May 2015: Small Business Success

Take some time to renew yourself

Columnist Sarah O'Connell

Columnist Sarah O’Connell

In my last column I talked about making resolutions in our personal and business lives to improve our productivity and organization; I wrote about de-cluttering and prioritizing. That’s still going really well. This month I said I’d tell you about my third resolution: trying new things.

Why should you try new things? Perhaps you’ve noticed with your business that sales have gotten static or even fallen off a bit. Maybe your marketing efforts have gotten a bit stale along the way. Perhaps you need to get out of your rut, change up your basic life perspectives, and stretch yourself a bit.

So, I did in fact go downhill skiing for the first time in more than 10 years. Yes, I was nervous. I really didn’t want to end up in the emergency room. My son prepared me by making sure I had speedy, freshly sharpened and waxed skis — a mixed blessing, in my opinion. When I set off for the Dry Hill chair lift, my goal was to do just one run and survive it. It went so well, I took another five runs.

It’s the same with starting a business or making changes in your business. Sure, it can be scary and risky; the key is to be prepared in advance and to have a goal in mind so you can see and judge how things are going.

At the Small Business Development Center, I’ve decided my next “new thing” is expanding our social media presence by creating a company LinkedIn page and a Twitter feed. These aren’t tools I use personally, but as an organization that serves small businesses we feel we need to broaden our Internet presence to make sure local entrepreneurs are aware of us and how we can help them.

While this isn’t as scary as flying down a ski hill, it still takes some research and planning to make sure that it is done well and looks professional. This is one reason why many north country businesses haven’t yet pushed off the social media hill. Business owners are worried about the work, cost and time it may involve. But while LinkedIn and Twitter may or may not be appropriate for your particular business, there are still a few basic steps — remember the snowplow stance in skiing — that you need to take.

Create a website. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to look professional and it does have to include your product or service, your location/service area, your hours if you have an office or shop and a way to contact you. Photos are good, but make sure all your important keywords appear in the text so the search engines will pick them up. If you have other social media platforms, include those links.

Make sure you create a website that will work well on a mobile device. According to a Nielsen survey, in 2014 more than 86 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds own smartphones and in the most senior group, 65 and older, 46.3 percent own a smartphone. Ownership is pretty evenly divided between men and women. So whoever your target market is, the chances are that they are going to be looking for you on their Android or iPhone device.

Put your Web address on every other piece of advertising material you have: brochures, business cards, car signage, emails, etc. Finally, use the analytic tools available to see how your website is working, in terms of visits, click-throughs to links or other pages, etc. Your goal is to increase visitation to your website, and the analytics will let you see what’s working and what’s not.

So, another new thing I’m trying? Cooking. I’m trying out a new recipe on my son every week or two. So far I’ve managed minestrone, bruschetta and pot pies with no trips to the emergency room either.

Sarah O’Connell is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at soconnell@sunyjefferson.edu. Her column appears bi-monthly in NNY Business.