As we start 2015, it’s worth putting or heads up above the parapet in our slightly challenging Australian business conditions, to look at how the rest of our similar, if larger, peers are seeing the year ahead in retail pan out.
A member of an advisory board I chair makes it a priority to invest in himself, as the leader in his second-generation family business. He does this every two years.
It’s a tip he learned from his father who founded the business 40 years ago, so it must be a good one. This year he is off to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Boston to take a course on entrepreneurship. In the pre-course information he shared with me, there were several comments about the year ahead from visiting speakers and participating professors.
Two resonated with me, and may also give those of you who are new to running your own businesses, or those of you who’ve been doing it a while, a little bit of optimism about the year ahead.
Small business focus
The first observation is from William Aulet, who lectures at MIT Sloan, and is the managing director of the Trust Centre for MIT Entrepreneurship.
“Interest in entrepreneurship is accelerating,” Aulet says.
“Corporations, governments, and students alike continue to seek people, processes, and initiatives that will make them more innovative and entrepreneurial.”
It’s a theme that has now been in play for almost three years, as every government in the world looks to the SME space, new and old, to help create jobs. Big corporations and government are not creating new jobs, and the number of small businesses dwarfs the big end of town. Over 95% of the businesses in the USA turnover less than $1 million per year. They are independent retailers, trades people, architects, builders and truck drivers. And what they do, and how well they embrace and understand entrepreneurship, innovate and adopt technology, creates new jobs.
Businesses are getting cheaper to grow
Which leads onto my second observation.
Brian Halligan is also a MIT lecturer, as well as a hands on entrepreneur as chief executive and co-founder of HubSpot, a specialist sales and marketing software designed to help SMEs grow.
“Companies are becoming cheaper to grow,” Halligan says.
Importantly, he also highlights how cheap they are to start.
“2015 will be a banner year for growth and entrepreneurship in the economy. It’s been getting cheaper to start companies for a decade, but more recently, it is getting much cheaper to grow companies.
“Your success with growth used to be about the width of your wallet (i.e. expensive, traditional outbound marketing and advertising) and now it’s much more about the width of your brain (i.e. cheaper social media and technology enabled inbound marketing).”
Over the past 12 months I have become a zealous supporter and implementer of cost effective social media and new technology to help grow SMEs. I’ve created and implemented awareness and engagement plans into several small companies with remarkable success. Not because of me, but because any framework around the planning and rhythmic use of social media helps SME owners to reach more potential customers with their message.
The greatest success I had was with an owner-operator of a sales improvement company. Yes I know that sounds strange – helping a professional sales consultant grow sales. The reality was that until we built his awareness and engagement plan, he had no new customers to sell to.
Once in front of the customers, they quickly bought. How much? Well, for the four months to November he invoiced $60,000 over the whole four months. In December, he invoiced $60,000 in one month, and will do the same again in January. All of that new business came directly from adopting a LinkedIn and YouTube-centric awareness and engagement plan, built around an email database source through elance.com for $400.
Cheap to start a new business? Yes. Cheap to grow? Yes, if you apply thought and structure to it.
2015. Giddy Up.