Small busi­ness: An­thony O’Brien Give your busi­ness a boost

Reg­u­lar re­views of your plans and progress will en­sure your busi­ness suc­ceeds

Money Magazine Australia - - CONTENTS - This re­port was spon­sored by Telstra but was in­de­pen­dently re­searched and writ­ten.

Launch­ing a small busi­ness is ex­tremely solid work and keep­ing it purring along is equally de­mand­ing. To en­sure your ven­ture re­mains a grow­ing (and go­ing) con­cern, it’s im­por­tant to give it reg­u­lar “health checks”. Whether it’s re­view­ing the busi­ness plan­ning and re­cruit­ment pro­cesses, along with its tech­nol­ogy and mar­ket­ing cam­paigns, a reg­u­lar health check can help your op­er­a­tion stay ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion and fi­nan­cially vi­able.

Re­view your strat­egy

Hav­ing a busi­ness plan, even if it is only a ba­sic, sin­gle-page strat­egy, is cru­cial. I and my long-term busi­ness part­ner, the late Chris Walker, spent a de­cent amount of time on a busi­ness plan for our mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm, Cor­p­write Aus­tralia, when we launched it in 2008. Over the years we reg­u­larly re­turned to the plan to as­sess our progress, which didn’t al­ways make for pleas­ant read­ing and usu­ally we weren’t spend­ing enough time on gen­er­at­ing new busi­ness. Yet the ex­er­cise

If you are hir­ing a sales­per­son, make the can­di­dates sell them­selves to you”

al­ways helped us to get back on track. “A busi­ness plan is a con­struc­tive check­ing tool for busi­ness own­ers to en­sure they do the things they said they would at the time they opened the doors for busi­ness,” says Luke Mad­di­son, my new busi­ness part­ner.

A busi­ness plan should be a liv­ing doc­u­ment that doesn’t sim­ply col­lect dust on a book­shelf. “Take the mar­ket­ing com­po­nent of your busi­ness plan,” says Mad­di­son. “The strat­egy usu­ally cov­ers the next 12 months. How­ever, the ac­ti­va­tion el­e­ments, such as the ad­ver­tis­ing, mar­ket­ing, pub­lic re­la­tions or so­cial me­dia cam­paigns, should be locked in for three to six months only. This way you can tweak the plan after you’ve mar­ket-tested it with the cam­paigns, to en­sure it’s hit­ting the spot.”

The right team

A busi­ness will only move to the next level if its re­cruits add value. “This usu­ally means em­ploy­ing staff who bring ad­di­tional skills to your busi­ness,” says Ja­neece Keller, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of busi­ness con­sul­tancy the Third Floor and fam­ily travel web­site bound­round. com. Keller em­ploys six full-timers and many part-time con­trac­tors in the two busi­nesses. “I’m not a de­vel­oper, so I reg­u­larly bring web de­vel­op­ers into the fold to en­sure we are con­tin­u­ally boost­ing the web­site’s func­tion­al­ity with fam­i­lies in mind.”

Fred Schebesta, founder of com­par­i­son web­site finder. com.au, who em­ploys al­most 160 peo­ple glob­ally, says align­ing a staff mem­ber’s per­sonal ob­jec­tives with the goals of the busi­ness is crit­i­cal to keep­ing them. “If they are meet­ing their per­sonal goals, which help to achieve the com­pany’s goals, there will be great longterm align­ment,” says Schebesta, who quirk­ily took to New York’s fa­mous Times Square with a mes­sage board in search of con­tent man­agers and SEO (search en­gine op­ti­mi­sa­tion) ex­perts for Finder’s new US op­er­a­tion. In­ter­view­ing is the most cru­cial part of build­ing the right team, says Schebesta. “Your in­ter­views should be a test of the core skills a can­di­date needs to be suc­cess­ful in their role. If you are hir­ing a sales­per­son, make the can­di­date sell them­selves to you. If they are an engi­neer, make them solve en­gi­neer­ing prob­lems.”

The right tech­nol­ogy

Small busi­ness own­ers don’t ex­pect to be the tech­nol­ogy ex­perts when they launch their op­er­a­tion, says Andy El­lis, group man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Telstra Busi­ness. “They start a busi­ness be­cause they had an idea, a pas­sion and the con­fi­dence to back them­selves,” he says. “They need help to get back to what they’re pas­sion­ate about, so they can be the best busi­ness they can be.”

The in­ter­net and phone are the lifeline of many small busi­nesses. “Fast and re­li­able broad­band is the foun­da­tion for pow­er­ing a busi­ness and the tech gad­gets it uses,” says El­lis. Think about what your needs are, how much data you use and whether the plan you are on still works for you.

