Small Business Basics

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June 30th, 2014

Small Business Basics:

As an owner of a small business, with limitations on staff, it is imperative for the business owner to multi task in order to run a smooth operation. I recall, years ago when I started my first business after leaving my job as a Manager for a company, I thought it would be a piece of cake to run a small business as I had been running a big business operation successfully. So will do better than the competition and my own business would grow rapidly. Within a year's time frame, only to realise that running a small business was a very difficult task, and what I learnt during my professional career was basically to keep a bird eye's view with a lot of support staff to do their jobs, with my job only limited to looking at spreadsheets day in and day out to meet corporate budget targets and try to exceed the forecasted numbers. Without a doubt, the on the job training prepared me to look at business in depth and to strategise, but now as an entrepreneur, it was only me with a limited staff to do it all. I failed miserably in my first business, but learnt what not to do in my next business venture.

Getting out of the Corporate employee mindset:

The first mistake I had made was to select a bad location for my business. In a retail environment, the place did not have sufficient traffic and visbility. I did not have the input of the Corporate Marketing Department I was used to, back then when only made a decision after listening to their view point.

Negotiating a propper Lease term and rent Increase cap:

The second mistake I made was to not properly negotiate my lease agreement with the landlord. Call it a lack of experience or a corporate company employee mind set, I did not properly negotiate initial free rent time, renovation reimbursement with the land lord and above all, an exit strategy in case my business failed. Once again, I lacked the purchasing department's input I was used to for their input and feedback. Back then, I did not realise that only one in ten small businesses make it and the rest are just history that nobody ever remembers other than the business owner. The successfull small businesses that inspired me were a fraction of the lucky ones that made it, whom I looked at and thought would do better than them as I was the one running the show alone and bringing in renues in millions for my company as an employee. The actual people running the show were the front line employees and the support staff that worked day in and day out and I was the one to get the praise at our quarterly or periodic executive area reviews where I bragged about the operational successes in terms of beating forecasted numbers while scoring high on Corporate Internal Audits. Small business owner puts out fires daily where one wears multiple hats during the day. It's not a full time job, rather an over time job on a daily basis including week ends. But once business takes off, it has its rewards.

Save the Liquid Cash initially:

The third mistake I made was to go first class on renovation of the premises while spending thousands of Dollars at the start of the venture without having a single paying customer while I was at it. Once again, a corporate mind set with a set up of a National Company's Image and Standards from a Corporate policies and procedures hand book. All the money spent on the renovation was left for the next entrepreneur that benefited from my failed business venture. More power to him to negotiate a better lease agreement with the same land lord and walking into a ready to move in facility with a few months free rent.

The Initial Lessons as an Entrepreneur:

The Lesson learnt was not to repeat the same mistakes and that small business success was a combination of luck and learning from your mistakes.

While I failed miserably and was extremely short on liquid cash, I started thinking of going back to a job. With monthly home mortgage, car payment and other expenses piling up, I still wanted to give it a one more try. With limited resources, no cash or credit for Inventory, the only option left was a services business. Though had no cash, but now had some knowledge of what not to do in my next business venture.

After disposing off the inventory for dimes and nickels, I now barely had sufficient cash to negotiate a new lease in a better place with a marketing manager's mindset while keeping in view an exit strategy, as well as a long term strategy for the lease in terms of periodic rent increases cap for the future. Many successful and thriving businesses go out of business when their landlords double or tripple their rents once the business is established. So negotiating a proper lease is critical for the survival of a small business in the long run.

WIth two tables, a few old outdated computers and a few chairs, I was once again in my second business with no cash, however with some real world business experience. This time, I was able to negotiate six months free rent, some additional money in increments from the landlod for the following six months in terms of reduced rent and a 5% maximum rent increase cap annually. I did not go first class renovation this time, but went straight to a Home Depot store and with the help of a few friends, painted the inside of the office, ordered one phone line with an Internet connection, ordered a store front sign and was in business the following day, one more time.

Finding the Niche market and reaching your prospective clients:

I started getting some walk in customers as the location was a high traffic area. After a few sales, I gained some confidence, however they were insufficient to even pay a single employee's salary. Time was running out quick in free rent, and I had to figure a way to increase sales. It seemed that it would take a long time before the business would break even at the pace it was going. I started to buy sales leads from an online company for long term care and Health Insurance and started visiting the clients by setting up appointments. Initially it worked, and after a few weeks only to realise that the company was now giving me leads that were useless and they started selling the same lead to three or four different businesses. I realised this would not work for long, as the leads were expensive. I started looking at a way to generate my own sales leads. As I was technologically challenged, it was difficult to build a website that was useful enough to generate quality leads. However I wanted to give it a try and started reading about building a website. I was able to build one but a website is useless unless it attains hits from prospects and its useful enough for the client to input data and generate a solid lead. Slowly, while buying leads and working on the website, I was able to get some help for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and finally started to get some leads that converted into successful sales. It was encouraging to see the results.

The power of Internet & the Importance of a Good Website in the current age:

With the number of online users increasing by the day, most prospective clients rely upon search engines to reach a business. The customer searches for a product by using a key word in a search engine. Though different search engines use a different alogrithm to rate a website popularity and they change with time, I learnt back then that the most popular search engine "google" weighed website popularity by content relevance and the content had to be unique and useful. In other words, a copy/paste scenario does not work with google. Secondly, back links to a website also improved its rating, plus consistant updates to a website were an added plus as the website is crawled by google periodically looking for useful and unique content. A succesful website cannot run on a cruise control and requires consistant updates. As a small business owner, it is difficult to continuously work on a website, so a good Search Engine Optimization company can be useful. However, if a bad choice is made in selecting an SEO company that use automated robots, your website will be banned by google. Ban means it may not show up in google, though you may still see it. So genuine work always works. Some SEO companies charge too much, so its best to weigh in the cost and the results. A website is only useful if it attains hits, generates leads and those leads convert into sales. Having a blog and an article submitted to popular websites with a back link, ( i.e www.ZarakInternational.com By; Ahsan Bashir), tremendously improves the ratings of your website. A detailed article about SEO would be discussed soon on the same blog at www.ZarakInternational.com/blog

The importance of Incremental Sales in a business:

I used to travel a lot, rented vehicles frequently, stayed at hotels and dined out a lot. At the rental counter, I was always offered to upgrade to a larger vehicle than the one I booked, to purchase a collision damage waiver though my credit card covered the vehicle, at a hotel, I was mostly offered to upgrade to a larger room with additional benefits and at fast food restaurants, always offered to upsize my meal. That additional revenue for the company can translate into an enormous figure while helping its bottom line. I wanted to use a similar approach in my own services business customised to my core business. Offering additional products and services to my clients worked. It meant additional revenues to the bottom line of my company's profits. Upsell your products and services.

Retaining your clients:

Building a new client base though is important, its more important to retain your existing clients. It takes a lot of effort and expense to attract new clients, so retaining the current ones is more important. Good service at a competative price equals client satisfaction. A satisfied client means referrals which are free and translate into a solid sale. You add new clients while you multiply existing clients.

Hiring and retaining good employees:

As a small business owner, I realised I could not do it all by myself. Hiring good employees and retaining them with a competative pay structure, offering performance based incentives and keeping them motivated was an important aspect of running a business. An article on hiring and retaining good employees will coming up shortly on www.ZarakInternational.com/blog

By: Ahsan Bashir

Zarak International, Ajman, UAE







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