Last week, CEO of Network Solutions Roy Dunbar hosted a conversation between Kristina Bouweiri, Anita Campbell, Tom Heath, Kelly Muccio and Surfy Rahman to talk about the state of small businesses in the US and what SMB owners could do right now to increase sales.
To kick things off, Roy shared some encouraging statistics from the State of the Small Business Report (PDF) released last month. According to the report, there are currently 27 million small businesses in the United States, making the small business sector responsible for more than 40 million jobs and $6 million in revenue. And impressively, that number is only expected to grow over the next two years.
If you weren’t able to attend last week’s talk, here’s a full taste of what you missed.
Where Small Business Owners Are Excelling
There are two main areas that set small businesses apart from their larger, more corporate brothers and sisters: their ability to roll with the punches and the relationships they create to help retain customers.
- Resiliency: We may be in a recession, but small business owners are ruling it. Sixty-nine percent of SMB owners reported a profitable year in 2008 despite the economic downturn, with 67 percent also adding that they’d be spending as much, if not more, this year than last. Anita noted that much of SMB owners success is due to their resiliency. They’re thought of as one of the most optimistic groups in the world and they have to be. When you’re small and faced with obstacles, you can’t do anything else but decide to overcome. And they are.
- Customer Service: The State of Small Businesses report gave SMB owners an A- rating in customer service, noting their impeccable service and ability to retain customers by treating them with care. Quite novel these days. The importance of customer service was also seen as a reason for why female small business owners tend to be more successful than men. Simply put, they’re better at building relationships with other women business owners, they support one another more and they’re focused on their customers and meeting their needs. All of this allows them to build stronger relationships both online and off. (Don’t look at me, Men, I didn’t say it!)
Where Small Businesses Owners Need to Do Better
Last week’s discussion, as well as the recent Small Business survey, also highlighted a few areas where small business owners need to improve in order to keep growing and moving forward.
- Access to Capital: In order for small businesses to grow, they need capital. Tom commented that this means SMB owners need to have more than just a great idea. They need to actually be able to convince a lender that the idea will make money, that it will grow, that they understand their customers and that they’ll be able to run things. It’s about having that presence when you walk into a room. Unfortunately, many SMB owners either don’t possess that presence or they’re too intimidated to try.
- Embracing Technology & SEO: According to Roy, small businesses that embrace technology are doing 16 percent better than those that are not. That’s huge. And each of the speakers seemed to agree that technology and SEO give small business owners a considerable leg up over their competition. Kristina attributed much of her business’s success to the fact that they’ve embraced technology and have invested in their site’s infrastructure and in tech tools, while Anita called SEO and search one of the most powerful things a small business can invest in. Surfy agreed that the Internet has leveled the playing field between small business and large business owners.
- Embracing Social Media: Ready for another startling statistic? Only 12 percent of small businesses are currently using any kind of social media. Surfy again urged the importance of these areas, telling tales of his own use. His partner has a blog that gets a ton of hits. They use it to announce future events and to keep clients up to date on what’s going on. They’re on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc. Even more impressive, he noted that 45 percent of their reservations now take place online via the iPhone’s Open Table application. That means without that app, they’d lose almost 50 percent of their customers. That’s astronomical and something you can’t afford.
If there was one thing I took away from last week’s webinar it was that your job doesn’t stop once your business opens its doors. That’s when it starts and you need to let people know you exist and market to them. Small business owners are admired for their ingenuity and aggressiveness. Embrace it and use that mindset to find your customers.