Even a simple small business can learn a lot from the big guys. Sears department stores posted a tiny, 4% climb in sales recently (thanks to Kmart) while at the same time Pier 1 Imports claimed an increase of sales that reached a little over 12%. The high end store, Neiman Marcus, posted sales that showed an increase of 4.5% but Barnes & Noble, the low priced booked store, had sells fall much greater than anticipated. Zale Corporation, (the one that sales diamonds) said it had sales fall over 9% and Costco bragged of a 9% increase in store sales last month.
Even the experts are not in agreement as to the state of the economy. Some say the worst is still to come. Some state that we have not only hit the bottom, but have started the up hill climb out. With such confusing messages being expressed from the numbers, where are small business owners to turn?
As a small business owner, one of your keys to survival is learning how to interpret the mass amount of information that is coming at you all the time. This is a little bit art and a little science. It is experience, however, that will help you decipher the complex code of economics.
The stock market has been like a bouncing ball lately so don’t look there for answers. Whatever you do don’t look towards housing for any answers either. Housing used to be a prime indicator of our economy, but the world has been turned upside down lately. Consumers’ emotions are driving the train right now and the last thing we want is an emotionally disturbed conductor.
An interesting number to look at right now however, is the sales of goods and services over the Internet. Overall Internet sales rose a whopping 18% in December. This is a huge increase, especially relative to the numbers of brick and mortar shops. Some economists claim that this has more to do with the wide number of snow storms and bad weather that gripped the country during the winter, rather than a trend towards Internet buying. Maybe it did, but then again maybe it didn’t.
For over ten years I was a trade show presenter. More importantly, and hold on to your hat, I was a professional corporate magician. I spent most of my corporate time working with simple small businesses and medium sized companies, helping them to promote and grow their businesses. I mention this because during this time of my life I used to visit a lot of magic shops as I traveled around the country. Almost every big city in the United States had at least one well stocked magic shop where professional and amateur magicians met and exchanged secrets. Today, just like magic, the shops have all but vanished. The Internet destroyed most of these romantic establishments.
I am now watching the same thing happen to book, shoe, and educational supply stores along with hundreds of other niche markets today.
No matter what business you are in today, you are being affected by technology and especially communication technology. Home buying over the web has affected real estate agents. I recently purchased a belt for my clothes dryer over the web because a local one could not be found. This affects my local hardware stores. Even libraries are being affected because information on everything is more easily available from the comfort of your sofa via the web.
This is not a doom and gloom article. No, it is a call to action. Regardless of your business, you must find ways to begin using communication technology to your advantage. Although this site is all about simplicity and running a simple small business, it does not mean that you can turn your back on the ever changing environment. No, it means that you must learn how not to get caught up in all of the hype that is attracted to new, misunderstood technologies and systems. You need to learn how to discern what is necessary and what is frivolous.
If you are in retail, you really should have a website. This is not hype. But strive to keep it simple and cheap. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars for a new, turbo powered, flash shopping cart (I have built several businesses using the free “Opencart” and I love it).
If you are a service business you need some type of tracking software that you can access any time, anywhere, so that you can schedule appointments quickly. ( see how to make your small business portable) People expect this today.
No matter what your business is you need a way to notify customers and potential clients about products and services. You have to go to where the people are and the people are on the airwaves and are living in cyberville.
For example, an inexpensive video is a great way for a beauty shop to demonstrate to (and sell) people on new hair styles. It is also a way to let customers know of all of the hair care products that you sell.
I question almost every simple small business I work with about how they are attracting and obtaining their clients. In most small businesses I have found that almost 65% of their inquiries and new customers come via Internet directories, websites, and email campaigns. Much of the remaining 35% comes from word of mouth and live demonstrations.
So stop paying for advertisement and gimmicks that are not working. Don’t spend a fortune on flash graphics and high priced newspaper ads. The phone book? Give me a break! Keep your business simple, but always strive to go where your customers are. Right now they are hovering in the clouds.