Small Business Web Design Essentials

Every business these days should have a web site to promote their products and services from, regardless of the niche they operate in. A well designed site can quickly pay for itself in new orders. Yet there are still lots of firms around that don’t have one. This is a huge mistake.

More and more people turn to the internet every day to find local business services. A few years ago we all turned to the Yellow Pages when we needed to find a local tradesman, but these days, this traditional medium is being rapidly replaced by the internet.

Getting a web site for your business does not have to be a huge expense. For as little as a few hundred pounds you can get a simple site that will be more than adequate for your needs.

You do not need a lot of functionality, a simple static site in most cases will suffice for a small business. You don’t need lots of moving graphics, and in most cases you don’t even need to be able to take payments.

For most small businesses, the primary purpose of a web site is to generate leads rather than sales. Once you have the lead’s contact details, you can sell them your service later.

Your new web site should firstly give your business an online presence so that people can find you. Simply publishing a web site is not enough, it needs to be optimized for the keywords your prospects type in to the search engines. When selecting a web design service, you need to ensure they fully understand the importance of search engine optimization (SEO). If they don’t, look elsewhere. There is no point having a web site that no one can find.

Once found, your site has to give your visitor a strong reason to contact you or to give you their contact details so that you can contact them. You have to make them an offer they cannot refuse. Promote a special offer that is only available for a limited time, or offer a free eBook that will provide them valuable information in return for their email address. Once you have a lead’s details, you have the opportunity to present your offer to them again, and tests show that the more someone is exposed to an offer, the more likely they are to take it up.

Finally, your small business web design should include client testimonials for credibility and a strong guarantee to remove the risk from your prospects minds. These elements will increase the contact rates you make with your prospects, and ultimately the number of sales your site generates.

The Four Phases of Small Business Strategy Planning

There are a host of definitions for strategy. Rather than trying to be comprehensive or creating a definition that tries to be the authoritative source, I’ll use a simple definition of strategy for my purposes. Strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve outcomes. That’s it. This definition is loyal to best tenants of strategy as well; be flexible, nimble and leave options until you reach the appropriate time or level to add further definition.

The process of defining the desired outcomes is usually incorporated into the concept of strategy planning. In an agile and well-led organization, execution is also wrapped into strategy so that the plans can stay flexible, updated, and resources can be used to increase success.

The best, most refined, and most successful strategy model has evolved from ancient China, was updated in Prussia, and has slowly been creeping into the business world. There are four steps to the process and I prefer to keep them all under the strategy umbrella to help leaders reach the planned outcomes. The iterative sequence is: setting goals, planning, actions, and outcomes.

In setting strategic goals, you must consider what outcomes you desire for your business. Assuming that you are in business to earn revenue, you must link your outcomes to needs that your customers have in order to capture that revenue. The best source for setting goals is your business mission, values, and vision statement. Provided you have a well thought out statement, your goals should flow directly from your mission and vision. What do you desire? What outcomes are you seeking? Where do you want your business to go? These are all important questions to ask. Additionally, you’ll want to conduct analysis and hypothesis testing of your assumptions to ensure you have goals that have a reasonable chance of success.

At the business level, goals should be general and short. For instance, you might set a goal of establishing a presence in a new market and capturing $2M in revenue within 2 years. Then you might develop a new layer that adds more strategy and assigns responsibility to different segments of your organization. In the above example, you might divide the revenue responsibilities between two business units and also assign sales and marketing targets. Each of these units might then break their sub-goals down further to responsible units or people. At each decomposed level, they would be informed as to the goals of the parent organization and overall business so they understand the overall context of the strategy.

When strategic goals have been formulated and assigned, planning begins. The business conducts an analysis of the environment, competitors, their own capabilities, their customers, and any other areas critical to the goals. They also assign resources to the different sections and identify people that will be responsible for achieving the outcomes defined in the strategic goals. They might also place constraints on the same, for instance certain segments of the market might be defined as unattractive.

