Survival and Success as a Small Business

Personal Writing

In my blog post last week, I mentioned that I have considered someday opening my own creative agency and be my own boss. Doing so would put me in the ranks of more than 27 million small businesses in the United States (as of 2011).

According to Intuit, a tax preparation software development and financial services company for small businesses, 69 percent of small businesses survive at least two years. Those seem like generally good odds to me, but the same study also reports that small businesses have a 49 percent chance of failing within five years. Now we should note that those stats are for all small businesses, so my chances of success in the public relations and marketing fields may be significantly different.

Since I am always skeptical of statistics that companies produce, I decided that I’m going to do as much research as possible and gather all the different tips and advice that I could. The following is some of what I’ve found.

Avoiding Failure

Martin Zwilling’s article from Entrepreneur essentially embodies everything I’ve learned in my marketing and journalism classes: know your environment, know your audience, and most importantly, DO YOUR RESEARCH. If you don’t know what obstacles, internal and external, that you will encounter and you’re oblivious to how to connect with your audience and their needs then chances are those weaknesses will cripple your start-up in the end.

As Mr. Zwilling said, “There is no substitute for market research, written by domain experts, to supplement your informal poll of friends and family.”

A prime example of Mr. Zwilling’s fifth point, Too Much Competition, was the explosion of Yogurtland-style frozen yogurt stores that have popped up in the last several years. Around my apartment, there are at least five “fro-yo” stores within a two-mile radius of each other.

“Having no competitors is a red flag — it may mean there’s no market — but finding ten or more with a simple Google search means your area of interest may be a crowded,” Zwilling said.

Only one store is every really busy on a semi-regular, and most of the others usually have empty parking lots. Seeing this made me think that perhaps those business owners jumped on the Yogurtland bandwagon but never did any worthwhile market research before embarking on this venture. Otherwise, I would think they would have chosen an area that wasn’t already occupied by numerous other stores with the exact same business model.

Getting Social with your Audience and Peers

Nowadays, having all the data and using it to push out your product or service isn’t enough. For most businesses, small or large, an online and social media presence is essential to your firm or company’s longevity. If I have learned anything from my course work, it is that building and maintaining relationships is essential to all parts of business. Technology now allows the communication between professionals/organizations and consumers two-way. So if the majority of your audience and competition is a part of the online community and your company’s business plan lacks a social media strategy, you soon may be lest in the dust as consumers gravitate to your competitors who make the effort to connect and be engaged with the public.

According to Brian Solis, the problem with developing a social media presence that’s plaguing businesses of all sizes is that many are strategies prioritize the tools (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, etc.) rather than the solutions, business impact and value gained from using said tools.

“Why would we go on social networks? Why would customers connect with us there? Why would we gain any value out of online engagement? Why would any of this impact my business?” asks Solis.

Mr. Solis describes a five-step approach for social media strategy development:

  1. Monitor your environment
  2. Define yourself and how you want others to perceive you
  3. Develop a strategy that balances the business side with a personable side
  4. Develop and maintain an active and engaged relationship with your community/audience
  5. Constantly learn and evolve to the changes of all kinds

To end this week’s post is some business advice from the chairman of the board of Columbia Sportswear, Gert Boyles:

For advice from eight other successful entrepreneurs, check out Entrepreneur’s slideshow.

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