Business owners wear many hats and feel a lot of pressure to be good at everything they’re trying to juggle. Relax! Even though we’re about to tell you about five essential areas you need to cover in your business, you don’t need to be amazing at all of them.
In our experience, though, you must at least have a good handle on the first two. We’ve seen firsthand the struggle of business owners who don’t know their basic business objectives or marketing strategy.
In our interactive guidebook How to Get Ahead in 2018, we take you through 15 simple, concrete steps for becoming a digital workplace, and link you to our favourite cloud-enabled technologies for each tip. We outline exactly what to do, and the tools you need to do it. But if you’re not quite ready to adopt new technologies or processes, we suggest you start with the five business basics we’re covering today.
While we love to talk tech, here at NewPath we see these essential concepts not as technologies but as drivers to the appropriate technology. This knowledge set will sustain your business through 2018.
There will always be overlap between these five areas. For example, content marketing leverages the internet and several systems covered in the implementation area. Market is understanding your market and the basics of marketing, while content marketing is a specific form of marketing. With that in mind, here are the five core business capabilities that we at NewPath believe are fundamental to any successful business:
This capability involves clarifying your business model and business objectives, and your professional ethics and legal practices such as contracting and intellectual property. It’s understanding what business you’re in so you can set objectives for where you want to be, such as your goals for revenue generation and profit.
Nailing down the way you get new customers and how you serve them defines where you should invest. Are you a high-value business, a widget seller, a retail store? Every value proposition leads to specific investment priorities.
Of the five basic capabilities, we think what’s most important is for every business owner to know their business objectives and business model. The rest you can hire or outsource.
The Business Model Canvas approach we recommend to outline your objectives offers a simplified approach. This exercise uses one page to identify your business model today and what it could be in the future. Start now with this interactive online version we’ve created for you, and be sure to regularly review and improve on your objectives and model.
‘Business’ also implies an ability to focus on particular set of things you’re really good at and maximize those capabilities or value propositions. One of the things I notice about small business owners is they depend on one contract or customer coming in after another without knowing or investigating why they came specifically to them. Therefore they don’t hit an engine of growth by continuing to attract new customers without depending on existing word of mouth only.
At NewPath Consulting one thing that seems to be working for us is building partnerships with the vendors whose products we sell. Once we’ve built intellectual property around using that software service (blog post articles, videos, white papers, etc.), we go to them and ask if we can partner. We use that content as a strategy to make a connection. So setting up referral partnerships is one example of an objective we are using to meet our business goals.
Other objectives might involve legal and contracting practices or ethical considerations, such as a master services agreement template. Putting this in place with the help of a small business lawyer has definitely helped us bring on larger customers.
This capability is about understanding the customer and what motivates them to engage, defining your value proposition, and the 4 Ps of marketing -- product, price, promotion and place
Your product is, quite simply, what you're offering and the inherent value proposition, while price is what you will charge for your product or service. Will you have rock bottom pricing or premium pricing? At NewPath we don’t charge premium pricing. We offer reasonable pricing for our target customers of small and medium sized businesses, with primarily fixed cost contracts rather than variable contracts where we would charge by the hour.
The third P is promotion. Knowing how to promote your business is one of most essential skills. Too many small businesses don’t invest in marketing because they’re unsure of what marketing investment will work for them. Radio, TV and print cost too much; flyers become junk-mail; Google Ads can be easily blocked. But if you never channel your profits back into the right mix of marketing, you may never grow into being a well-known leader in your field.
As we mentioned above, one way NewPath gets great marketing traction is to approach vendors and arrange for them to promote our business through content marketing or simply by recommending us with ‘backlinks.’ (As a bonus, having links to your site from a larger site is one of the best ways to rank higher in search engine results!) We connect with our partners and provide interesting content on a regular basis and found this method to be so successful that we will continue to do this even more in 2018.
For service businesses, word of mouth is extremely important. Make sure you’re monitoring social media about your business to address any negative sentiment and to highlight any positive recommendations, referrals and comments to build the quality of your brand online. However, don’t expect your core customers and vendors to do all your advertising for you.
You must also actively promote yourself through marketing and potentially advertising. It’s important that your promotion is aligned with what it is you’re trying to do (your value proposition). In a digital workplace, promotion should be primarily online. You can use other marketing channels to promote or distribute your value proposition but the best ROI for your marketing buck is definitely online.
The fourth P is place, or the context of your workplace. Where are you interacting with your customers? Is this on social media or by email marketing? Have you set up your business virtually? Do you have a local business where foot traffic makes a big difference?
In a digital workplace, office space doesn’t matter as much - your place becomes however and wherever you put yourself in front of your customers when they need you. This ties again into the idea of partnerships. For example, one of our most valued vendors is Wild Apricot, and NewPath is listed in the Wild Apricot partner network.
The partner network is one place current Wild Apricot customers go to select a vendor to help them implement, and ranking highly in this directory brings us a steady stream of referral customers. Being in the right place at the right time makes a huge difference for us. It may for you as well!
