Sometimes it can seem as if the only way to solve a specific issue or to boost your business to the next level is to commit more money to it. The good news for cash-strapped start-up owners is that this isn’t necessarily the case. Investing time and effort can be just as valuable.
Substantial investment in areas such as new machinery, premises, and advertising might not be realistic — at least for the time being. But not all types of business investment require a financial outlay. Time and effort are two of your most valuable assets and by targeting them in the right way, you can help your business grow, without stretching yourself financially.
From making the most of your resources and staff, to attracting more customers, here are a handful of ways you can boost your business without necessarily spending a penny.
Put together a simple credit control process
When you present a bill to customers for services received, you expect to be paid (eventually). Late payment and non-payment can be a big problem for small businesses. For one thing, chasing up customers for payment in an ad-hoc way can eat into your precious time, while a shortfall caused by unpaid bills can lead to cashflow problems, potentially preventing you from meeting your financial commitments.
Time and effort putting together a simple credit control system can save you time and money in the long-run. A simple Excel spreadsheet may be all that’s needed to organise details of customers with outstanding bills, arranged by date. By taking the time to draft a series of simple reminder letters, and by getting into the habit of chasing up at set intervals, you have everything you need to keep on track of credit control in an efficient way.
Engage and encourage your staff
To get more out of your staff, the answer isn’t necessarily to increase wages or take on more people. Evidence suggests that an engaged, motivated workforce results in lower absenteeism, better performance, and higher productivity. For a small business, this can translate into getting more achieved through your existing employees, a lower outlay on sickness cover, and even improved customer satisfaction.
Where employees feel undervalued or underused – or where they feel that not enough is being done to accommodate their specific needs, they are less likely to give you their best. You can address this by taking time to conduct regular performance reviews and perhaps identifying opportunities for individuals to take on extra responsibility. You might also be able to commit time to staff training sessions, thereby aiding employees’ personal career development and also enhancing the range of skills available to the business as a whole.
Commit time to networking
Paid advertising is not necessarily the most effective way to raise your profile. This is especially the case if your business caters to a niche group of potential customers.
If you want to become better known in your locality, it can be worth taking the time to attend meetings and events hosted by your local trade association or chamber of commerce. Structured workshops and seminars by this type of association can be especially useful for showcasing your expertise to potential customers. If you specialise in network security services for instance, is there scope for giving a presentation on cyber risks for small businesses?
Build relationships to pool resources
As well as raising your profile among potential customers, committing time to networking can be a useful way of linking up with other business owners to build mutually useful relationships.
If a local business works in a sphere similar but not identical to yours, there might be scope for a reciprocal arrangement, where you refer clients to each other to plug the gaps in each firm’s skillset. There could also be the opportunity to collaborate, not just on individual projects but also on marketing to new clients. For a small business, this type of arrangement can also be useful for gaining access to resources and assets that you might need occasionally, but not enough to justify purchasing or leasing them yourself, such as specialist technical equipment required for a one-off project.
Think creatively with social media
It’s possible to enhance your online presence without investing in a big budget for paid advertising. Once you’ve identified which social media sites your customers actually use when making buying decisions, you should take the time to set up a business profile on each of those sites.
Next, it’s a matter of taking the time and effort to build up your community of followers (and ultimately, customers). In broad terms, this means thinking about what type of content is likely to interest your potential customers and help convince them that you are worthy of their business. A lot of this you can find elsewhere and share it, while also creating your own content to share, too.
Developing your product or service range: take the time to ask your customers
Launching a new range, whether it’s a new menu, a product line, or an updated app, can take a considerable amount of investment in time, work and cash. As such, it’s important to take the time to ensure that your new offerings are going to appeal to customers. Asking existing customers for their opinions can be a useful way of ensuring that you are hitting the right note.
For a restaurant, this might involve inviting selected customers to a ‘taster lunch’ and ask their opinions on the proposed new menu. Similarly, conducting an online poll of Facebook followers might help you decide which new products to order in for your online retail store.
In their start-up days, the likes of Starbucks and Google didn’t have an unlimited budget to play with: early success came through getting to know their markets — and through plenty of hard work. For further tips on everything from online marketing through to making your budget stretch further, head over to our help centre.