You may also con­sider mak­ing the switch to NBN. The NBN is a fi­bre-op­tic, fixed-wire­less and satel­lite sys­tem that will re­place Aus­tralia’s ex­ist­ing broad­band in­fra­struc­ture with a faster, more re­li­able ser­vice. It’s pre­dicted to de­liver down­load speeds up to four times faster than ADSL2+, mak­ing it a game changer for small busi­nesses. For ex­am­ple, 41% of small to medium busi­nesses that have moved to the NBN net­work re­port im­proved pro­duc­tiv­ity due to faster con­nec­tions, ac­cord­ing to Telstra re­search. A smaller num­ber (15%) re­port cost sav­ings since switch­ing to NBN, while 5% re­port rev­enue in­creases.

“If you’re an SME, plan to move to the NBN net­work be­fore the old cop­per net­work in your area is de­com­mis­sioned and your in­ter­net and phone ser­vices are at risk of dis­con­nec­tion,” sug­gests El­lis. You can check the avail­abil­ity of the NBN net­work in your area at nbnco.com.au.

Some­thing to be aware of is that not all de­vices are NBN com­pat­i­ble so it’s a good time to think about what de­vices you are and aren’t us­ing as you may have to up­grade some of them.

You should also re­view your phone plan to make sure it is still meet­ing your needs. Also ask your­self whether you even need a land­line or whether a mo­bile would be enough.

When it comes to mo­bile plans, you shouldn’t pay more than $50 or $60 a month, which will give you around 3GB of data. See whistleout.com.au to com­pare mo­bile plans.

It can pay to bun­dle your in­ter­net and phone, es­pe­cially from a cash flow per­spec­tive, but do the sums to make sure you are ac­tu­ally sav­ing money.

Cloud ser­vices are an­other op­tion SMEs should in­ves­ti­gate. The cloud is a way to net­work com­put­ing re­sources and to store and ac­cess data such as doc­u­ments, im­ages and spread­sheets. If data is stored in the cloud, staff can ac­cess the in­for­ma­tion they need to do their jobs from al­most any­where, at any time of day, on any de­vice con­nected to the in­ter­net.

There are also a range of apps and tech­nolo­gies that help busi­nesses stay con­nected to their cus­tomers and clients. “With Telstra’s App Mar­ket­place, you can trial a va­ri­ety of ap­pli­ca­tions at no or low cost to see if they are right for your busi­ness,” says El­lis.

One of the apps fea­tured is BlueJeans. “Save your­self the com­mute time and cost by host­ing high-def­i­ni­tion video meet­ings from the com­fort of your couch us­ing BlueJeans,” says El­lis. This con­fer­enc­ing app is an easyto-use, cloud-based ap­pli­ca­tion com­pat­i­ble with al­most any de­vice and is very se­cure, says Telstra.

An­other app busi­nesses might find use­ful is Do­cusign, which en­ables the sign­ing, send­ing, track­ing and stor­ing of doc­u­ments on your mo­bile de­vice. You’ll do your bit for the en­vi­ron­ment and also cut back on pa­per and ink as well as postage costs.

Make the most of so­cial me­dia

Con­sis­tency is crit­i­cal to so­cial me­dia suc­cess, says Kate Mather, from mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion agency Pro­file Dig­i­tal Group, whose clients in­clude lead­ing real es­tate brands and on­line re­tail­ers. “Ev­ery plat­form, whether it’s Twit­ter, Face­book, In­sta­gram or Pin­ter­est, re­quires con­sis­tently unique con­tent from a busi­ness and plenty of shar­ing, lik­ing and com­ments about the posts made by your cus­tomers and con­tacts,” she says.

Hash­tag­ging, us­ing the “#” sym­bol on plat­forms such as In­sta­gram, Twit­ter and Pin­ter­est, is a valu­able strat­egy. “Hash­tag­ging en­ables peo­ple to search for prod­ucts on so­cial me­dia plat­forms,” says Mather. It’s also an av­enue for busi­nesses to reach po­ten­tial cus­tomers.

“If a cos­met­ics firm, for ex­am­ple, is seek­ing to grow its In­sta­gram fol­low­ing, it could search hash­tag #blueglit­tereye­shadow,” says Mather. Through this hash­tag, a cos­met­ics firm will find a com­mu­nity seek­ing in­for­ma­tion about the lat­est prod­ucts, make-up tips and, more im­por­tantly, posts by con­sumers about the lat­est make-ups, eye­shad­ows and lip­sticks.

“By ‘lik­ing’ these posts (if they are in­deed like­able) and post­ing some qual­ity con­tent of its own, the cos­met­ics firm can start to build a pres­ence at #blueglit­tereye­shadow,” says Mather. “Us­ing so­cial me­dia in this way en­ables a busi­ness to grow its brand aware­ness and cre­ate a di­a­logue with con­sumers who might be in­flu­enced to buy its prod­ucts.”

If you’re new to so­cial me­dia, or wish to make greater use of the many plat­forms, you can out­source this func­tion. Ex­pect to pay $250 a month per plat­form for a bar­gain-base­ment plan, says Mather.

“This will cover the cost of some daily posts and im­ple­ment­ing a few strate­gies such as hash­tag­ging and lik­ing posts,” she says. “For so­cial me­dia train­ing or project work, ex­pect to pay between $80 and $100 an hour.”

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