Networking to Scale Your Business

The prospect of networking for your small business may fill you with joy, dread, terror, or some other strong emotion. Whatever your feelings about networking, if you want to scale your business, getting out there and meeting industry professionals is a must.
Here’s a rundown of how to network with the goal of connecting with people who can help you scale up your business.

Why Should I Network?

A team of 1 can be toppled pretty quickly when storms come. As you strive to grow your business rapidly, you’ll need support from mentors to guide you, staff members to help you execute, investors to support you financially, and colleagues to give you a second opinion and encouragement. Networking can help catalyze the process of growing your connections.

How Do I Prepare for Networking?

Most people dread networking because of the inevitable awkwardness of figuring out what to say to a stranger you’ve just met. To avoid this situation, prepare your pitch in advance—a couple of sentences about who you are, what your business does, and what you’re passionate about. Depending on your networking goals and who you’re speaking with, you’ll want to tailor this pitch to be relevant to your listener.

Another simple way to prepare is to bring business cards. This gives you an easy way to break the ice, tell people who you are, and provide the information they need to contact you later.

How Can I Make the Most of Networking Events?

Your time is valuable, so you should put in some effort up front to make sure you get the most out of each networking event you attend. If possible, research the attendee list ahead of time to identify key people you want to chat with. Define your goals for each event in advance, and make sure your time is spent pursuing these goals during the mixer. After the event, make sure to reach out to anyone you want to continue building a relationship with to continue the conversation.

How Will Networking Help Me Scale My Business?

Scaling up requires you to add new staff members, find additional vendors, and potentially partner with investors. Networking provides an opportunity to make connections with all kinds of people who may be able to contribute to your business’s success, whether directly or indirectly.

The Bottom Line

For an entrepreneur who wants to scale his or her business, networking isn’t an option—it’s a necessity. By setting goals and preparing in advance, you can minimize the stress associated with networking and ensure that the time you spend at events is time well spent.

How to Establish Processes to Support Scale

One of the side effects of scaling your business is the need to create standard processes. The larger your organization becomes, the more crucial it is for your staff to adhere to set guidelines and expectations.
To many entrepreneurs, the thought of codifying procedures evokes responses of boredom, fear, or sorrow. Writing documentation seems to have little to do with the thrill of bringing a vision to life. Whether the thought of creating processes excites you or makes you want to run and hide, the truth is that you can’t scale a business successfully without them.

As with any daunting task, it helps to break it down into smaller, discrete chunks that you can address one by one. Here are a few questions to address as you figure out processes to implement for your growing business.

When should you start implementing processes?

The exact timing will vary depending on the nature of your products and services, your staff size, and your personal preferences. A clear sign that you’ve waited too long to implement processes is a decline in staff productivity. If your best team members are constantly taking time to reinvent the wheel, remind others of the correct way to do things, or settle disputes, then it’s high time to codify your procedures so that everyone is working toward the same goals with the same expectations.

What kinds of processes are necessary?

All major aspects of your company should have processes in place to help guide your staff to make the best decisions. Some of the major business areas to consider are as follows.

  • Administration: Anything administrative—payroll, billing, ordering, inventory, shift scheduling, etc.—should have a standardized process from day 1.
  • Branding: How your brand looks, how it sounds, what its key values are—these attributes should be standardized across channels so that your brand has a cohesive presence.
  • Quality: Define what standards each product or service at your business needs to adhere to, and what the customer-facing policy should be if products or services fail to meet these standards.
  • Productivity: Give your team concrete goals when it comes to number of customer helped, percentage of calls answered, time spent on each checkout, etc. If they have a number to work toward, they’ll be much more productive than if they have nothing to benchmark their efforts against.
  • Customer Service: Having processes in place on the customer service side will ensure that patrons have a consistent experience. This will also protect you when unhappy customers come to you with complaints—if your policies are in writing, it’s much harder for them to argue that they were promised something else.

Who should define these processes?

As the business owner, you should be driving the processes put in place. You don’t have to do it alone, however. If you have a manager or co-owner who geeks out on documentation and workflows, enlist their help. It’ll make the experience more enjoyable and give you a chance to get a second opinion on areas where you might need one.

