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Commonly Applied Strategies of Successful Small Businesses

By Joseph F. Serbun


How does a small business Become successful? This quesTion is commonly asked on Main Street across the United States.

As a 30-year veteran of the banking industry, I’ve worked with countless small companies, some successful and some not so successful. In working with these businesses, I have identified some common must-have strategies that set a solid foundation, including adequate capitalization, maintaining accurate accounting records, and establishing relationships with professionals (for example: accountant, attorney, insurance agent, and banker).

Even with these essentials in place, there is unfortunately no guaranteed formula for small-business success; however, the following recommendations will hopefully position you for a good start.

Strategic business plan
A strategic business plan serves as the company’s road map. It should include measurable and quantifiable goals, and a tactical plan to achieve them. A successful business owner understands that a business plan should not be static — it’s organic and grows and changes with the business.

In this day and age, excellent customer service can differentiate a small business from a big business. Happy customers equal return business and more profits.

Clear communication 
Proactive communication with employees, customers, and vendors will set expectations and help avoid unnecessary confrontation. While email is an important tool, I always recommend picking up the phone or having a face-to-face meeting to establish a personal connection. 

An advertising plan 
Have you ever heard the phrase: If you build it, they will come? When it comes to business, this is not the case. Many small businesses fail because they do not invest in marketing their products or services. In times of hardship, resist the urge to cut advertising, as customers are the sole source of revenues and profits. 

Ask for help
Work with a mentor that has had similar experiences and interests. Take advantage of your local community of small-business owners and consider establishing a peer group where you can leverage each other’s skills.

Community involvement
Community service can be an inexpensive or free method of marketing. Attending, sponsoring, or volunteering for events is an opportunity for you to advertise your business and build relationships.

Joseph F. Serbun is executive vice president and chief credit officer at Community Bank System, Inc. and its subsidiary, Community Bank N.A., one of the nation’s 150 largest financial institutions. He has been with the bank since 2008, starting as VP and commercial lending officer.

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