Small businesses are the heart and soul of our communities. Vibrant main streets create local jobs and offer unique products and services that big box stores can’t replicate. But starting a business requires more than just a good idea—it takes a lot of hard work and a plan.
In the past two years, the U.S. Census has tracked a record number of monthly business applications. There has never been a better time to start a business. Whether you're starting from scratch, or you're getting back in the game, here are some things to consider so you can start strong and ensure your business is competitive for years to come.
Creating an online presence
With smartphones in almost every pocket, consumers have access to more information than ever before. 72% of consumers say that online searches are their first choice to find information on current merchants. It’s more than just a passing look. 78% of local mobile searches result in an in-store purchase. If your business doesn’t have a reputable online presence, you’re missing out on new customers and potential sales.
1. Build a website
A professional, customized business website—that’s mobile-friendly—is the most affordable way of attracting new customers. Include information about your products and services, high quality photos, and some background about your story so your business stands out for customers weighing multiple options. Even if you’re not an expert in website design, it’s worth doing your research and perhaps consulting someone who is, or using a business website provider.
The key is making sure the site looks professional since 38% of people will stop interacting with a poorly designed website. Include specific keywords to ensure your website is SEO optimized to show up in local search results. For example, if you’re opening a barber shop, include related SEO keywords on your website such as “barbershop,” “barber shop in [your city name],” and “men’s barber shop.”
2. Claim your business page on review sites
Word-of-mouth has always been a valuable and cost-effective way of reaching new customers. Nowadays, review sites provide an online equivalent for your biggest fans to spread the word. Especially in the early days of starting a business, getting your name out there and establishing your online reputation is crucial. Claim your business page on review sites, such as Google, Yelp, Facebook, and TripAdvisor. By doing so, you can validate the information regarding your business and monitor and respond to new reviews as they come in.
3. Optimize your pages to encourage discovery
Once your business pages are claimed, it’s time to make sure your business is looking its best. Upload high quality featured photos that make your business look unique and professional. Get the details right—are the address, phone number, business hours, and website information correct? Finally, tell your business story with the goal of drawing people in. Double-check that your page is free from spelling and grammar errors, and you can be sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
Choosing a reliable POS system
You’ve come up with something special that people want to buy. The next step is finding a reliable retail point-of-sale (POS) or restaurant point-of-sale system to make the sale. Think of the POS as the nucleus of your business operation. It has the power to make your life easier, but you need to make sure your priorities are in sync. Making such an important purchase requires a number of considerations: are you selling online, in store, or both? What kind of payments do you want to accept? Do you offer delivery? Identify your needs and do your research to find a POS system that meets them.
4. Sell wherever your customers are
The preference for online shopping is increasing at a rapid pace. In 2022, 56.6% of consumers preferred to shop online, up 10% from 2020. An online store gives your business another channel to make a sale and help you reach more customers beyond foot traffic. Updating inventory across multiple catalogs can be messy, but with an omnichannel retail POS system you can create and update one catalog for both online and in store. The same is true with first-party restaurant online ordering that's integrated right into your POS.
5. Take different payment types
Cash-only businesses are quickly becoming a thing of the past. With 69.4% consumers paying with either debit or credit card, taking card payments is an essential part of doing business. Depending on your product or target customer, you might also want to accept EBT or digital wallet payments, like Apple Pay, PayPal and Venmo. Choosing a POS system that allows for your customers’ payment preferences helps you ensure you never miss out on a sale because someone didn’t have cash, had the wrong card on hand, or left their wallet at home.
6. Enable delivery
These days, it feels like you can get everything delivered. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good fit for everyone, especially when you’re just starting your business. But if restaurant delivery or retail shipping is part of your business plan, take steps to ensure delivery logistics aren’t a thorn in your side. Do your research to identify software solutions that help you save on shipping rates and reach a wider audience to help you compete with big-box retailers.
Connecting with your customers
Acquiring new customers can be up to 25 times more costly than retaining existing ones. So, after you have wowed initial customers with a grand opening, stay connected to retain their business.
7. Build a customer list
Staying in touch with your customers via email or text allows you to share marketing content, business updates, even special deals for customers that are “part of the club.” First, you need to gather customer contact information. This can be done by pen and paper with a sign up sheet next to the checkout. Or, you can choose a POS system that automatically collects customer information upon checkout. This saves your customer time, avoids duplicate or erroneous entries in your system, and allows you to re-engage more customers. No need to wait until your business is officially open. Create enthusiasm for your grand opening by encouraging potential customers to sign up through your website and reward your early supporters with exclusive access or discounts.
8. Drive repeat traffic
Studies show increasing customer retention by 5% can increase profits by 25% to a whopping 95%. Marketing might not feel like a top priority for many small businesses, especially when there are so many time-sensitive concerns to deal with. But it can be a cost-effective approach to drive business. Creating a social media strategy through channels like Facebook and Instagram lets potential customers discover your business and helps your supporters spread the word. Utilizing email marketing best practices can help you reach lapsed customers who haven’t visited in a while and entice them back. Just be sure you’re up to speed on state regulations for email marketing and ensure your subscribers have a way to opt-out of receiving emails.
Another tool for driving repeat traffic is implementing a loyalty program. When starting a business, rewarding your customers for their purchase with points that can be redeemed for rewards can be a powerful tool for customer retention. Customer loyalty software can help you identify your most enthusiastic customers. Plus, everybody likes to feel like they’re getting a great deal.
Tracking the numbers
You’re starting a business because you want to do something you love. You developed a great product and it’s time to be your own boss. But turning a profit is essential to keeping your dream alive. Tracking monthly sales, profit and loss, and payroll may not be glamorous work, but it’s foundational to every successful business. Finding systems that make these tasks less time-consuming and more accurate can save you headaches and hassle in the long run.
9. Create a budget
From the neighborhood kids’ lemonade stand to the biggest online retailer in the world, every business needs a budget. Before starting a business, map out what you plan to spend on inventory, supplies, shipping materials, and other operating costs. If you’re hiring a team, include payroll in your budget. One of the challenges when you’re just starting out is predicting sales trends. Do your research on what similar businesses in your industry take in and set monthly sales goals to ensure you can keep the lights on.
10. Keep a record
Maintaining accurate and detailed records of your profit and loss, invoices, and receipts helps you stay on track with your budget and can save you time and money when tax season rolls around. It’s a task that takes a little more effort in the present for a big reward in the future. A modern retail POS system should automatically track this data for you, so you can spend less time fussing with spreadsheets and formulas and find all your sales data in one place. You can even track sales by channel, item, and sales person, giving you deeper insight into your business to help make data-driven decisions.
Now, you’re in business
There’s a lot you need to do before starting a business and it can seem like a daunting task. Once you’ve created your business plan and equipped yourself with tools that streamline operations, take a big exhale. Between your local chamber of commerce, fellow small business owners, and trusted tech partners, you’re not in this alone. When small businesses succeed, it’s not just the business owners who win—our communities do too.