The Bottom Line

While defining standard processes and writing documentation might not be the most exciting task, it’s one of the most important things you can do to help your business scale successfully. One of your many challenges is to figure out when to introduce new processes, what kinds are needed for each aspect of your business, and who should be involved in defining processes. Discovering the answers to these questions will have a huge impact on your day-to-day operations, so it’ll be well worth the time and effort you invest.

Staffing for Scale in Small Business

Exponential growth in sales also means exponential growth in the amount of work to be done. As you scale, it’s important to increase your staff size appropriately to keep up with customer demand. Hiring without a clear plan in place can lead to poor choices and more recruiting work down the line.
These 4 tips will help you make wise hiring choices as you scale your team along with your company. 

1. Hire for the Long Term

If scale is one of your primary goals, your first few hires will be crucial to your success. Each member you bring on will become a key player on your team. During the hiring process, be sure to ask yourself: Is this person someone who can fill a short-term need, or someone who will help me achieve my long-term mission? Hire only the people who fall into the latter category. 

2. Hire Strategically

At first, your open positions will be created to take work off your plate, so you’ll be bringing people on who can do what you do. The next phase of hiring should be strategically oriented to recruit people who have skills or experience that you don’t have. These people will help bring fresh insights to the table and provide complementary viewpoints to your own—two things your business needs in order to thrive.

3. Hire for Culture

When there’s pressure to add heads quickly, it’s easy to take the first qualified candidate who walks in the door. If you want to maintain a great company culture as you scale, you need to keep hiring people who will make a positive contribution to that culture. In addition to considering individual skills and personalities during the hiring process, think about how each person will mesh with your company’s ethos.

4. Hire to Keep Up with Demand

As sales increase, your staff will quickly become maxed out. It’ll make the hiring process easier if you can come up with a formula early on to determine how much work each person can do so that you know when to add more staff members. For example, you might calculate on an hourly basis how many customers a salesperson can help, how many orders a register clerk can ring up, or how many haircuts a stylist can give. These estimates will help you determine when and what kinds of new hires to make so that quality and efficiency remain high during the scaling process.

The Bottom Line

Building a strong foundation of staff members who are there for the long haul, dedicated to your mission, complement your skills and expertise, and mesh well with your company culture is essential to being able to scale quickly and stably. As you project growth for your business, you’ll want to similarly project growth and allocate resources for new heads to ensure that your business continues to operate smoothly.

[News] Small Business Optimism Hits 6-Year High

Here’s a highlight of some of the top local-business-related news of the week:

[Economy News] Small Business Optimism Hits Highest Level in 6 Years

News Source: Fox Business News

This week, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released its latest Small Business Optimism Index, showing an increase of 1.4 points in May for a total of 96.6 points—the highest index reading since 2007.

A few key factors contributed to business owners’ improved outlook  in May:

  • Employment: May was the eighth consecutive month of increased employment.
  • Job Creation: Planned hiring increased 2% above and beyond expected seasonal hires.
  • Sales: Small business owners reported higher nominal sales to date in Q2, and 15% of participants said they expect sales to improve over the next quarter, the highest percentage since mid-2007.

Key Takeaway: The lingering effects of tough economic times haven’t been eradicated by any means, but the Optimism Index indicates that the tide may be finally turning for small businesses. As consumer confidence continues to rebound, let’s hope that local establishments reap the benefit! 

[Social Media News] SMBs Experience Positive Return on Twitter Investment

News Source: AllTwitter

This week, Twitter released a new study on SMB Twitter usage and perceptions. The social media company surveyed 1100 small and medium business owners in the U.S.

The major findings of the study were generally favorable toward Twitter as a platform for market seeding and customer support:

  • 74% of respondents feel they receive a positive return on time invested in Twitter.
  • 73% view Twitter as a quick way to address customer service issues.
  • 72% agree that it’s important to be on Twitter.
  • 70% post on Twitter at least once a day.
  • 68% feel that Twitter is important to their marketing strategy.

Key Takeaway: Twitter is becoming a more important marketing tool for small businesses as owners begin to see the benefits of investing in the platform. But there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Only 58% of survey participants currently use Twitter for business, although more than 70% feel that the social network is an important channel. If you haven’t yet gotten in the social game for your small business, now is the time! Local consumers are looking for you there—don’t miss out on the opportunity to start a conversation with prospects and engage your current customers.

