Article: Ron Oltmanns

The Small Business Library

December 30, 1999

The Top 10 Survival Strategies for Small Businesses

  1. Focus completely on satisfying customers.
    Develop a true customer focus. Understand that customers always go where they get good value, they go where they are treated well, and when the value isn't obvious or when the level of service slips, the customer slips away. Identify your target customer; the more you know about your customers, the easier it is to serve them well.

  2. Study the success of others.
    If you want to be a smart businessperson, study smart businesses. The smart ones ask a lot of questions, keep their eyes wide open, and adapt good ideas whenever they can. Study the competition, learn from your peers, and consider every situation you encounter as an opportunity to gather ideas to use in your business.

  3. Gather and analyze management information regularly.
    You need strategic information on your own business in order to know what's really going on and to make wise decisions based on accurate, timely information. Use whatever technology you have, even if it's manual, to collect information in the following four areas: financial information, customer information, industry information, and market trends.

  4. Sharpen marketing skills.
    Marketing must consider your price levels, your product offerings, your place or location relative to the customer and their daily routines, your promotion efforts, your people (working in the store), and your positioning within the market. All of these are important, but you have to decide what you will focus on and what customers are most sensitive about.
    Remember, marketing is learned by doing.

  5. Increase the customer's perception of value.
    Value is not the same as price. It also includes considerations of quality (are your products better?) and quantity (do you offer more than others?). But most customers are somewhat price sensitive. Instead of across-the-board markup, small retailers should consider variable pricing strategies.

  6. Position the business uniquely.
    You aren't one of the big guys, so don't try to be just like them. Position yourself in areas where big business cannot compete with you, like friendliness and customer bonding. Where can you say, "We're better because..."?

  7. Eliminate waste.
    Plan your spending. Keep a budget. Constantly compare your budgeted and actual figures to learn where costs are going. Aim to bring operating expenses to less than 20% of sales. Every dollar saved from current operating costs goes directly to your bottom line. Time is money, and eliminating time wasters saves you money. Don't hesitate to spend in areas that will certainly help you earn much more. Those aren't wasteful costs.

  8. Find something to improve every day.
    Make it a formal goal to improve one aspect of your business every day, no matter how small. The Japanese call it kaizen, but there are hundreds of ways to do this.

  9. Embrace change with a positive attitude.
    Having a positive attitude is consistently one of the common factors of success. You must not fear change; change is your friend. As you continually improve, you'll be embracing change. Enjoy the ride!

  10. Pull the trigger and start the battle.
    Some people stay on  "Ready, aim, aim, aim-."  You must learn to take action quickly and also cut losses when you're wrong. Go ahead and pull the trigger rather than wait for the perfect shop -- it never comes. Try something. If it doesn't give you perfect results, adjust your aim and fire again!

By Ron Oltmanns, who can be reached at Ron Oltmanns.
The original source is:  Don Taylor, Up Against the Wal-Marts.