With the goals, analysis, and resources/constraints in hand, the units and people responsible for the outcomes begin planning how they will reach the goals. The planning at the business level will be high level, as were the goals. As the planning cascades down through the organization, the plans will become more detailed at each level. Care must be taken in planning to ensure that only enough detail, not too much, is built into the plans.

As each layer of plan is created, there is a back and forth communication and evaluation of the plans until a level of confidence is reached. Care must be taken that planning doesn’t become such a long process that opportunities are missed while creating the perfect plan to take advantage of them. The old adage: a good plan executed now is better than the best plan executed too late is even more valid today given the speed of information in our society.

The final component of planning is establishing how to measure success. Using key performance indicators (KPIs) is a useful manner to track progress towards goals and helps leadership avoid micromanagement. When using KPIs, typically only three to five will be chosen at each level. They are selected because they are the most critical indicator to success. For instance, and airline trying to raise its customer satisfaction ratings and rankings identified one KPI, aircraft departure timeliness and subordinated all actions to ensuring that they could meet that goal. It’s also very helpful to have few KPIs as it keeps managers from trying to micromanage every detail instead of leading.

When the plans have been cascaded and completed, the flow moves into action. It is in the action phase that the outcomes and goals are reached. The plans come to life in the action phase. It is also the action phase where the plans begin falling apart. When you are writing your plan, conducting your analysis, creating goals, cascading the process, etc. it is easy fall into the assumption that when you launch the plan, it will proceed as written. Wrong. In the military, it is assumed that no plan will survive the first contact with the enemy. What that means is that when you’re planning, you are making assumptions and even though you’ve conduced a robust analysis, it won’t be perfect. In business, your clients, partners, competitors, economy, technology, and any other variable won’t behave as you’ve predicted. Some may be close, but there will be wrenches throw into your machine.

The natural reaction to this chaos is to manage more intensely, which is counterproductive and won’t produce the results and outcomes you are targeting. Instead, you need to build a flexible business that has well-trained employees who are making decisions at the lowest level possible. The people in direct contact with your customers are frequently able to make great decisions in the context of achieving your goals. But, to make those decisions they need to be empowered with the authority to act and also know that they are allowed to mistakes as part of the learning process. Anything short of this and you’ll have a much more difficult time succeeding.

The actions taken will lead directly to the outcomes. Outcomes are what you’ll measure against your goals to determine success. The more frequently and accurately you are able to measure progress without interfering with actions, the more successful you’ll be. Here is where choosing correct KPIs will pay dividends. When monitoring progress towards goals, leaders will be able to adjust, add or subtract resources, spread lessons learned, and take any other necessary actions. At this stage, you’ll also be leading another cycle of planning.

These four phases are continuously ongoing and spiraling through the organization. Each level goes through the phases and also links with other levels at each stage. While it seems complex and only suitable for large organizations, small businesses can start using this method as soon as they have more than one person. By starting with a robust, simple, and structured method of strategic planning and execution a small business can scale the process as they grow and have a competitive advantage as a result. Businesses that can’t plan well, are weak at analysis, micromanage, and set unreasonable goals face a challenge to stay in business. Lack of a strategic plan is the most cited reason for small business failure, but it might be more insightful to say that lack of a strategic plan and execution methodology is the root cause of those failures.

Common Mistakes Made by Small Businesses When Evaluating Their Technology Needs

The Point of Budgeting In Small Business

Too many small businesses operate without budgets. And many small businesses that do have budgets aren’t getting as much out of them as they could. We’ve seen it time and again.

It isn’t because the mechanics are difficult to manage. Everyone knows the basics of how budgets work: you track money coming in, you track money going out, and you do your best to plan for the future. In fact, the very simplicity of that formula is what leads some small-business owners to consider budgets not worth the trouble.

Therefore, what we’ll discuss here isn’t what budgeting entails, because if you don’t already know that, you can find it out with ease. We’re more interested in why you should budget in the first place. Our suggestion, to put it plainly, is that budgeting is a way to amplify the very creativity and adaptability that allow small businesses to thrive.

