Anyone can start a business (smes), but it takes a special kind of entrepreneur to drive it to success. Once you fill out a few forms, get the licenses and permits you need, and offer a great product, there’s only one thing left to do: get customers.
That’s where the challenge begins.
Customers won’t come knocking on your door unless you make yourself known. And even with that, winning their trust and loyalty will be an uphill battle.
But don’t worry. You don’t have to go on this journey alone. We’ve prepared this guide to help you find, win and retain the customers you find. These tips will ensure your business stands out and establishes lasting relationships with the few customers you find.
The Three Pillars of Sales and Marketing
The customers you find must be nurtured throughout the sales process. That doesn’t happen by chance.
Rather, it requires a strategic approach to sales and marketing, which should be based on the three pillars of customer acquisition: awareness & reach, engagement & persuasion, and loyalty & retention.
Find (Awareness and Reach)
Potential customers won’t come to you if they don’t know you exist. You need to create awareness and reach out to your target audience.
It’s your responsibility to locate these customers and connect with them. Use digital tools like SEO, social media campaigns, and content marketing to reach out.
Figure out where your customers are, and get your business in front of their eyes.
Win (Engagement and Persuasion)
Once you’ve gained the attention of some potential customers, it’s time to win them over.
You must engage those prospects and show them why they should choose your product or service. That’s where a great pitch comes in. Have a well-crafted presentation that highlights the unique value proposition of your offerings.
Winning prospective customers starts with you tracking their information and communication preferences and tailoring your pitch accordingly.
You must nurture them through the sales process, providing helpful advice and insights until they’re ready to entrust you with their hard-earned cash.
Keep (Loyalty and Retention)
Your business with a customer doesn’t end with you locking in a sale. You need to ensure that they remain loyal and keep coming back for more.
Provide a great customer experience so customers are delighted with their purchases.
It also helps to create loyalty programs or perks that reward customers for their long-term commitment.
It turns out that about 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers. Keep them engaged and happy, and they’ll keep your business afloat.
How to Run an SME
Starting an SME is one thing. Running it successfully is another. It takes a lot of work to keep a business afloat and ensure that it keeps growing.
That means being proactive about finding customers, engaging them persuasively, and maintaining their loyalty over the long term.
Remember, running a business means different things to different people. Find what works best for you and your business, and don’t be afraid to try new things or take risks.
Here are the steps you can take to ensure your SME succeeds:
Step #1. Draft a Business Plan
A business plan is a document that outlines your company’s mission and objectives. It will help you identify why customers should buy from you, what services or products to offer, and the steps needed to succeed.
You can create a formal business plan or draft a document highlighting your professional goals.
Remember, it starts with you visualising everything and then writing it down.
Everything has to look great on paper before you can bring it to life.
The more detailed the plan, the better.
It should be easy to follow and provide clear direction on what needs to be done and when.
Think of a business plan as a roadmap, guiding you to success.
Your business plan can vary, but it generally should include the items below:
- A summary of your business idea: What products or services do you provide, and who is your target market?
- A market analysis: Research the competition and identify ways to differentiate yourself.
- An overview of your business structure and operations: What type of entity will you from? Who are the owners, directors, etc.?
- Product or services: Describe the products/services you offer and how they meet customer needs.
- Financial projections: What are your revenue and expense projections for the next 3-5 years?
- Sales Plan: How do you plan to find and keep customers?
- Legal Requirements: Do you need to comply with regulations or licensing requirements?
- Financial expectations: What are your financial goals, and how will you achieve them?
- Starting budget: How much money will you need to get started?
It’s never been easier to create a business. With the right tools and resources, you can create a plan that outlines the steps to success. T
Remember that a business plan isn’t just a document you write and set aside. It’s a living document that should be reviewed and updated regularly.
Don’t get too bogged down in the details. Keep it clear, concise, and organised so you don’t lose focus on the big picture.
Include key metrics you can track to measure your progress toward achieving your goals. Even better, you want to share the document with everyone involved in the business and review it regularly.
Be sure to be realistic about your expectations and goals. You don’t want to overcommit and set yourself up for failure.
Most importantly, you want to seek advice from professionals, mentors, or colleagues already familiar with the industry you’re getting into. They will provide valuable insight that can inform your plan.
Step #2: Define Your KPIs
KPIs is how you tell if you’re headed in the right direction and how far you have to go. They can help measure your business’s success and serve as a benchmark for setting clear goals and objectives.
KPIs stand for key performance indicators. It’s how you track your business performance against your goals and objectives.
Think of KPIs as a way to measure the success of your business. For example, you can track sales, customer retention, or financial metrics to ensure your goals are met.
When it comes to setting KPIs, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Your KPIs should be specific and tailored to your business objectives and goals.
Once you have identified your KPIs, you should track them over time to ensure that you are on track. That will also help you spot any trends or patterns and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Not sure where to start? Well, get clear on the four Ps of your business: Product, Price, Promotion, and Place.
