Like others, Susan Swartz wants to launch a business in 2015. She may want to be a life coach in Miami, but if she pursues that competitive field, she knows she needs a targeted niche. “I am trying to figure out what my specialty will be,” says Swartz, formerly a marketing and events professional in New York, Los Angeles and Boston.
As 2014 comes to a close, many small business owners are searching for clarity around finding the right business or growing an existing one. Some are digging deep to define a narrower niche that will bring greater profits. Others are pondering how to charge more and work less. The ultimate goal for all is finding business success and fulfillment in the new year.
Michelle Villalobos, personal branding expert, offers this advice: “Success today takes vision, passion and market opportunity. You need all three.”
Almost five years ago, Villalobos founded Women’s Success Summit, a conference in Miami celebrating female entrepreneurs. Earlier this month, Villalobos’s ninth Summit drew more than 350 small business owners, enticed by the promise that 2015 is their time to shine. Villalobos’ message to the business owners looking for direction and growth in 2015 was simple: Be unique and brand yourselves.
Having a passion for shoes and a vision to open a shoe store, is not enough to be successful, she explained. Christian Louboutin, for example, is a unique brand that distinguishes itself with red soles, lots of style, and high prices. Being a category of one or a specialist allows you to command higher prices, sell less and make more, Villalobos says. “You want to be the red sole for your industry.” That can be key to better work life balance when you are selling a service.
Ithamar Urdaneta believes she has come up with a unique business idea. Incorporating her personal life experiences and her banking background, she has launched a business that consults Latin women on financial discord in marriages and will host a series of retreats in Miami in 2015. The first one, “Casada, Prospera & Feliz,” will be held in February and teach financial literacy and communication to married women. “As someone who has overcome adversity and kept her marriage intact, I want to coach other women and convince them that investing in yourself is your greatest investment.”
Focusing your offerings, like Urdaneta, makes it easier to get referrals and be a thought leader, Villalobos says. “People can’t keep you top of mind for five different things. You have to be clear who you are, what you do and pitch yourself through the right medium.”
That proved true for Will Dukes who owns Sales Partners Miami. Dukes started in the industry by marketing his consulting services to all companies in the local area. After four years, Dukes looked at his client list and where he had the most success. It quickly became clear his niche was in consulting husband and wife businesses. For 2015, he plans to focus on that specialty. “It’s not about narrowing my scope of services,” he says. “It’s about narrowing the demographic we market for.” Dukes believes his new focus will pay off. “It’s a matter of creating a model that can create value for clients without burning me out.”
Even as small businesses lead job recovery, some business owners looking for growth and clarity in 2015 inevitably will fail. According to the Small Business Administration, about half of all new establishments survive five years or more and about a third survive 10 years or more.
Setting intentions for your business can help. Julie Jacko opened Barre Motion in Miami Beach in mid 2014 and is working on a road map for business growth. Having lured a following to her barre fitness studio, she now wants to draw more customers and open more studios and wants to be strategic about how it happens. “There are a lot of us in various stages of development who are looking for encouragement, ideas and confidence to move our businesses forward.”
For some owners, reaching their potential in 2015 will come through automation: adopting ways to capturing business cards through a app or creating systems to compile emails for those who visit their website. One hotel owner now uses Infusionsoft automation software to send out a welcome video to her guests email addresses as soon as they register for a stay. “It is about putting systems in place that allow you to do less and make more,” says Thomas Blackwell, a national speaker for Infusionsoft.
Along with automation, choosing the right team can be a factor for business owners to consider in the upcoming year. “Entrepreneurs tend to hire people like themselves who have the same strengths and weaknesses,” Villalobos says. “To grow and deliver value, you need people who have different strengths and can take on areas where you are weak.”
The right team, right prices and right niche can be the tools small business owners use to improve productivity and work life balance in 2015. But Luly Balepogi, author of Balance is Bull$h!t, offers this advice, too. “As a business owner, it’s easy to live life without experiencing it,” she says. “As you build your business, take time realize how truly amazing the journey is, and savor what you have accomplished.”