Budgets’ Reputation

You don’t become an entrepreneur because you have a burning love of spreadsheets. At least, not usually. Being an entrepreneur isn’t supposed to be about budgeting. It isn’t supposed to be about paging through endless columns of variable costs or putting caps on spending. It’s supposed to be about having the freedom to blend innovation and risk-taking with passion and expertise. It’s supposed to be about removing barriers, not building them.

That being the case, small-business owners often see budgets as antithetical to the very spirit of entrepreneurship. According to this perspective, budgets impose stifling limitations. They’re artifacts of mega-corporate culture devised by clammy-handed people in windowless rooms with poor lighting. They may be necessary evils for sprawling, inhuman conglomerates, but when it comes to organizations that rely on individual personalities and individual decision-making, budgets are more burdensome than helpful.

You might say the constraints imposed by budgeting make small businesses less nimble. Since nimbleness is one of their main advantages over larger rivals, budgets actually decrease small businesses’ ability to compete.

Or so the story goes.

Some of it is accurate. For instance, it’s true that passion and innovation go hand in hand with entrepreneurship. It’s true that small businesses should strive to leverage their size into a competitive advantage. And it’s true that budgeting for small businesses is much different from budgeting for colossal corporations.

What’s not true is that budgets impose constraints. Budgets don’t actually impose anything. They merely describe constraints that are already present. Perhaps more importantly, they describe a business’s ability to cope with and even manipulate constraints placed on it by forces internal and external.

Constraints and Entrepreneurial Creativity

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re aware that your business doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It’s part of a staggeringly complex system. For instance, you have your relatively immediate concerns, such as your employees and your local government. You also have your relatively big-picture concerns, such as national debt and foreign trade policy. No matter what, when you start a small business you’re going to be hemmed in by laws, regulations, and unavoidable economic realities, all of which will have a major impact on how you operate.

In other words, no small business starts out in a position of unfettered freedom. The very conditions that allow small businesses to exist also impose a variety of constraints. Working capital, interest rates, the minimum wage, the minimum competitive salary for professional employees-there are countless factors that limit what you can do and how much money it takes to do it.

You can acknowledge the reality of these factors, but if you don’t have a budget, then you might not know the exact ways they’re affecting you. What particular constraints does a business in your industry have to deal with? Are there some that have a disproportionate impact on you because of the way your business functions? Can you make changes to reduce their impact? Are there constraints that you handle in an especially productive way? Can you turn this productivity into an advantage over your competitors? Do you approach some constraints the way everyone else does, even though you could be doing a better job with them?

These are the sort of questions a budget helps you answer. It doesn’t create limitations that weren’t there before. Rather, it gives you a way to assess the pre-existing limitations that every small business in your industry has to deal with. The more thorough your assessment of those limitations, the greater your ability to work within them, work around them, or in some cases, make them work for you.

Making limitations work for you is where entrepreneurial creativity comes into play. If you have enough details on your business’s limitations, then you’ll be better able to turn those limitations into innovations. A budget will help you marshal your creative energies and find the opportunities for profit embedded in the market’s constraints. It tells you exactly what assets you have to work with, and helps you map out how those assets can be put to the most productive use given the rules of the industry.

After all, most of the market-based constraints you experience will be shared by your competitors, who also have limited amounts of money and freedom. Which of you comes out on top won’t be determined by who has the fewest constraints, but by who does the best job of manipulating common constraints to find the possibilities they hide.

Speed, Spontaneity, and Profit

Small businesses, precisely because they’re small, tend to be better than their larger competitors at taking quick, decisive action. It’s one of their vital advantages. By the same token, it’s one of the challenges that all entrepreneurs are bound to face. You’ll be forced to react on a moment’s notice to emerging opportunities or perils in the market-that’s a given.

What’s less certain is the profitability of your reactions. Obviously, acting or adapting fast doesn’t do much good if it yields a loss.

