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Small Business 411

Opening a small business is a daunting enterprise these days. There’s a lot to remember, but most small business tips fall into four broad categories: plan, specialize, advertise and save.

Plan
Small business owners may be tempted to start right away, but without a plan, they’re going nowhere. An owner needs to take the time to sit down and write out a business plan. A business plan is simply a road map that lists business goals, how the owner means to achieve them, and in what time frame. Owners who plan to borrow money should always have a business plan. Potential lenders will demand to see this document, because a detailed plan shows them that the business owner is serious about his venture. It also tells them exactly how he proposes to pay back the loan.

Specialize
A small business owner won’t be able to undercut large competitors on price – at least, not for long. The best small business strategy is to offer unique, value-added products or services that customers will be willing to pay more to get. An owner should find a unique niche and do his best to provide products or services that others don’t have.

Market research is also essential for a small business owner. He needs to identify not just a unique product or service, but who he’ll be selling it to. A business owner should ask if there’s a demand for his product or service, and if so, how much? He needs to determine if he will have many competitors, or few, and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Advertise
Once a business owner has chosen a product and identified his market, he must get his business out there, and these days, that means going online. While it’s possible to be up and running within hours with free or nearly-free websites, it may be wiser for a business owner to spend a little money for a professional website, since the look of a business website influences customer perceptions about the company. It’s also important for the website to be glitch-free and easy for customers to use. A business website should offer customers many payment options, and every page should have a link to the checkout.

A business website needs to rank high in online searches to be found by online customers. Ranking high requires an understanding of search engine optimization, or SEO. If, for example, the owner of a small spa wants his business to rank well in online searches, he might sprinkle phrases like “spa services” or “spa facial” many times throughout his website. When potential customers search for those terms, websites with heavy concentrations of those terms get called up.

An owner should also consider establishing a Facebook and Twitter account for his business. Social media are increasingly important marketing tools and can provide a fledgling business many new customers.

Save
It’s important for a business owner to resist the temptation to max out that new business card. It usually isn’t necessary for a new business to have brand-new furniture or office equipment. Owners should buy used equipment whenever possible to save money, and purchase non-perishable supplies in bulk. An owner should work out of his home for as long as possible to save on rent. Banks, libraries, conference centers and many apartment complexes and resorts offer rooms that can be reserved for business meetings–sometimes for free.

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