By being in the right place when customers need service from a business like yours you’ll be more likely to be chosen. SEO (search engine optimization) plays a role in that, as does high-quality content and vendors who recommend you as partners.
The next three capabilities are ones that may not come naturally, but that small businesses should be building all the time either through internal staff or outsourcing.
- Design and usability
This capability is about creating the necessary online environment to deliver value to customers, which includes branding, graphic design, security and privacy. This represents how your business interacts with its customers online.
It’s the brand people associate with you and your company, from what kind of kind of graphic design you use to your policies around security and privacy. The design and usability of your services and support is how you build a first and lasting impression on your customers.
When you’re using digital products and representing yourself online, your personality has to be reflected in the design of your online presence since that’s often how customers interact with your business.
Design may not be something you’ve put a lot of thought into until now, but if you want to grow your business, you need a professional presence you can feel proud of. That’s why the most successful companies like Amazon and Apple put so much effort into design and making sure their design is consistent across every touchpoint of their customers’ journeys.
Amazon’s investment in design values helped them emerge as one of today’s market leaders (even though they lost money for years). Investing in the design and usability of your online operations is just as important for you to be able to prosper in 2018 and beyond.
Usability and security are equally as important as visual design. You need to do a good job of explaining to people how you will store and use the personal information they’re entering into your site or as they subscribe to your newsletter.
This area is the most expensive to get right, and it’s not easily accomplished. In most cases you have to outsource this responsibility unless you are a professional graphic and web designer or choose a professional website theme or template. Keep in mind that you don’t have to figure this out all at once. It can steadily improved all the time, especially when you incorporate testing and analytics to track and measure how people are responding to your changes.
At NewPath we’ve chosen to work with vendors and organizations who also value design and usability, so we can bring this forward to our customers without having to reinvent the wheel. These capabilities are built right into the services and products we offer.
This capability is about developing or acquiring the technical knowledge and fundamental capabilities of digital workplace software tools and services, in order to accomplish your business goals.
Implementation tools includes things like standards and protocols, hosting and server technologies, content management systems, programming and markup languages, databases, change and project managements, and eCommerce.
You can divide these tools into the broader categories of operations, sales, and marketing. At NewPath we specialize in all three, and in helping you implement these tools and services. You can click here to read more about the technology stack we use and recommend.
- Content marketing
Content marketing represents a new way to market, in an industry where there really hasn’t been much innovation for a long time. As Queen’s University’s Ken Wong points out in this 2014 article about ‘the incredible shrinking marketer,’ “Our response to change has been tactical. Instead of trying to find better things to do, we simply try to do the old things a little better.” NewPath presents a better option for your marketing investments.
Content marketing enables you to combine the first four capabilities and present them to your target audience. By understanding your business, knowing your value proposition, applying good design and usability principles, and implementing right technology solutions, you can create content that expresses your value proposition.
Customers and business partners will be able to quickly find you, read more about you, and be confident that you know what you’re doing. You’ll be building a reputation and an online following.
The articles we publish on our blog and newsletter are just the tip of the iceberg of our knowledge of sales, marketing, and the business technologies that we recommend. We've found that when you consistently publish high-quality content, you’re regularly reminding your audience that you exist, that you have value to share, and that you’re the best at what you do. It is one of the best ways we’ve found to grow traffic to our website, and get referrals from visitors on our website. You need to do this for your small business as well.
Content marketing is an art and a science, for sure, whether you’re passing along industry information or writing your own piece to distribute. Necessary skills include writing for an online audience, having a strategic view of writing things your audience is interested in, and measuring and understanding your analytics so you know what’s working and what’s not working.
Most importantly, your content marketing efforts must be aligned to your knowledge of your business objectives and business model. This is why the business core competency is so critical - it drives your content marketing efforts.
Content marketing may sound challenging, but you can start small with posts on one social media network, or a monthly email newsletter. What you cannot do is just have a nice, beautiful website; the time has passed for an ‘online brochure.’ You need to grow an audience to your site and your brand. This is why it’s essential to reach out and ensure an ever-widening market in your target audience is reading your stuff and forwarding it to their network. Try to leverage the larger sites of your partners and vendors for further outreach as well.
What you may not realize about content marketing is that there’s a much smaller investment than advertising and yet the return can be a lot higher. But you can’t do it as a side hobby or on an irregular basis. You won’t see that return unless you invest your time learning to write well or pay a writer, display and distribute your information effectively on social media and via email, and ensure your partners and network are sharing your work.
There is a learning curve for achieving mastery in any of these areas. The Web Management Institute outlines the different skills you should focus on as you advance from apprentice to master digital business owner. In future articles we’ll drill down on some of these additional capabilities.
In the meantime, there are many online resources that can help, and here are a few to start: Coursera, Lynda.com, American Marketing Association, Wharton School of Business, and Santa Clara University (Starting a Business and Business Expansion).
We at NewPath Consulting are here to offer support, plans and advice to any SMB embarking on this digital journey. Please contact us for no-cost advice.