This post was also published on Small Business Trends.
If you’re like a lot of small business owners I’ve talked to since we rang in 2010, you probably sympathize with this statement: “Enough with the doom and gloom already. I don’t want to know how awful the economy is, I want to know how to make a profit anyway!”
A couple of weeks ago, our very own Anita Campbell tackled that issue with an Intuit Community webinar titled, “Make 2010 Your Most Profitable Year Ever.” Joining her for the webinar was expert Andy Birol of Birol Growth Consulting.
In spite of a few technical difficulties early on, it was another of Anita’s information-packed sessions with a mountain of actionable take-aways for small business owners, sponsored by Intuit.
Anita started the webinar with a couple of poll questions, which elicited the information that a surprisingly high 71% of participants didn’t know what their customer acquisition costs are. From the second question, we learned that most business owners either know who their most profitable customers are (50%) or they have a general sense but aren’t 100% sure (43%).
Birol used the poll results to launch into a discussion of how to analyze your customers in order to maximize profits.
TIP: If your most profitable customers are increasing their purchases, keep them happy and find more like them by asking for referrals. If their sales are low/flat, enhance your products and services to generate more sales from them.
TIP: If your low profit customers are increasing their purchases from you, reprice your products or services to more accurately reflect the costs of serving them or selling to them. If sales to these customers are low or flat, reduce or rethink your costs for serving or selling to them and how those costs can be reduced so that these folks become more profitable.
TIP: Fire customers that earn no profit (break even) or cost you money.
Profitable growth does not necessarily come from expanding your customer base. Instead, growing profitably – that is, making a profit while your business grows – comes from selling more to the customers you already have.
The underlying theme in all this, which might better have been introduced first, is that it costs less to sell more to existing customers than it does to sell more by acquiring new customers.
Your current customers already know and trust you. That gives you the chance to establish your expertise and experience, which will differentiate you from your competitors.
TIP: Differentiation gives you a stronger brand and more pricing power, so work to establish that expertise and experience in the minds of the marketplace.
On the subject of pricing, which often gives small business owners the willies, here is a terrifically quotable quote from Andy:
“Price, for me, is the single most important demonstration of self-confidence that a business owner can have.”
And finally, profitable growth comes from being willing to take what you make or do and re-package it for new sales or distribution channels.
In short, the general way to grow your business profitably (even during this recession) is to focus on your existing customers, sell your expertise and the wonderful experience of working with you, beyond just your product or service; and packaging your offerings for sale in multiple channels.
And, just for fun, there was a list of 45 ways you can improve your profitability in 2010:
- Raise prices
- Eliminate discounts (or lower discount %)
- Services: define scope and fight scope creep*
- Push higher priced products, weed out low profit products
- Use marketing to convey your differentiation and value
Increase sales and customer retention
- Improve customer retention through better customer services, better communications, increased value-add
- Cross-sell additional products or services
- Upsell to higher priced, higher value products
- Serve your most profitable customers well
- leverage additional sales and distribution channels
- Add self-paying sales like commissioned sales reps, PPC ads, affiliate program
- Invoice promptly
- Make sure invoices are complete and accurate
- Use technology and automation to tighten invoicing and collection processes
- Reduce waste through controls
- Train employees
- Automate routine tasks
- Upgrade inefficient equipment and software
- Supplement tracking systems and analytics (a.la. Google) and “manage to your metrics”
- Ask employees for cost-saving suggestions.
Reduce fixed costs
- Find smaller offices; sublet; move
- Employ part-time staff in place of full-time
- Subcontract to independent contractors
- Do preventative maintenance
- Reduce staff if necessary
- Change sales compensation to more commission, less guaranteed base
Reduce variable costs
- Negotiate better deals with suppliers
- Find less expensive suppliers
- Take advantage of advance purchase discounts
- Find cheaper materials and supplies (assuming quality is still there)
- Hold online meetings instead of traveling
- Create self-serve resources for customer service
- If it’s not essential, eliminate
Manage capital wisely
- Keep your books up to date, and review P&L versus budget forecasts regularly
- Know your key indicators: DSO; customer acquisition cost; gross profit margin
- Offer advance payment discounts
- Put slow payers on “watch list”
- Collect past due invoices quickly and personally
- Don’t overinvest in inventory
- Insist on shopping for alternatives
- Negotiate for as much time as possible to pay your creditors (e.g., 30 – 45 day terms)
- Make loan and credit card payments on time, to avoid extra interest and penalties
Be tax smart
- Keep good up-to-date records to take advantage of all deductions
- Actively engage in tax planning
- Follow your tax calendar scrupulously to avoid unnecessary penalties, interest, and attorney and tax advisor fees
If you’d like to watch the webinar event you can check it out at, “Make 2010 Your Most Profitable Year Ever.”