So what information will you use to make your quick decisions? Do you have a detailed, practical breakdown of your business’s strengths and weaknesses? Do you know exactly how many resources you can afford to redeploy at a moment’s notice? Do you know how efficiently different aspects of your business tend to use the resources you devote to them? Are certain aspects of your business already strained? Are certain aspects flush with the potential for expansion?

A budget gives you a diagnostic readout of your organization. It tells you how much stress the business can handle and which areas can handle it. Hence, it helps you decide whether acting conservatively or aggressively in the short term will enhance your performance over the long term. Without a budget, you’ll be relying too much on guesswork, and many of your quick decisions may be needlessly risky.

Supply-chain Relationships

A budget not only helps you assess yourself, but also helps you assess your relationships with other entities, like vendors and subcontractors. This will be especially important when the market is in flux.

As you know, successful entrepreneurship entails evaluating the vast array of forces that constitutes the market and determining where-for someone in your industry, someone with your passion and expertise-the opportunities and roadblocks lie. But no one can predict with any certainty how the market will behave tomorrow. There will be surprises. Sudden chances and sudden setbacks.

We’ve already noted that the way you respond to these inevitable surprises will play a critical role in the profitability-or survival-of your business, and that your ability to make the right call at the right time will be drastically greater if you have a budget in place. This is not only because a budget tells you about your own resources, but also because a budget helps you deal with other organizations that affect you.

Let’s say you experience a sharp increase in demand for your product. It’s good news, but it brings up questions: Do you have enough working capital to provide your product to a large number of new customers/clients? What are the current resources of each division of your business? How many more resources does each division need if it’s going to ramp up its activities? How efficiently does each division tend to use its resources?

These are all internal questions that may well lead to others, such as: What do your vendor accounts look like? How much new inventory can you afford to purchase? What type of sales will you need if you’re going to pay off the new purchases on time? Can you afford to hire subcontractors to help with the push?

And, of equal or greater importance: What’s your plan for a downturn in demand? Will you find yourself in a precarious position with your vendors? Will you be able to keep promises to new customers? Will you be able to pay your subcontractors for the hours they’ve put in?

Indeed, budgeting can provide invaluable support for all your relationships. As noted on Inc.com, “your suppliers are in all likelihood mapping out their expectations for the year and you can help them do so by providing your outlook. As a best practice, you should share your budget and the variety of scenarios you might face to see whether they can handle each level of demand” (Field 2010).

Since your business is one element in a network of other businesses, it’s important for you to be able to communicate both your capacities and your expectations to the people you rely on. A budget serves as a tool for facilitating such communication. It gives you a concrete way of describing not only where you stand, but also where you will stand in a given scenario. Thus, it helps foster strong partnerships and avoid uncomfortable conversations.

This doesn’t mean sharing every detail of your budget, nor does it mean sharing some details with everyone. It simply means that guarding your budget like a state secret takes away some of its efficacy. You can use select portions of your budget to assist you in negotiating with critical partners-i.e., you can be prudent about the information you divulge without being obscure. How much do your current business partners know about your budget? Is it enough for them to understand your capacities and your needs?

The Bank

Speaking of business relationships: you don’t want to mess around with the bank. Plain and simple. This is a relationship that should be as friendly and open as possible. And what do bankers like? Budgets. As the American Bankers Association (ABA) says, “You are flying in the dark financially if you don’t have a budget for all income and expenses.”

Come to them without a budget, and bankers are going to feel like you’re wasting their time. They’re certainly not going to be interested in loaning you money (or more money). “Prepare for your financial review with your banker,” says ABA. “Have current inventories, cash flows and balance sheets ready.”

When your banker asks you how your debt is structured, and whether you have an imbalance between long- and short-term debt, what are you going answer? Trust us: if you show up to that meeting with a budget, you’ll be glad you did.

