As we kick off 2012, it’s important to reflect on the previous year and set achievable goals for the next 12 months. For individuals, these New Year’s resolutions often focus on lifestyle changes, like a healthier diet or increasing physical activity– all meant to produce a better “you” by the year’s end. Businesses, like individuals, can benefit from identifying challenges and aligning resolutions to improve upon areas that inhibited growth the previous year.
At the Columbus Chamber, our mission is to help existing businesses in the Columbus region grow and expand. More than 90 percent of companies in the region are categorized as “small businesses,” or those having fewer than 500 employees. It’s our responsibility to communicate with these businesses on a regular basis, understand their challenges and work together toward solutions. Straight from the mouths of three local small businesses, here are some of the common New Year’s resolutions for 2012.
For companies planning to add to their staffs in 2012, matching the need for additional staff with the unpredictable ups and downs in the economy can be difficult. For Darla King, president of King Business Interiors Inc., steady growth –without having to make employment cuts later in the year– is at the top of the list.
“We grew 39 percent from 2010 to 2011 and stretched our team greatly to get all the work done,” says King, whose company specializes in commercial furniture, flooring and move coordination. “Hiring smarter by taking more time and having more of our team help with the interview process is our plan.”
In addition to engaging more of her team during the screening process, King plans to tap into her network of vendors, customers and professional groups to find candidates that fit well with her organization. For her, attracting the right people is just as much about culture as looking good on paper.
King’s advice to other small businesses: “Put the word out –not by ad on paper– but with a sincere request for a good person who fits the qualifications and would work within your culture.”
Pay down debt
Getting rid of debt is a primary goal for many small businesses, but finding a way to do so while running a company full time is no easy task. This process requires creative thinking and strategic partnerships, as Joe Spinelli, owner of Spinelli’s Deli, has done.
To help achieve his goal of paying down debt in 2012, Spinelli has partnered with the Food Fort at the Economic and Community Development Institute to lease a food cart that can be used to cater private parties or events, like the Columbus Marathon and the Short North Tour of Homes. Individual businesses –like The Limited, Ohio Rehabilitation Services and Hamilton Parker– have also asked Spinelli’s Deli to set up at their locations.
Another tactic Spinelli is using to increase revenue and pay down debt is revamping the deli’s rewards program. He is consolidating the existing breakfast and lunch reward cards into one program, enabling customers to earn 5 percent back on any purchase in the deli and 10 percent back on Mondays and Tuesdays. The amount earned can be redeemed at any time for any item. Spinelli believes this new approach will increase customer loyalty and frequency.
Spinelli’s advice to other small businesses: “Look for ways to increase revenue that will not cost a lot of additional investment. I recommend connecting with other business owners to get ideas. It helps you think outside the box.”
Increase customer offerings
No matter the type of company, small businesses have close relationships with their customers and an ability to tailor services based on demand. For Tom Hastings, founder and president of CSC, matching new offerings with customer feedback is a primary goal in 2012.
CSC provides proactive information technology services to business, non-profit, government, K-12 and higher education organizations – with hosted Voice over IP being one of the company’s most commonly requested cloud services. Aligning with customers needs, CSC recently purchased a 12,000-square-foot building, which includes a data center, to support the growing demand for cloud services.
“The VoIP model offers a low-priced way for small businesses to gain sophisticated phone features,” says Hastings. “CSC’s focus on bringing cloud services to our clients, in many ways, allows our clients to scale their businesses. In other words, our clients can pay by the ‘drip’ for their IT and phone services, instead of by the ‘gallon.'”
Hastings’ advice to other small businesses: “I would suggest that small business owners engage with their competitors. The experience sharing, with my fellow IT solution providers, has been immeasurable. I’ve been in the IT space for over 20 years, yet I still learn new ways to grow my business each time I meet with my peers.”
Call on the Columbus Chamber
What are your business’s goals and challenges in 2012? The Columbus Chamber is here to help you thrive. We recently launched an Entrepreneurship Program, which is designed to provide personalized resources and attention to entrepreneurs with startup businesses. I invite you to call on us, and let us know how we can serve you. For more information on the program, contact Somers Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.