1. Focus on who your ideal customer is - those who are loyal and high spending - and make sure that everything you do is with your customer in mind.
2. Focus on cost cutting. Remember the old saying: "Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves." There are services to make this easier for you that don't cost a thing - check out Make It Cheaper for instance, which could enable you to make savings on your utilities.
3. Focus on your product, pricing and promotions - think about that ideal customer; make sure everything you present to them is aligned to their needs and wants and is clearly priced. Run engaging promotions that increase sales, don't drain margin and don't devalue the brand.
4. Make sure you are online. You don't need to be trading online (but it helps) but you do need to be findable. Spend some time to ensure you can be found for what you offer in your area. Make sure you add your business to Google places and as many free directories as you can. When people search for [category] in [Town] you want to be on page one! Add your business to www.independentshops.co.uk/.
5. Make sure you get social - retailers are using tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and blogs to stay in contact with customers. If you're not yet familiar with using social media then chose just one and learn how to use it. You'll soon find your feet, but if you do need a bit of help getting started, there is a free downloadable 'how-to' guide available at www.independentretail.co.uk/resources
Many small retailers start life as a hobby or project alongside full-time work; when is the right time to take the leap and make it a full-time occupation?
Clare replies: “Many people start retailing almost as a sideline and discover that it's consuming more and more of their time. Of course, if you're running a business alongside a full-time job you'll be getting income from both. Making the leap to being a full-time business owner - moving from employment to entrepreneurship - is never easy and only you will know when the time is right. Assess what income you need and how you'll achieve it and make sure you have the financial buffer to cover the transition. It's often valuable to join a local networking group to meet other local business people. You'll meet people who are in the position you'll be in when you make that leap and you may get a great deal of advice and support from the network as well.”
Is there enough support for small businesses from the government and banks at the moment?
Clare replies: “One of my greatest frustrations is the amount of money that seems to be thrown at start-ups and schemes to support start-ups but how little there is to help established businesses to keep going. I work with a privately funded organisation, Enterprise Rockers, and their mission is to support micro businesses (ie those with fewer than ten employees) to keep going once the honeymoon phase of start-up has passed. There is almost no support for established businesses from the government, and their stance on business rates for retailers in particular (of any size) is crippling. Banks are getting better; the anecdotal feedback I've had is variable - it seems that the success rate with banks has more to do with the business owner's relationship with their local business banking manager than it has to do with any specific bank or banking policy.”
On the whole, how would you rate the UK in terms of entrepreneurial spirit and achievement?
Clare replies: “I think the UK has huge entrepreneurial spirit and achieves an enormous amount. It's sad that much of the media focus is on super-star entrepreneurs like the BBC Dragons and not on the real-life entrepreneurs. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has a campaign called Real-Life Entrepreneurs, and I've agreed to champion that for them. This is all about recognising the micro businesses that work hard to support themselves and perhaps a couple of employees, who earn a reasonable living and enjoy a reasonable life.
“These real-life entrepreneurs won't make millions overnight; they won't be bought out by mega brands and they don't need investors to accelerate their growth. They're like the vast majority of entrepreneurs: people enjoying what they do and making a decent living. It's important to celebrate these people and recognise their achievements - the thousands of plumbers, decorators, designers and web developers who work freelance are probably more valuable to the UK economy than one of the celebrity entrepreneurs! It's important that we acknowledge that when talking about the mix of UK small businesses.”
Clare is well known by most independent retailers as a 'voice of the industry'. With years of experience creating awareness for our high street shops, retailers and traders she is one of the most trusted experts in the UK. To read more advice for her visit www.retailchampion.co.uk
This article first appeared on the Towergate Insurance website and was written by Jonathan Falgate.