Flexibility

Just as the market’s unpredictability makes budgets useful, it also makes them fallible. A budget is like any plan: it will contain inaccurate predictions and require ongoing revision. That’s simply a condition of commerce; some academic models are predicated on entrepreneurs having perfect foresight, but we all know that’s not the case. Businesspeople, even the world’s most celebrated financial prognosticators, get it wrong sometimes.

That doesn’t render planning completely useless. Even if your plans don’t entirely match the way reality unfolds, they serve as benchmarks against which you can assess your progress. They record where you wanted to go, where you actually went, and why the two didn’t coincide. In that way, they indicate which areas of your business are performing well, and which need to be modified in order to meet next quarter’s goals.

When it comes to small-business planning, certainty is off the table. Nothing is guaranteed, including budgets. But setting expectations and monitoring progress remain indispensable to long-term survival. They help small-business owners analyze why they’re drifting off course, and also help them formulate corrective measures.

How do you see a budget? As a static report that turns old news into flimsy predictions? Or as a series of living documents that records how you adapt to change?

Personnel

Thorough budgeting calls for a great deal of effort, and many small-business owners can’t spare the necessary time or energy. Frankly, while the minutiae of budgeting are of interest to the entrepreneur, they are not the entrepreneur’s main job. If they were, then a good head for numbers and a background in financial analysis would be prerequisites for entrepreneurship. Yet plenty of small-business owners have succeeded without an affinity for mathematics or statistics. Entrepreneurs don’t all begin as certified public accountants.

That being the case, most small-business owners hire a bookkeeper. A bookkeeper collects and organizes your financial information, which, again, is time-consuming and requires close attention to detail. Too much time and too much attention for small-business owners to sacrifice. But even if you’re not involved with gathering and sorting your financial information, you needn’t remain aloof from it. To get the most benefit from budgeting, you’ll want to be accustomed to reading your financial statements and locating important data in your financial system. When you meet with your bookkeeper, are you talking about his or her methods? Is he or she showing you how your financial information is organized? Are you able to navigate your bookkeeping software on your own, so as to pull up specific pieces of data without your bookkeeper’s assistance?

Proper bookkeeping is important, but it rarely goes far enough in the analysis department. You’ll notice that the bulk of our discussion has revolved around using budgets to orient yourself in the market-i.e., using them to take advantage of opportunities and to minimize risks. That requires more than tabulating numbers; it requires interpreting them. It requires fitting your numbers into a larger picture.

Is there anyone in your organization besides you who (1) monitors your finances on the close-in, detailed level, and (2) relates the details of your finances to your big-picture performance? If not, chances are you’d benefit from a dedicated financial person. Someone whose duties involve painting a comprehensive picture of your financial universe-more comprehensive, that is, than the picture you’re able to paint on your own, simply because you have other things to do.

As with most aspects of running a small business, getting the most out of budgeting requires skillful delegation. If a budget is going to inform your decisions at major turning points, then it’s a good idea to have someone to consult with, someone who’s been looking at the same numbers as you while also looking at the same problems.

Takeaway

The value of a budget doesn’t rest on the accuracy of its predictions or the stringency of its cost-cutting. Instead, the value of a budget rests on how well it articulates your business’s financial strengths and weaknesses. A budget exists to help you balance risk against opportunity, to help you determine whether aggressive or conservative action is the right thing for the moment. It also exists to help you communicate with your business partners-to, in other words, cultivate healthy, mutually beneficial relationships with the organizations you rely on.

Above all, a budget exists to de-mystify, or express in concrete terms, the limitations imposed on your business by the market. Thorough budgeting, especially when undertaken with the right personnel, can enhance your creative initiatives and merge adaptability with profit. In short, budgeting is a way to sharpen, not blunt, a small business’s advantages.

Citations

American Bankers Association. Ten tips for small business owners during tough financial times. http://www.aba.com/Press+Room/PR_Small_Business_troubledtimestips.htm.

Field, Anne. 2010. How to budget and manage inventory for 2011. Inc. http://www.inc.com/guides/2010/10/how-to-budget-and-manage-inventory-for-2011.html.