They’ll guide your marketing plan and help you create a comprehensive strategy.
Also, you don’t want to set so many KPIs. Choose a few core measurements and refine them over time if needed.
Most importantly, you want to ensure each of the KPIs is smart – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.
Examples of KPIs you can set for an SME:
- Number of leads in the pipeline
- Number of customer referrals
- Percentage of customers retained
- Cost per sales lead
- Average order value
These are just a few examples of KPIs you can set for your SME. Take your time to research and identify what will work best for you.
Step #3: Develop a Great Brand and Marketing Plan
If you build it, they will come. That might have been true in the 80s but not anymore. You need to be proactive if you want to attract customers.
Create a unique brand that resonates with your target audience and devise a marketing plan incorporating different channels, such as email, social media, search engine optimisation (SEO), content marketing, etc.
Be sure to hone in on the customer experience. It’s not just about having a great product or service but how you deliver it.
The presence of a marketing strategy or plan is how you tell whether or not a business will make it. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it needs to exist.
Marketing spans everything from finding customers to keeping them. It’s about getting the right message to the right people at the right time.
As you work on building a marketing strategy, here are a few questions you want to ask yourself:
- Who are your target customers?
- What are your customer’s pain points?
- How can you solve them?
- How do prospective customers want to engage with your business?
- What channels should you use to reach your target audience?
- Where do they spend most of their time?
- How will you measure success?
Answering these questions will help you understand your prospective customers more deeply and create marketing campaigns that resonate with them best.
Once you know who you’re targeting, you want to figure out how to communicate with them effectively.
It starts with choosing the right channel. With so many options, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So, take the time to research and identify what works best for you.
You also want to focus on building a following one channel at a time.
That said, here are the most common channels you can use to communicate with potential customers:
- Social Media
- Email Marketing
- Content Marketing
- Search Engine Optimisation
- Business website
- PPC Ads
- Search Marketing
Each of these channels has its own set of strategies and tactics. So be sure to learn as much as you can about each one.
Don’t forget that most of your customers are online, not just on one platform, but a series of them. Omnichannel marketing is the best way to reach them all.
Omnichannel integrates all your channels into one cohesive experience, creating a seamless customer journey.
The idea is to focus your energy on a primary platform you own and then use other channels to drive traffic to it.
Next, you want to work on branding. For the unacquainted, branding is the process of creating a unique personality for your business, one that your target audience can trust.
Your branding should be a reflection of what your business stands for, what it offers, and who it serves.
It starts with working on your brand identity. That should include a logo, colours, images, fonts, and messaging tone that aligns with your business goals.
Step #4: Keep Innovating
Like bold decision-making, innovation is key in helping you find, win, and keep customers.
Regular attention to experimentation and invention will save your business from stagnating.
That’s not to say you should reinvent the wheel every time. But you should find ways to improve existing products and services and develop new ones that meet the changing needs of your customers.
Also, look for new channels to reach potential customers or offer more convenience for current ones.
For example, if you’re a restaurant owner, you could consider offering online ordering options or delivery services.
The idea is to adopt the habit of innovating, weave it into your company’s DNA, and find new ways to delight your customers.
You can begin by setting aside daily or weekly brainstorming, experimentation, and trend research sessions to develop useful ideas.
In the end, it’s all about improving user experience. You want to be obsessed with your customers, and you’ll have no problem finding, winning, and keeping them.
Step #5: Refine Your Business Processes
Many business processes come about naturally as you become more established.
Think of it as a habit of good housekeeping that keeps everything running smoothly. You didn’t get to your current level by leaving things in disarray.
Other processes evolve as you introduce new products and services or when there is an influx of customers.
Make sure your processes are efficient, effective, and easy to use. Consider investing in automation tools so that some time-consuming tasks can be automated — freeing up more energy for innovation and strategy.
You also want to ensure you’re documenting your processes so everyone knows what needs to be done.
And don’t forget to review them periodically and ensure they are working properly — it could save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run.
When your processes are streamlined, your customer experience will be top-notch — and that’s exactly what you need to keep customers coming back for more.
So, how do you create processes?
First, processes come from the tools you use. Look at the tools you already have and see if they can be adapted to your business processes.
Second, think of ways to streamline manual tasks — categorise, prioritise, and create a system that works best for your business.
Third, use templates to standardise processes like customer onboarding or order fulfilment. Templates will help you save time and ensure consistency.
Finally, involve your team in the process of creating and refining your business processes — they can provide a valuable perspective that will help you refine them over time.
Step #6. Develop a Strong Company Culture
Culture = cult.
It’s the glue that holds your team together, the foundation that drives engagement and productivity, and the ethos that will attract more customers.
So, it’s important to be intentional about creating a company culture that aligns with your values and goals.
Start by developing core values — the principles guiding your team’s behaviour and decision-making process.
Your company culture should dictate who you hire, how you interact with customers, and how you approach your work. It should be something your team is proud of and passionate about.
