In the shadow of massive corporations, it’s tough for a small business to get its share of the limelight. But small business plays a huge part in the American economy. According to a 2011 Business Insider report, there are 28 million small businesses in the U.S. That’s 1,162 small businesses for every one major corporation. These businesses employ 57 percent of the private workforce and pay 44 percent of the U.S. payroll. Yet, despite the critical role of small business to the economy, only 50 percent of these businesses survive their first five years. So, to help small businesses in the welding industry, AWS turned to recent winners of the Image of Welding Small Business Awards (now called the Excellence in Welding Small Business Awards) for advice.
- No matter the challenge, strategic focus is the answer.
“Too often, resources are wasted trying to be everything to every customer,” said Douglas Phillips, 2013 winner and Director of Product Management for Nelson Stud Welding, Inc. “Know your core competencies and be singular in your efforts.” Take time to learn what your company excels at and provide only those products and services. Just don’t be afraid to innovate if the innovation makes sense. Aim for better ways to build long-lasting relationships with satisfied customers.
- Be the best in your area at what you do. Or at least the fastest.
Phillips points out that “if you solve customers’ problems, you don’t have to explain your value to them. That kind of success sells itself.” Joe Fazzari agrees, but the Vice President of Colmac Coil Manufacturing, Inc. and 2010 winner also suggests offering a unique product or service for your area as well. If neither of these are enough, it all comes down to lead time. “Oftentimes, the supplier with the best lead time gets the order, regardless of price,” Fazzari said.
- Your brand is your reputation, so make it a good one.
Your reputation is shaped by your products and service. “No amount of advertising or marketing effort could be effective within the industries we serve if we did not have a reputation for delivering outstanding results whenever our customers needed us to,” said George Wernette, 2014 winner and Vice President of Tri Tool, Inc. Instead of expensive marketing campaigns, start off with a focus on building your brand through consistency, quality and timeliness. It’s usually more cost effective than standard marketing.
- Social media only works if it’s social.
“In our opinion,” said 2013 winner Rick McCartney, President of Bay State Industrial Welding & Fabrication, Inc., “social media is a fantastic way to share information to a much larger audience than we could have ever imagined, but as a small business you need to make sure that you are targeting the right audience. All the information sharing in the world will not mean a thing or help your business succeed if the right people and potential customers aren’t seeing it.” Make sure you understand your customers and how they use the internet. Tailor your Web presence to reach the people in need of your products and services, and make sure that Web presence is professional, identifiable and accessible.
- Establish good finance practices early.
Build a strong professional relationship with an accountant and banker you trust, and make sure your financial backers are doing their part to promote their investment. Most importantly, be prepared to reevaluate your business plan if it no longer seems to be working. McCartney recommends asking yourself: “Are your costs too high? Are you charging enough to make a reasonable profit while still being competitive? Do you have too many or too little people to handle your work load?” Being flexible can be critical to staying in business and minimizing debt.
- Know your customers, know their needs, and have a plan before you get started.
Starting a business is a terrible time to learn how to handle customer service,” Phillips warns. Fazzari adds that you should already know what your customers are looking for before you start. Get to know potential customers, and competition, before you settle on what products and services your company wants to provide. And once you get started, don’t be afraid to let customers know when you’re handling projects personally. It might not make you feel like a corporate CEO, but it will do wonders for your reputation. Customers like to feel you’ve taken a special interest in providing them quality work, so handling projects personally can go a long way in keeping customers during hard times and help you grow through word-of-mouth.
There you have it, six tips from five experts to help you make your business stand out among the competition. For more advice on managing your small business, check out the full version of this story, “Tips for Small Businesses” by Annik Babinski, in the December 2015 issue of the Welding Journal, free with your AWS membership.
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