The scenario may look familiar to many small business owners. You are doing a brisk business with loyal customer base. The sales are growing steadily. You are making decent profit. The same holds true for other competitors in the neighborhood. The existing customers in the town are divided between your and other businesses. In short, equilibrium has been established amongst existing businesses.
And then, a new competitor decides to get a piece of the action. Suddenly, everything changes. The new competitor tries to grab customers with lower price and increased marketing. The existing ones try to hold onto their customers. Employees will leave for bigger opportunities. It’s as if someone threw a stone in the calm waters causing ripples everywhere in the neighborhood.
The initial reaction for many existing business owners may be to counter the new competitor with force right away to ensure these ripples do not cause significant damage to your boat. However, this may be a mistake. The best strategy may be to watch and plan for the future before taking radical steps. In particular, it is important NOT to do the following right away.
What is the best way to get rid of products that are not selling well? You can reduce the price to generate more demand. But there is a way better way to manage it. It is known as scarcity principle and it works by making customers believe that the item will not be available if they wait longer. The technique works because of human psychology that makes people want something more when they are told they cannot have it. Fear of losing out on something can be a powerful motivator.
You don’t have to use this principle to sell only slow moving items. You can incorporate it in the normal marketing practice to increase the sales of regular products. If you look around you will notice that many businesses are already using this principle in various forms. QVC always shows how many items are left when promoting their products on television. The last few items are always sold very quickly. When a sales person tells us that the item is out of stock, but he can probably find it at another store your reaction will always be to order it so as not to miss out from that store too.
There are several approaches you can take to implement this scarcity principle in practice as shown below:
Pricing is both an art as well as science as we discussed in earlier post on Ten Commandments of pricing. There is no one right way to determine the price of products or services you are selling. To a large extent, the price is based on the value customers perceive to get from the product and what they are willing to pay for it.
The law of pricing says that you should charge each customer the exact amount he/she is willing to pay for it for maximum profit. This is how auction system works. You let each customers announce how much he wants to pay and pick the highest bid. While it would be ideal to determine the price in this fashion, in practice it becomes a challenge to sell your products this way. That’s why it is necessary for business owners to come up with an advertised price and augment it with other ways such as coupons to attract more customers.
So what factors do you need to consider when pricing your products and services?
Here is a hint… It has to do with pricing power… And that can lead to lot of fun things.
Pricing products or services is a very complicated decision. And yet, it is probably the most important decision small business owners need make. Charge too little for your products and you will leave money on the table. Charge too much and you will lose customers and sales. You have to strike a perfect balance between the two ends of the spectrum to come up with the price that your customers will be willing to pay for and enable you to make money. No wonder pricing is considered both and art and science.
Many small business owners hold myth that they can attract more customers and increase their sales simply by reducing the price. Nothing could be further from truth. The move may work initially, but it will put you in trouble at the end. We will explain why in a minute.
“What business are you in?” This is one of my favorite questions to ask when we meet with small business owners and entrepreneurs. On surface this appears to be a very simple question. If you are a pizza business owner, of course you are in the business of selling pizza or food. But, think about it in terms of what value are you bringing to your customers rather than what you are selling. Are your customers really craving for pizza or are they looking for the convenience of no cooking and pizza happens to be one of the choices? Are they ordering pizza to feed bunch of kids at a birthday party? Are they looking to satisfy their hunger after late night partying without having to drive to your store? As you can see, how you look at your business can have a significant impact on how you run your business. In fact, it can determine the success or failure of your business down the road.
Majority of small businesses fail in the first three years. As remarkable as this statistic is, it doesn’t stop number of aspiring entrepreneurs from pursuing their dream of owning a business. They think about their idea as the best thing since sliced bread was invented and are convinced that there is a huge untapped market out there that nobody as cracked. They have run their idea by close confidants and got their endorsement. Uncle Bob likes their product and Aunt Ann can’t wait to get her hand on it. There is only one problem. It is still an idea in your head!!!
So how do you go past this “pie in the sky” idea stage and make it a reality? Even more important, how do you know that this idea will succeed and will not leave you with agony and angst when it’s all over?
“I didn’t know we were in such a bad shape! How could this happen?” How many times have you heard this from a small business owner whose business is shutting down? For small business owners it is imperative to stay on top of the business like a hawk. Otherwise it is not surprising to wake up one day and find that you are not able to pay your employees or make interest payment to the bank.
We mentioned in earlier post that you have to be able to tell how your business is doing even when someone asks you in the middle of the night. We suggested that you identify key parameters for your business and look at daily, weekly and monthly reports.
We have been asked by number of small business owners if there are simple warning signs that can tell them if the business is headed for trouble – something akin to early warning system. In response, we have come up with 5 metrics that can tell you exactly that. By keeping a keen eye on these metrics you can detect potential problems well in advance and take appropriate actions to correct the path.
Here are those 5 metrics along with explanation of how to calculate them:
In the previous post we highlighted external market forces that can drive you out of business if you are not careful. The changes in economy, competition and consumer habits have hurt many small business owners in the last few years and can bring down sales and profit for your small business too.
To be fair, these external forces impact both large and small business alike; however small business owners feel this impact in a more profound way. Also, the small business owners can feel the impact very quickly. After all, unlike large businesses they do not have large financial cushion to withstand the impact. They also have their personal and business lives intertwined with the business. This will make it hard not for themselves; but also for others around them, including spouse, children and friends.
How can small business owners prepare themselves to be able to withstand the impact better than their peers?
Many people incorrectly assume that the subscription model only applies to specific types of business and miss out on the benefits it provides. The business that is closely associated with subscription model is newspapers and magazines. After all, magazine industry was the first one to introduce subscription business model. A number of other industries have since adopted this model including health clubs, DVD rental (Netflix), cell phone companies, etc.
The subscription model creates a win-win opportunity for both business owners and customers. Businesses benefit from subscription model because they get guaranteed sales. In some cases, they also get advanced payment for the services that customers will enjoy over a period in the future. Subscription model also builds a customer loyalty and reduces the marketing / customer acquisition cost for small business owners.
In the previous post we mentioned that you need to hear customer and employee stories in addition to looking at formal reports and metrics.
One of the ways you can do this is by asking open ended questions to your customers, employees and other business owners to understand the reasons behind numbers. Below we have identified 10 questions that will get them talking.