When my husband and I decided to bite the bullet and start our own business, we were prepared to be hit with a multitude of challenges. Though, as prepared as we were, there were also many challenges that took us by surprise. Being able to lean on each other went a long way to helping us get through the toughest times when we were starting out, but we couldn’t have done it without getting amongst our community and building a network.
A lot has changed since Sports Magic opened its doors in 1998: technology, fashion, consumers and the Internet, just to name a few. But the one thing that has remained constant is that new challenges are constantly around the corner, and our community has proven invaluable in helping our business continue to thrive.
Here are my top tips for building a network and running a successful, community-focused small business:
Beat the big guys when it comes to customer service
For small businesses, it’s not often viable to compete on price. Offering outstanding customer service can be a great way to differentiate yourself from bigger competitors without compromising your bottom line. Investing in customers in little ways, like taking the time to be available when they need, or going the extra step with your customer service, will leave them feeling valued and important. It’s your customers that will be spreading the best reviews and word of mouth about your business, so making them feel like family will only encourage their repeat business and positive recommendation.
Avoid compromising on quality
Where possible, offer a top quality product to justify the price your customers are paying. At the end of the day, if your price point is dear but the quality doesn’t quite align, customers will choose another provider. As we were lucky enough to learn early, offering a consistently quality product, teamed with personalised service will make it difficult for customers to stay away when they need your product or service next.
Beat the clock
I’m yet to meet a business owner who isn’t constantly tight on time. One thing that we’ve found to be so important is devoting time to finding the right tools to help you spend less time on paperwork, and more time actually running your business. It’s worth it in the long run. For example, we discovered Invoice2go which allows us to create and send professional invoices, keep track of all our expenses and remind us when invoices are overdue so we can simply follow up. Having everything in the one spot saves us so much time, and as every small business owner knows, time is money!
Get amongst your local community
As a result of actively supporting the community around us, we have received much-needed support in return. We’ve always looked to sponsor local events, sports teams and become involved with charities we are passionate about. Getting to know the people around us has built our network, and subsequently given our business a presence locally. Getting to know people and getting involved goes a long way. Giving isn’t always about getting, but community relationships work both ways, and the reciprocated giving can build customer relationships that withstand time.
20 years on and I like to think we’ve learnt a thing or two about what it takes to run a business. But one learning I’ll never take for granted is that we wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t invest in our business’ community.
Melanie Yu, Co-founder, Sports Magic