Running your own business can be incredibly rewarding, but it’s definitely not easy. Many small and medium businesses (SMBs) are constantly tackling a number of common issues, whether it’s how to strengthen your existing value proposition, broaden your market reach or deal with the evolving world of technology. Through our partnership with AusIndustry to deliver the Australian Government’s Entrepreneurs’ Programme, we have worked with almost 1000 small and medium businesses (SMBs) since 2015 across a broad range of sectors via a network of skilled business advisors operating around the country. So here are some insights and practical tips that SMBs should think about in order to maximise their business opportunities. 1. Really get to know your customers. Many SMB owners get so caught up in day to day operations; paying suppliers and staff, serving clients, repairs, etc. However, it’s clear that business owners who apply some simple design thinking principles to their business model reap the benefits. These include: Design the experience. What is the start to finish experience for your customer? How does this shape their experience of your product or service, and are they likely to be happy with the overall experience and outcome? Feedback drives continuous improvement. Provide a feedback loop for your customers. Ensure they feel listened to, and use their feedback to strengthen and improve your product or service. Empower customer centric leadership. Ensure you as a business leader continue to focus on the needs and expectations of the customer. Leaders must be able to clearly communicate the importance of customer centric behaviour to every employee. 2. Use social media. Many SMBs don’t realise the value and impact of social media in today’s society. For example, tourism businesses rely heavily on platforms such as TripAdvisor and Facebook to market their product and services, and reach a broader audience. In today’s environment, simply having a website doesn’t cut it. SMBs need to build a social media following, and facilitate a two-way communication platform with clients. A good way to start this journey is: Do your homework. A successful social media strategy is about connecting with your audience on a genuine level. You need to really understand who your current and potential customers are, and what types of social media they engage with – and why. Coordinate your social media channels. Most SMBs do (or should!) have a website. Coordinate your social media efforts to drive people to your website where they can engage, or buy your product or service. Don’t try to take on too much, too soon. A successful social media strategy takes time to develop. A good idea is to dedicate your resources to one or two social media platforms to test your strategy and approach. After you gain some traction with your market, extend your approach. 3. Cyber security, cyber security, cyber security! Cyber security and managing digital risk is becoming a significant issue to SMBs across all sectors. The US National Cyber Security Alliance found that globally, almost 60 percent of SMBs that experience a malicious cyber-attack will go out of business within six months. Even if they manage to stay afloat, they will experience significant business disruption, loss of intellectual property, and potentially revenue loss. Cyber security is particularly important for those businesses that manage customer data or details. SMB owners must understand their potential risk, and identify strategies to manage and mitigate any latent cyber threat. According to this Deloitte report, there are four basic steps when developing a cyber security strategy. Be prepared – monitor, plan and test your cyber security infrastructure Set the bar – align architecture, identify and protect valuable assets Get the basics right – set the access protocols and secure the essential systems Personal protection – lead from the top and cultivate continued security awareness 4. Look after your staff. A recurring theme across all industries is many SMBs struggle to recruit and retain talented staff. Small businesses generally struggle to offer as attractive salaries and conditions as larger businesses, and many find that once they have upskilled existing staff, they often leave to pursue careers with larger and more globalised organisations. In order to address this issue, SMBs should look to recruit staff that have the skills, attitude and values that align to their business objectives and the work culture. Providing professional development opportunities that align to employee objectives and business goals will also assist in retaining and growing talented staff. If you would like to find out more about participating in the Entrepreneurs’ Programme and to find out if your business is eligible, please click here.