Running a small business calls for expertise in a lot of different areas: marketing, project management, business administration, payroll and more. Intimidated? You’re not alone.
“How many business owners do you know that have degrees in all those things? I don’t know any!” said Alex Lipscomb, president and founder of ALL MAVEN, a small business development firm in Carlsbad, California.
That said, Alex has a lot of those bases covered herself. With a diverse educational and work background — and a palpable amount of energy for working with small businesses — she started out as a freelancer, working on varied industry projects with different businesses.
“I realized that small businesses make the same mistakes over and over again,” she said. So, she combined her accumulated knowledge of business research, marketing, brand development and web design to form ALL MAVEN.
“People don’t realize that they have to develop multiple aspects of their business at once; any area you focus on won’t to do as well if you aren’t paying enough attention to the other areas,” she continued. “Like gears in a clock, each element of your business needs to work together for the optimal output. We try to get our clients to take a step back and think about how their business is run on the ground level — how it’s established, as well as its mission, values, and objectives — before they go out and start doing everything.”
Having worked with businesses from San Diego to Washington to Singapore, ALL MAVEN has a wealth of small business experience. We asked Alex to share some of the most common problems she sees, and her recommendations for moving past them.
Two of the Biggest Problems Small Businesses Make
1. Not Creating Enough Value Behind Your Brand
“When people think about Brand Development, they usually associate it with big business — but it is your business, whatever its size,” Alex said. “If you’re not thinking about your brand, your customers aren’t either. They won’t remember you.”
So, what is your brand? It’s not a logo or catchy tagline. Those are just aspects that represent your brand, she says. “Who your business is, what it does and how, its impact on the community—that’s what your brand is. It’s your character and focused vision expressed through the experience people have with your organization.”
Contrary to belief, Alex reminds us brand development doesn’t always have to be expensive. “Remember, when branding your business, you’re trying to create a memorable customer experience in how they engage with you. Some of the best experiences aren’t always the most costly, so try to be creative. It saves your business money and provides better ROI.”
If creating a strong brand is all about experience, Alex also notes business owners need to consider the impact of going the cheap or DIY route. “People often try to take shortcuts on things like their website; they don’t look professional where they need to.”
But, she lamented, that mistake isn’t much of a surprise. “Business owners keep seeing the message that running a business should be simple, easy, cheap — it’s not. Using a template for your website, for example, isn’t good brand development; it’s like showing up at a party in the same dress as five other people. You don’t want to go through a who wore it best with your business.”
Instead, small businesses need to focus on being professional. “You want to be unique and show others you’re invested in your business and their experience.” That process can be different for every business, but finding the right path can be a lot easier when you have help. That’s why, in addition to focusing on creative services and consulting, ALL MAVEN puts a high priority on education and finding the right resources.
2. Thinking Like a Small Business
“Small businesses don’t always realize they can use the same tools as the big guys. There are thousands of tools and resources that can save small business owners time, which is ultimately more precious than money. Even more important than having the right tools, is getting the right tools at the appropriate stage in their business. By the time they come to me, 95 percent of my clients have already wasted thousands of dollars on things that didn’t work,” Alex said. “It’s not that all of the tools they chose were bad (even though many were awful) they just weren’t ready for them. Businesses need to scale in everything they do, but if you’re not sure how that works, you can really kill your bottom line.”
That’s why Alex firmly believes in the value of working with a business consultant from the beginning.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can easily waste time, energy, and money the first time around,” she explained. “A good consultant can show you how to get started and where to look for information and resources.”
While the team at ALL MAVEN may not be experts in everything, Alex notes, their experience has taught them where to find answers. “A lot of small business owners don’t realize all the things they need to think about: small business insurance, business bank accounts, whether or not you should incorporate and how to do so. Having someone guide you can really save a lot of headaches.”
Knowledge in the Right Direction
Don’t have the budget for a business consultant right now? Alex says it’s essential that you take time to understand how branding works. “If you can focus on creating a great brand through your customer experience, you’ll definitely improve your chances of generating revenue through loyal clients and referrals.” Start gathering books and articles so you can read about what successful brand development is.
“There’s a lot of information and resources out there. If you can Google, you can win.” she said.
In fact, Alex recommends two books to help you find your footing:
“Anything by Laura Ries is great. She’s really easy to understand, even if you’re starting from scratch,” said Alex. “If you start with these two books (and implement the concepts) you’ll be miles ahead of most other small businesses. “Ries states, if you can own one attribute in your customer’s mind, they’re inclined to give you many others. This is always at the forefront of my mind and it couldn’t be more true. Gaining that focus has really given our business more success.”
“It all boils down to being a more educated business,” Alex said. “Focus in, and work smarter not harder.”
Alex is a fan of anything that eliminates headaches for small business owners — a toolbox that includes Gusto, which she uses to run payroll for her team, and FreshBooks, which she uses for accounting. She says solutions that are easy and affordable take a load off of what people need to think about.
“Owners don’t need any more headaches—whether that’s learning new things or paying an assortment of fees,” she explained. “When it comes to running ALL MAVEN, I have enough to do—and payroll doesn’t need to be one of them. I looked at other options and there was so much to do: extra information to enter, extra fees, extra steps. I don’t have time to deal with unnecessary extras!”
Knowing how busy business owners are, I appreciate the time Alex took to share her expertise with me and the rest of the Gusto community—thank you! We’re honored to support ALL MAVEN as they move forward with their business and launch some exciting new products later this year! Check out their latest venture in Brand Development, REVIVAL.