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40 million jobs, $6 trillion in sales are depending on it

[caption id="attachment_17020" align="alignleft" width="74" caption="Sherryl Dever"][/caption]

It’s old news that the banking, construction, mortgage industries' and Wall Street’s tribulations have had a definite trickle-down effect on both the spirits and pocket books of our neighbors, negatively impacting local businesses and economies. That said, the real question now becomes not how we stop this downward spiral, but instead this: How can we use these uncertain times to our advantage, so our small business may once again prosper?

The stakes are enormous. While Wall Street gets the press, small businesses shoulder the true burden of the U.S. economy. A recent study conducted by the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business shows the importance and clout of small businesses.

According to the survey, there are more than 27 million small businesses, which account for 98 percent of all businesses with payrolls. What’s more, U.S. small businesses contribute 40 million jobs and a staggering $6 trillion in annual revenues. So the next time you are identifying with a group of like-minded individuals, consider the club you’re already in when you opened your business doors. We’re a very substantial group.

The UM study also identifies some important ways to help us get down to brass tacks in our own community. Top priorities identified included access to capital, marketing and innovation, work force, customer service, computer technology and compliance. Finally, the study concludes that “competitiveness” as defined by set of “organizational activities” is critical to business success.

Here’s what we can do right now, in this weak economy, to not just survive but gain a serious competitive advantage.

Conquer your fears. Remember who you are and why you went into business in the first place. Be your own mentor. Lead yourself and your team by getting back to basics.

Set up a management report card to improve efficiencies. Hold your business accountable to producing results. Identify key result areas, such as daily/weekly/monthly sales goals compared to actual results. Pinpoint bottom-line employee goals and results. Identify financial results like accounts receivable, collections, profit, overhead/cost containment factors. Take quick action on any and all plans or refinement.

Seek financial assistance. Ask your banker, accountant, bookkeeper and/or other trusted advisers to help you develop or refine your business’ key financial documents.

Implement a clear sales and marketing plan. Do your homework. Stick to basics. Identify your core business/revenue streams. Identify and then use what has worked in its most simple form. Organize contact lists. Identify clear targets for new business based on previous performance. Create compelling offers, polish company and product messages and add value to every prospect or client interaction. Make direct contact and ask for orders. Develop referrals. Seek qualified expert assistance as needed. Make every marketing dollar count.

Streamline HR. Work to improve your personnel systems and human resources efficiencies, including hiring, training, supervision, communication, compliance, compensation, career path and retention plans. Update your organizational chart. Clarify the mission, vision and goals for your business and communicate this to employees for a stronger foundation.

Seek client feedback. Ask your customers how you can better serve them, and do it right now. Collect feedback necessary to improve your business by asking questions like: What did you like about your service from us? What would you change? Incorporate quick, personal questions that show you care (such as the name of their spouse or a favorite activity or hobby).

Get a technology tune-up. Many computer firms offer free or low-cost information management and systems analysis. Don’t leave your critical company, financial and client data to chance or non-experts. Vet your vendors.

Win the rules game. Beef up your knowledge of laws and regulations affecting your business, and learn how to use these to your advantage. Seek expert advice as needed.

Proper organizing activities spring from the old Michael Gerber adage, “Learn to work on your business, not just in it.”  Focus on results every day. Choose personal effectiveness and productivity. Plan well. Act using calendars, schedules and budgets. Take time each week to review key numbers. Gather facts and insights from everyone involved with the company, and use these impressions to improve efficiencies. Talk with employees about their needs and how they see customer needs. Plan and forecast. Compare goals versus results.

These business basics always count and can make a huge difference in any economy. Lost opportunities lead to lower profit and satisfaction never regained. Make every decision and minute count. Establish a safety net by taking charge of the basics right now, and you will help make certain that your business matters for years and years to come.

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Sherryl Dever, founder and CEO of The Business Resource, (since 1986) has led her team of expert small business advisers by stabilizing cash flow, improving profits and satisfaction of hundreds of founder-led businesses in California. For a Complimentary Business Analysis and Report, e-mail sherryldever@thebusinessresource.com. The University of Maryland Study is available online.