[Local Search News] Apple Acquires Social Maps Search Engine

News Source: Tech Crunch

Apple acquired social search engine Spotsetter last week. The startup, founded in 2012, was spearheaded by two ex-Google Maps engineers who have now joined Apple’s team.

Spotsetter’s technology works to layer friends’ recommendations, reviews, and other social information on top of a standard map interface to make local search a more social experience. The algorithm pulls in content from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare, as well as review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat, and Michelin.

As of summer 2013, Spotsetter had 5 million user profiles, 40 million venues mapped, and 1 million curated venue content items worldwide.

Key Takeaway: Given the epic failure that Apple Maps has been to date, Apple’s acquisition of Spotsetter makes sense. If Apple can augment its proprietary maps technology with additional data that competitors like Google and MapQuest aren’t providing, they may be able to woo back iOS users who gave up on their Maps app early on.

Other news catch your eye this week? Leave a comment and let us know! 

How to Fail Like a Startup

After reading the title of this article, you may be wondering why we’re giving advice about how to fail. Shouldn’t we be helping our readers learn how to avoid failing?
The truth is, being in a position to scale your business doesn’t happen by having a perfect plan in place from day 1. It happens by testing concepts early and learning from unexpected outcomes, then putting those learnings into practice to improve your business.

Start-ups, who begin with a limited amount funding, small teams, and virtually no brand recognition, have come to master the art of failing forward—that is, making mistakes without spending too much time or money in the process, and using those mistakes to iterate quickly and develop a viable product or service.

These 3 tips will help you learn how to fail like a startup—and use those failures as stepping stones success as you scale your business.

Tip 1: Start By Talking to Customers

We all have our ideas about what customers want and need, but we’re never 100% accurate in our assumptions. Make sure to run your ideas by customers (or potential customers) early on to see if there’s preliminary interest. If not, you’ll be able to quickly move on to other ideas.

Tip 2: Test Your Hypotheses Early

Rather than thinking of poorly performing concepts as failures, think of them as the scientific results of testing a hypothesis. These results will either confirm your current hypothesis or deny it, prompting you to develop a new one. This process will help you pursue the right answer without feeling like a failure. Starting early will ensure that you don’t waste too much time developing a new product or service before you have concrete data that says your audience wants to buy it.

Tip 3: Iterate on What Works

Once you have a concept that works, it’s tempting to want to spend a ton of time perfecting it before launching it to your customers. The start-up way of development, however, if one of iteration. Rather than trying to make something perfect out of the gate, the goal is to develop a MVP—minimal viable product—to roll out to users. This approach allows you time to get feedback from users and plan out your next round of improvements while also generating revenue from an in-market product.

The Bottom Line

Every business is bound to experience failures. Failing like a startup means preparing for mistakes early on, working through them quickly, and applying what you learn to create better products and services. These tested, optimized concepts are what will ultimately help you scale your business.

How to Build a Positive Public Persona

The more your business scales, the more your persona becomes of interest to the public. As a small business, this persona is inextricably tied to your individual image as business owner—after all, you’re the person driving your company’s vision, culture, and policies, and people are curious to know more about you before becoming customers.
The best way to create a positive public persona for yourself and your business is to consciously invest in it. Here are 5 ideas to keep in mind as you proactively shape your image.

1. Show Your Personality

Neither brands nor individuals are memorable unless they have an interesting personality. People want to know what makes you tick, what makes you unique, what your style is, what you’re passionate about—and the answers to these questions will ultimately determine whether or not they take you and your work seriously.

Of course, the personality you convey publicly is also a reflection on your business, so remaining professional and respectful is essential. Within that framework, consider how you can paint a self-portrait that stays true to yourself and to the mission of your company. This picture will serve as a guide for how you present yourself and interact with others, both in person and online.

2. Position Yourself as an Expert

You started a business in order to meet a need or solve a problem in your community. As such, your public persona should constantly reinforce your industry expertise, whether you’re sharing advice, commenting on other peoples’ content, or providing helpful content of your own. This doesn’t mean that you have to pretend to know everything, or act like you never make mistakes. It just means that you should feel free to share the wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm you have about your industry with others.

