By Emily LaDrig
Small business owners love the word "growth" since it usually means your business is seeing success. A growing business is a booming business, or so most people believe. Unfortunately, many small business owners discover the hard way that business growth may turn into big problems if your business isn't equipped to handle it.
In order to embrace growth, your business must be in a position to evolve and adapt quickly. A good first step is to document every aspect of your business operations from expense reports to advertising to sales — and everything in between. Once you have the basics covered, you will be positioned to get the most out of these 5 tools.
It's all about the Benjamins
As a small business owner, you have to keep your finger on the pulse of your finances at all times. Knowing your numbers and where you’re at on a weekly basis is key to knowing if and when to make changes.
As technology becomes more prevalent in the accounting space, it is becoming increasingly easier to document and track detailed financial information. Tools such as QuickBooks help business owners mitigate risk and properly strategize for the future by offering understandable financial data. The right accounting software is a great first step, providing an easy way to track income and expenses.
Key Takeaway: Implement accounting software to keep your finances up to date
Organize and centralize
While your business is still new and/or things haven’t quite picked up, implement a system to manage projects, workloads and tasks. It will be much more difficult to get your to-do list under control once business increases and you’re busy, which can put you at risk for losing customers.
This is where an online project management tool will become especially handy. You’ll need something that you can access from both your desktop and mobile, no matter where you are or what you're doing.You and your team can work, communicate, and collaborate faster and more effectively than ever before with a collaboration tool like Basecamp for projects and client work or Slack for your teams communications.
Key Takeaway: Adopt a project management tool to make your team more productive
Make a call to the bullpen
One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make as a business owner is if and when to hire more people. It’s not always easy to know if it is the right time. You don’t want to increase costs more than you have to, but you also need to be able to meet customer demand.
If you’re on a limited budget or only need intermittent help, consider leveraging freelancers who can assist with projects, as needed. A resource like Fiverr provides freelance services on-demand for all budgets and projects.
If you do plan to staff up, just make sure your budget and business plan support the additional headcount. Study your profit-and-loss statement, analyze trends, and look at key data and metrics to be sure you're seeing sustainable growth and not just a temporary bubble.
Key Takeaway: Give freelance services a try and make sure your budget aligns
Cut through the clutter
As the way people communicate changes, you must change too and find new ways to service your customers. The old service standards – the telephone and face-to-face is no more. Over the years communication has evolved, adding email and web forms in particular. Now, there are a number of additional access channels to be considered and leveraged. These include social media, live chat, and self-service portals – with each offering different levels of customer service.
You have to figure out a way to automate your customer support to a large extent. For instance, creating communities to foster user-generated content, building FAQ and a knowledge base could be your first steps. Solutions like FreshDesk can help you streamline, automate, and systematize your customer support processes.
Key Takeaway: Make customer service your differentiator by unifying your processes
Don’t wait, automate
While you don’t ever want to replace real-time replies, true engagement, and genuine conversations with your customers there are many aspects of your marketing strategy that you can automate. Use a tool built for engagement that can automatically identify, recognize, and shout out to your followers to engage with the latest updates in your account.
There are many popular and low-cost email service providers such as Mailchimp and Constant Contact to give you everything you need to automate email marketing. Send automated email campaigns, push trigger-based messages to your website visitors, and much more. For social media automation, check out Sprout Social or Hootsuite.
Key Takeaway: Automate your marketing efforts to become more efficient
No question, small-business owners have the ability to do big things fast. By staying fresh and continuing to innovate, you’ll be able to grow your small business into a recognized brand with staying power. Once everything is documented, your business can operate more efficiently, giving you time to actually grow your business, instead of maintaining it.
Emily LaDrig is the Chief Execution Officer at Excelerate America, a 2nd stage business accelerator that helps small businesses excel and grow in the digital economy. Have questions about the tools she shared above? Or, do you have another suggestion you've found that works great? Hit her up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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