A start up business with limited resources can be extremely challenging and overwhelming. Yet this situation can also be an opportunity to bring out the best in everyone involved in the business. It is an excellent training ground for management and leadership. If resources are actually unlimited then there’s no need for strategizing and for motivating people.
If you are the owner, operations, sales, marketing and HR manager all in one, then you have to perform a tough balancing act. You have to micro-manage the day-to-day operations, and oftentimes not have the bandwidth to train staff or tolerate mistakes. You also have to creatively market and differentiate, while trying to save every cent. You have to make the business run smoothly and turnover revenue immediately, while establishing processes, systems and standards. Most importantly, you have to motivate and lead the people to achieve your long-term business goals, otherwise risk losing people as the day-to-day challenges can wear down everyone fast.
Trying to achieve the conflicting goals and priorities – with limited resources like cash, people, materials, time and tools – is indeed overwhelming. Yet this situation brings some advantages and benefits. Moreover, if you focus your limited resources on a few critical things, then you may just find a formula to sustained growth and success.
Customer service. The smaller your business is, the more that customer rapport and service matter. Customers remember your “thank you”, your smile and the extra mile to make their experience more enjoyable. This is based on our actual experience running our small food and beverage business, which is situated in a food hall at one of the largest department stores in Singapore. It is easy not to be noticed amid all the food shops. But it is also easy to get noticed when all the staff are competent, smiling, warm, friendly, energetic and helpful. The most obvious benefit is the people traffic build up, which bring in the immediate sales. But the more important benefit is that customers actually return and become regular ones, which help the sales in the long run.
Targeted marketing. The reach and impact of social media is significant in terms of increasing market awareness and of communicating the brand and activities. Targeted marketing via today’s social media has never been so accessible, easy and cost-effective. Be aware though of the challenges like message consistency and ongoing maintenance. For small businesses where most marketing are DIY (do it yourself) campaigns, promotions, content or graphics, finding the time and resource to sustain the marketing initiatives is the challenge. If you do allot some of your limited resources for marketing, it may open you to a wider potential customer base, which may lead to more connections or higher sales, and benefit the business in the long run.
Cost control. It’s very cliché but indeed “every cent counts.” From the back-end to the frontline operations, every error and wastage is a potential cost saving. Every supply and ingredient should be accounted for. There is risk of treading on the extreme side of cost control. Wearing the visionary leader, marketer and people manager hats help balance things, and prevent a culture of fear to invest on the right things. The benefit of cost control is the strengthened accountability and pro-activeness developed by every individual involved in the processes.
Strong core products. Focus on your core products ~ the ones you strongly believe in that’s why you went into business in the first place! When you have limited resources, getting the sales of the core products to the desired level is the priority. New product innovation or expansion are equally important. So you must do this – but not at the expense of your core products, which usually bring in the majority of the revenue. Not only does the business benefit from steady sales of core products, the brand image and reputation are developed as well.
Happy people. Working in food retail is very demanding in many ways. First, it can be physically tiring to operate a shop all day and night long. Second, work-shift schedules impact personal time, activities and relationships. Third, it requires great customer service, constant team interactions and quick decisions from the staff no matter what is happening at the back-end. Fourth, if just one to two staff runs the shop, the staff has to be competent and efficient in all aspects of operations. They actually run the business on a day-to-day basis, and that is a big feat. Your people deserve to be treated well. Though the example shared is in retail, such is true in all businesses:
“If your people are happy, they will serve your customers happily. If your customers are happy, they will come back and will keep your business going!”
Note: This article was also published in LinkedIn.