3. Cultivate Transparency

There are a handful of issues that can undermine a public persona, and one of these issues is a lack of transparency. Business owners who try to cover up fraud, illegal practices, safety hazards—or even more minor issues like poor product quality or customer service snafus—quickly feel the backlash. In your own public persona, be as open and honest as possible with your customers and audience, even when things aren’t going well. Addressing issues head on, and declaring your commitment to make needed improvements and changes, will help you maintain a positive image even during rough times.

4. Invest in Your Online Profiles

As a busy entrepreneur, your social probably can’t fit in a networking event every week. But that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with influencers and industry leaders. Leveraging your online profiles is a great way to cultivate a positive public persona. Engaging with customers, social followers, and other entrepreneurs in your industry or local area can help you flesh out your image and give passive spectators a great impression of you and your business.

5. Give Back to Your Community

Today, organizations and individuals who invest in social causes (think Tom’s shoes, Warby Parker eyeglasses, and Sevenly clothing) are being rewarded for their benevolent business models. If you’re passionate about a cause in your local area and have the resources to give back or actively participate in it, don’t hold back! Investing in your community will give your public persona a boost and have a positive impact on your neighborhood as well.

The Bottom Line

Your public persona will be a key asset for your business as you scale. Make sure to invest early on so that, when more eyes are on your company and you as its leader, your words and actions tell the story you want people to hear.

[News] Restaurants Given the Chance to Review Customers

Here’s a highlight of some of the top local-business-related news of the week:

[Restaurant News] Restaurants Review Customers with Dimmi ResDiary

News Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

Australia-based restaurant reservation system Dimmi ResDiary is now allowing participating restaurants to track and rate customers on “dining performance”—what they ordered, what kind of tip they left, what additional requests they made, and how they treated the staff.

The hope is that restaurant ratings will promote improved behavior by customers. The review system will also aid restaurant staff in identifying patron preferences and rewarding individuals who are big spenders or pleasant to serve.

Key Takeaway: Giving restaurants the ability to review patrons has the potential to affect negative customer behaviors. However, this system includes the same dangers as consumer reviews, opening the door to harsh or inappropriate comments by businesses that could affect customer loyalty and retention.

Restaurants have a lot more to lose by creating negative reviews of patrons than patrons do by criticizing a business. Those participating in such “reverse-Yelp” programs should tread very lightly when it comes to giving negative feedback.

[Social Media News] Facebook Rolls out New Design for All Business Pages

News Source: The Next Web

This week, Facebook began rolling out its new one-column Business Page design to users worldwide. Posts will now appear in a single main column instead of a two-column staggered layout.

The left column includes key Page information such as Likes, maps, hours of operation, website URL, About Us description, and any apps you’re using.

The Tab structure at the top of the page has also changed, going to a more streamlined link system under the Cover Photo.

Key Takeaway: These Page changes should benefit your business by (1) making it easier for users to view your key business information in the left column and (2) improving the flow of Post content on your Page. The two-column design made it difficult to read and easy to get distracted by other Posts.

Both of these updates will also provide a better experience for users who come to your Page via Graph Search, helping them find the information they’re looking for more quickly.

[Mobile News] Study Finds More than 30% of Consumers Use Mobile Exclusively

News Source: Marketing Land

A new study from xAd and Telemetrics this week confirms what we’ve all been hearing for a couple of years: Mobile is a key discovery channel for local consumers, and it’s only growing in importance.

Half of survey respondents consider mobile to the “most important resource” in their purchase decision-making process, and more than a third said they use mobile exclusively.

Additionally, the study found that mobile users tend to be the most likely to make a purchase: 53% of mobile shoppers called a business and 65% completed a purchase the same day as they performed a search. 64% of these purchases happened in store.

Pricing and location tend to be the two most important factors for mobile shoppers; deals also have an impact on promoting conversions.

Key Takeaway: We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again—making sure your business’s key content is accessible via mobile is crucial. If your website, online listings, menu, list of products & services, and location / contact information aren’t available on or optimized for mobile, now is the time to make it happen!

Other news catch your eye this week? Leave a comment and let us know!