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How to Grow a Small Service Business in Australia

Small businesses power Australia’s economy

If you have started, or plan on starting, a small business, you’ll find yourself a part of a proud Australian tradition. The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman office statistics report from December 2020, stated businesses with less than 20 employees make up 97.4% of all businesses in Australia. With that large of a footprint in the country, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that a lot of Australia’s economic output comes from small businesses. According to the same report, small businesses add over $400 billion to the Australian economy per year. 

Growing your small service business

Small businesses may make up a huge part of Australia’s economy, but not every small business is a success story. Many Australians simply don’t know what they’re getting into when they start a business. But the good news is that by following a few simple tips, you can get a leg up on those businesses and greatly improve your chances of becoming one of the small businesses that power Australia. The four tips below are important, but all too often overlooked, parts of running a business in these highly competitive times.

1. Develop buyer personas

Every head of marketing at the big companies will tell you the importance of developing buyer personas, but it’s something small business owners seldom do. Your marketing efforts and business direction will not be as effective if you’re planning on targeting “everyone” and just throwing ad copy at the wall and seeing what sticks. By thinking about the customers that you want to cultivate, and looking at data on the customers you’ve already gained, you can craft a fictional version of the ideal customer. This is called a buyer persona.

Often, a company will have more than one buyer persona. What’s important is that these personas represent the types of customers you want, and the types of customers you know you’re capable of getting. Whilst you might think your target audience is “everybody”, you should think about what type of customers are most profitable, what type are easiest to deal with, even to the point of what suburb or region do most of them reside?

With the buyer persona created, you now have a focus for your marketing. Everything from ad copy to website text should be written as though you were speaking directly to these personas. When you speak in a tone and voice that resonates with the customers you know are willing to pay for your service, you’ll be reaching more customers just like them.

2. Present a professional image

Customers are only going to take you as seriously as you take yourself. They say that you should dress not for the job you have, but for the one you want. This same logic applies to running a business. If you show up to a call in a work ute that has the lettering hand-painted on, it doesn’t leave the same impression as a ute with professional graphics applied. The latter may be more expensive, but it signals to the customer that you take yourself seriously. It’s the equivalent of showing up to a job interview in a suit instead of ripped jeans and a dirty t-shirt. 

But the lesson here isn’t to have a nice ute or truck. It’s to present a professional image in whatever business you’re running, and this should extend to every aspect of your business. When customers come to your website, they should feel as though they are on the website of a large national or global chain. Just as Coates Hire, Caterpillar, Jim’s Mowing, and other service businesses maintain consistent branding on their website, emails, invoices, and other communications, so should you.

3. Focus on people

It’s very difficult to grow a business by yourself. Even if you have a stellar one-man operation, you need customers in order to call it a business. As the business grows, you’ll most likely need to hire employees. These people and relationships are vital to your success as a business. It’s far harder to get new customers than it is to retain old ones. By practising good customer service, aimed at attracting repeat customers, you’ll not only get those repeat customers, but benefit from the word of mouth that great customer service brings. 

The same logic applies to employees. Training new employees, purchasing uniforms for them, doing the paperwork for employee onboarding, all of these things take time and money. Keeping valuable existing employees is a far better option for long-term success than having a revolving door of disgruntled workers. It’s worth noting that for some tasks of your business operations, it could be worthwhile looking into outsourcing – paying for a specialist outside of your business to do the work, as there are many advantages to small businesses.

Beyond employees and customers, another great way to spread the word about your core service offering is by building relationships with other service providers who offer a different service than you. Word of mouth referrals is the best kind of marketing you can do to grow your service-based business – and it’s free! For example, if you’re a plumber, try to form relationships with builders – that way when they get a new job, you could be their first port of call for your services required in the build. 

In all of these examples, the lesson is the same. Take the time to nurture the relationships you have with people. Your customers, your labour force, nor your contacts are expendable. If you show them how much they mean to your business and treat them with respect and integrity, they’ll become powerful allies in your quest to grow your business. 

4. Be seen and trusted

In today’s world, it’s imperative you have some sort of online presence. As mentioned above, having a professional looking and functional website goes a long way. In addition, it pays to have a presence on social media sites. Not only customer facing sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, but business networking sites like LinkedIn. By connecting with others in your field or similar fields, you have the opportunity to find more platforms through which you can showcase to potential customers how good you are at what you do. 

You should use your website and these platforms to share knowledge of your trade or service business. Sharing knowledge (e.g. blogs, videos, hints & tips) lets people know you know you’re an expert in your field – this helps build trust between you and your potential customers. 

Beyond that, there are a number of ways to get free publicity for your small business including Local listings, Facebook community pages, Gumtree, local events and much more. 

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