how collaboration can build your small business

your challenge

if you're a small business owner, you probably spend a lot of time working on tasks and projects that fall outside of your strongest skill sets.  sometimes the reason for this is a lack of money.  other times the reason is a desire to drive every aspect of your business.  regardless of the reason why this happens, know that spending too much time on things you don't do well usually results in massive inefficiencies and is guaranteed to stunt your company's growth.

so how do you get over this hump?  like many things in life, the answer is simple, but the solution is a little more involved...

the solution

for every business task that stretches one of your talents, I can guarantee there are no fewer than 25 people within a 2 mile radius of where you currently stand / sit / lie that can do one of these tasks better and faster than you.  the challenge you have lies in finding the right talent, then creating a manageable and sustainable method for bringing this outside help into your operations.  here's my list of key considerations for this process ::

  1. identify your top 5 time wasters that are most important to the growth or smooth running of your business
  2. define the scope of work involved with each
  3. make certain you understand and can effectively communicate how these tasks influence and interact with other parts of your business
  4. find at least 2-3 talented people who can do this work well (preferably the kind of person who delivers value beyond just getting something done)
  5. verify the quality of their work
  6. determine which of these folks possess a style & personality that fits best with your own (and those of the people with whom they'll be interacting)
  7. rank your candidates based solely on quality & fit
  8. negotiate a fair and affordable price for services with your top candidates
  9. assure the person you select creates & integrates a well-defined process that satisfies 2 critical needs.  first, it should allow others to seamlessly step in if necessary.  second, it shouldn't just meet your present needs, but also be designed to comfortably handle the increased volume of work driven by your company's growth

what if i can't afford to hire outside help?

many business owners honestly believe their company's cash flow simply won't support the hiring of outside help.   rarely is this truly the case.

if you diligently execute on each of the considerations listed above, the resources you bring into your operations should quickly pay for themselves (you should actually come out ahead).  the challenge, once again, lies in budgeting the time, talent and energy it takes to invest in this process.  you do have some other options.

first, if you're not already doing this, get out and network with your fellow business owners.  learn to be purposeful in your networking, however, so you're not simply spinning your wheels (this is another article for another day...)

[WARNING :: watch out for the passing reference to one of our service solutions]
second, join a co-working community.  even if you're a retailer, every business function is not performed on the sales floor.  co-working locations can have dozens of different businesses of varying specialties and focuses all under one roof.   accountants can find marketers to help them promote their services.  developers can find lawyers to help them sort through contracts and licensing issues.  there's no better environment for evaluating a service provider, and you'll have countless opportunities to share, barter or charge for your own services.

[WARNING AGAIN :: now watch out for a shameless plug]
finally, you can give us a call here at main street ventures.  we're passionate about working with small business owners, and specialize in creating the "connective tissue" that's needed to make "main street" businesses both sustainable and profitable.  in fact, we're so confident in our approach that we guarantee our work will pay for itself.

How Not to Suck at Using Social Media to Build your Business

Social mediaMost entrepreneurs and small-business owners wear several hats in their companies by necessity.  They'll perform many of these functions well, and it rarely takes long for them to recognize the handful of roles at which they really suck.

Now, knowing what you suck at and working around the issues your "suckiness" creates are two different things.   If you're lucky enough to have the resources to hire people to do those things at which you're no good, your lack of expertise in these areas usually means you're equally "sucky" at  evaluating whether or not your candidates for "replacement" are any good, either.

Which brings us to the main point of this article.  The use of social media platforms for commercial purposes has really exploded in recent months.  Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are the most popular platforms leading the charge.  Many of the entrepreneurs and business owners I encounter proclaim (and often with a hint of pride) that they "suck" at using these sites, expressing extreme bewilderness by their popularity ("I just don't get it" is a very common refrain).

Not wanting to be left behind, these same business men and women seek out others to "get their businesses on" Facebook or Twitter.  And therein lies the problem.  Not only do these business leaders lack a solid understanding of what needs to be done, but they have no way of assessing whether the people they've called in for help are any better qualified to deliver.  So in the interest of helping you to not suck, let's start with some basics.

Why should a business use social media anyway?

Social media is but one item in the chest of tools businesses can utilize to communicate with their customers and build their brand.   That said, the reason you want to use this tool is because a business that 1) invests its time in this arena wisely, and 2) uses the right social media tools and platforms will :

  • improve its accessibility to both existing and potential customers
  • become more "human" and "personable"
  • build its reputation
  • enhance the public's trust
  • strengthen long term connections
  • increase sales and referrals

Almost every type of business can benefit --  restaurants & cafes, retail stores, and professional service providers (attorneys, accountants, real estate agents) to name a few.

I still don't get it...

If you don't "get" anything else about social media, then at least "get" this -- it's all about connecting with other people.   Human beings have an unquenchable thirst for making personal connections.  Our commercial relationships are no different.  So if you don't want to suck at using social media to build your business, just treat your efforts as you would in building any long term, human relationship.  And for those of you just getting started, here's our take on the fundamentals :

  1. The first thing you should do in connection with any business initiative (be it around social media or otherwise) is to develop a clear definition of what you're hoping to achieve.  The second item on your list should then be to determine how you're going to measure progress (or lack thereof) toward your goals.  If you're just starting off, it's a good idea to keep things pretty simple.
  2. Identify the social media platforms your customers (and potential customers) are using.  It's not going to do you or your business any good to master Twitter when everybody you want to connect with is devoting the bulk of their social media interactions on Facebook.
  3. Next, look at what your competitors or others in your industry are doing.  Which platforms are they on (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)?  What types of pages or other presences have they built, and how are they using photos, video and other media in these sites?  How many "fans," “friends” or "followers" do they have?   This little exercise will not only make you familiar with each of the relevant platforms and how they are used, but also start sparking some ideas about how you might want to do things.
  4. While you're on those platforms checking out your competitors, don't forget to search for conversations or activity around your own business name.  Whether or not you've been part of the conversations, there's a good chance that somewhere in cyberspace people have been talking about your company.  Start to think about how you are going to monitor and, when appropriate, join in those discussions (on this note, there are a couple of quick things you can do to make this easy -- check out services like Google Alerts and BackType for starters).
  5. Develop a plan around how you're going to engage your audience.  Though you're ultimately looking to increase revenues, your social media presence is rarely about making those sales, it's about building connections that eventually draw customers into your pipeline.  So think about how you're activity on social media sites is going to educate, entertain,  or otherwise help the people you're looking to connect with.
  6. We never forget that time is money.  So at a minimum, you should do several things to tie together and cross-market the various social networks you’ll most likely be using. Here are 2 quick suggestions along these lines:

    First, consider linking activities across your profiles.  There are various ways to have Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others update one another.

    Second, if you're maintaining a blog (which you should be), then be sure to incorporate your work here across all of these platforms where your target market is spending time.  Again, there are many ways to accomplish this.  LinkedIn, for example, allows users to embed blog feeds into their profile.  Tools like ShareThis enable readers to quickly share content on multiple social networks.

Finally, just dive in.  And as the Genie said to Aladin, "be yourself."   There's a lot more to be said, but we're not looking to write a tome on this subject.  If you're interested in learning more, we're moderating a workshop on November 17, 2009 in conjunction with the Hopkinton Chamber of Commerce, and welcome your participation (learn more here).   Otherwise, we're always happy to chat on this subject, so feel free to drop us a line.  Either way, we hope this gives you a better handle on how not to suck at using social media to build your business!