Take some time to reflect on what kind of culture you want to create and how your values will come to life in your business — the results could be very powerful.
To build a solid work culture, focus on your team. Invest in your employees, empower them to grow, take ownership of their work, and acknowledge their efforts.
It’s simple: happy, engaged employees make for happy, engaged customers.
Here’s what you should do:
- Organise monthly or quarterly performance discussions to build team camaraderie and celebrate successes
- Encourage your team to share ideas and ask questions
- Create an open environment where everyone feels heard and respected
- Reward employees for their hard work with perks like flexible hours, extra vacation days, or on-site lunches.
- Have a positive work culture, strong career track, well-trained and passionate staff, and a team that makes customers feel welcomed and appreciated.
By creating a culture where everyone feels valued, you’ll be setting yourself up for success and building a strong foundation that will help you find, win, and keep customers.
Here are some of the benefits your employees expect from you:
- Respect for their expertise and input
- Work/life balance
- Opportunities to learn and grow professionally
- A safe, supportive environment that promotes open communication
- Competitive salary and benefits
Step #7: Focus on Financial Goals
Launching and growing a successful SME is expensive. It needs serious financing — from capital investment to working capital and cash flow management to get you through the lean times.
The business needs to make money to sustain its operations and growth and, most importantly, turn a profit.
You need a detailed financial budget, with a clear track for revenues and expenses, to ensure you’re making the right investments and staying on track with your financial goals.
You’ll also need to review your cash flow regularly and adjust when necessary. Doing so will give you a clear idea of where you stand financially, allowing you to make informed decisions about how best to grow your business.
As you develop your financial goals, be sure to factor the following into your business costs:
- Sourcing and stocking materials
- Payroll expenses
- Marketing and advertising
- Insurance costs
- Production and operational costs
How much money does your business bring in, and how much do you need to keep it running?
If you’re not comfortable with accounting, financial planning, or balance sheets, now is the time to learn.
Having a good handle on the finances is key to SME success.
Finally, regularly monitor your progress toward your financial goals and adjust as needed.
Step #8: Develop a Growth Mindset
Growth is the lifeblood of an SME. Without it, no business can survive and thrive in the long run.
Building a successful SME requires passion and dedication, but the journey requires more than just hard work. It also needs a mindset open to change and growth, willing to try new things, take risks, adjust strategies, and solve problems.
By developing a growth mindset, you’ll be able to stay flexible and agile in the ever-changing business world, no matter what challenges come your way. This type of attitude will help you make informed decisions and take calculated risks that will benefit your business in the long run.
Step #9: Use the Right Tools
No matter what industry your SME is in, there are certain tools that you must have to be successful. These include:
- Accounting and financial software
- Sales and customer management solutions
- Marketing automation software
- Analytics and reporting tools.
These can help you manage the day-to-day tasks more efficiently and effectively, providing valuable insight into customer behaviour and performance.
With the right tools in place, you’ll streamline processes, improve customer service, adjust strategies for better results, and stay on top of your finances.
Here are a few things to consider when deciding which tools to use:
- Zero in on the processes you want to use each tool for
- See how each tool can help simplify your business processes and make them more efficient
- Choose a tool that performs one specific task even though it’s tempting to go for an all-rounded solution
- Pick a tool that’s easy to use and can scale with your business
- Compare the tool’s value vs. the amount you’re paying for it
A CRM may be a good starting point if you haven’t figured out the right tool stack for your SME yet. It can help you manage contacts, track customer engagement, and automate sales processes.
Step #10. Develop a Support System
Managing an SME is stressful and tiring.
While many thrive on the pressure, too much of it can take a toll on even the most experienced entrepreneurs. It’s essential to have a strong support system in place so you don’t get completely overwhelmed by the work and stress of running a business.
Surround yourself with people who are knowledgeable and trustworthy—people who have experience in different parts of the business and understand your vision and goals.
Get advice from these individuals, ask questions, and learn as much as possible.
You need a circle of friends and family you can call when things get tough. This support system will help make sure you don’t feel like you’re in it all alone.
According to Bank of America research 2022, 46% of SMEs run their businesses with their spouse or partner.
12% of SMEs have even funded their business from friends and family.
Step #11. Nurture Your Customer Relationships
Word of mouth remains one of the most powerful tools for SMEs to grow their customer base. Keeping your customers happy will make them more likely to refer their friends and family to your business.
Send follow-up emails after a purchase, thank customers for their business with personalized notes or messages, and ask them if there’s anything else you can do. The more effort you put into nurturing customer relationships, the more they’re likely to come back for more.
Running an SME Isn’t Easy
Running a successful SME isn’t easy. It takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication to make it work. Study the businesses that have pulled it off and see if there’s something you can learn from them.
Bonus Tip: Have Fun Along the Way
Running a business can be stressful, but don’t forget to take time out and enjoy the journey. Celebrate your successes, big and small. After all, it’s only through hard work and dedication that you’ll make your SME a success.