People starting or running a small business often read marketing books to get ideas for promoting their business; to find new customers and remind existing customers that they are still around.

Unfortunately, a lot of these books seem to be targeted at larger businesses and often talk in vague terms about things like the “Four Ps”, (product, place, price, and promotion), rather than hiring a professional who will be advising the small business owner on some specific actions they can take. This would be much more helpful for the small business owner since they are usually multi-tasking and often don’t have time to think in terms of strategies. They just want to be told some things to do that should work to increase their business sales. Having said that, there are some books aimed at smaller businesses, but most of them still come up short in terms of just telling the small business owner what they should do.

So what should small business owners do to promote their businesses and increase sales?

Now you’ve put me on the spot! Well, I would say that as small business owners we need to decide on a number of specific actions that we can carry out each day with the aim of increasing our sales. These actions can be progressive, in that we don’t have to keep doing the same things forever, rather we can develop the activities as time goes by to fit the particular aims of the business. Okay, here are three things that we can do very quickly to get the process going. Interestingly, when I was trying to think of the three things that could be started immediately to make a difference, none of them were really what you could call marketing activities. They are just things that should help to get us more customer-focused. 

My three things a small business owner could start doing today that should lead to an increase in sales

1. Be able to describe concisely what the business does

Incredibly, when you ask a lot of business people what they do they struggle to tell you without going into a long monologue about it. We have all heard of them, “elevator speech”, and are aware that it is a description of what we do in our business, and that it takes around seven seconds to say. This, apparently, is the time it takes for an elevator to go from one floor to the next. The important thing about your elevator speech is that it should make the other person think, “tell me more”. Very few people have an elevator speech though. Why not? Because it’s hard work thinking one up. We hear a lot about, “doing what the other guy won’t”, in order to be successful, so let’s come up with an elevator speech. How long can it take?

2. Set up a contact management system

This doesn’t have to be a sophisticated, computerized contact management system, although it could be. It could be something as simple as a folder where we keep all the business cards of the people that we meet. These folders often have transparent plastic pages with little slots to hold the cards. Looking through this folder regularly can stimulate ideas about who to contact for business meetings. Just looking through the folder and letting the unconscious part of our brains mull it over through the day can provide all sorts of ideas about how we can help these people, all of which can lead to new business. The key though is to organize our contacts in a structured way so that we can use the information to enhance our businesses. Making new contacts is very expensive, in terms of time and money, so let’s not waste them. Put them to good use. Remember, we have valuable products and services to offer! 

3. Follow up – always be chasing

If there’s one lesson I have learned it is that we need to follow up all the time. Always be chasing, whether it is prospective customers, existing customers, people who are doing work for us, or whatever. We are often afraid of looking too keen, but in business, the ability to follow up effectively marks us out as people who are serious about what we are doing. So, what type of following up do I mean? When we meet people at a business networking mixer we can send them an email afterward to say how much we enjoyed meeting them. I always try to avoid any promotion when I do this – no, “let me know how I can help you”, or “when would you like to get together?” – all that can come later. Initially, we should just remind them that they met us. If you have a business meeting with a customer, prospective customer, supplier, or another business contact, send them an email afterward to confirm what you discussed and what you agreed would be done next. Again, I always keep this nice and friendly and light – it’s not supposed to be contractual-type stuff, just to remind them about you and demonstrate you are serious.

Not what I thought when I sat down

So there we have it – none of these ideas fit with what I had in mind when I sat down to think about this. I had initially thought more about handing out leaflets or flyers, structured networking, websites and social media, and so on. However, none of these activities has much chance of being successful if you can’t tell people clearly how you can help them if you don’t keep track of all the people you meet in the course of doing business, and you don’t follow up your contacts in an appropriate way. So these are my “power three”.