to expand your services without increasing your costs,” says Wilburn. “It can allow you to bid on a bigger project or go after a bigger client by outsourcing some of the work to another small business.” At Just Between Friends, Wilburn says she has partnered with a graphic artist, a web design firm, a marketing strategist and PR expert, which allows her to provide a variety of resources to her franchisees and makes her more attractive to potential franchise owners.
Collaboration can also mean cross promotions with businesses that share the same target audience but offer different products and services. Wilburn pointed to a maid service that partners with a baby-sitting company to cross promote each other’s service for a holiday as one example of how it can be done.
Acquiring new customers can be a costly endeavor, particularly if you run a small business that hasn’t embraced social media yet. Being on the popular websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can bring you tons of new customers.
“Social media is and will continue to be at the center of everyone’s focus,” says Fried. “Businesses should always have an established and updated blog, LinkedIn Profile, Twitter, Facebook, and if relevant, Pinterest account.”
But be forewarned. Make one misstep on social media and it can wreck your reputation and your business.
“One negative comment can be more detrimental than 10 positive remarks on your company so you need to make sure you [respond] to reviews, tweets, online posts, blogs, etc swiftly and positively,” says Fried.
Another way to get the word out about your business and hopefully gain new customers without spending a dime is to tap into the power of online influencers, who are typically popular bloggers. According to Wilburn, many of her franchises are partnering with one of the top mommy bloggers and giving the bloggers access to special sales events.
“By inviting them to experience our sales in an ‘exclusive’ setting, they are able to truly share their experience with their audience,” says Wilburn. “This has paid off tremendously with an increase in shoppers, consignors and ultimately – revenue.”