Let others’ platforms do the work. There are free and low-cost tech tools designed to build or expand your platform that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Content management systems like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and others enable you to add planks such as blogs, plugins, widgets, integrated social networks, podcasts, videos, etc. Groupon can bring customers to your business. Salesforce.com enables a small company to act and operate like a big one. Sites like eLance allow you to connect with low-cost specialists of almost any vocation. All of the popular social media sites offer great free branding tools. Sites like Kickstarter enable entrepreneurs to test new product ideas in advance.
Don’t be afraid to expand into unchartered territory. “What if Google had been satisfied with just being a search engine, or Apple had only made computers?” asks Simon. “Great platform companies understand that the more high-quality services and products you offer, the more customers and growth opportunities you’ll attract.” He says diversifying invites serendipity and makes your company more resilient to unexpected changes in a market. Find something your company does really well and then use that as a starting place for a brand new endeavor. Perhaps you translate all of your marketing materials into Russian to serve the local Ukrainian community. “You never know which new path will lead to unforeseen success.”
Be sticky. Attracting customers with your great products and services is step one. “Getting them to stay with you – and only you – is the ultimate goal,” asserts Simon. He points to Amazon.com’s launch of the Kindle Fire as an example. The product made it easier for users to shop at Amazon.com and consume media and entertainment at Amazon rather than anywhere else. He suggests small business owners asking the following: “How can your business lure in customers and keep them there? With amazing customer service, follow-up, regular email specials, or contests? With interactive features at your website, birthday coupons, or preferred customer perks? Make it hard for your customers to want to go anywhere else.” He also recommends using existing platforms as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, or Pinterest.
Move quickly, and make small bets. If you see an emerging need or trend in your industry, be the first one on your block to blog about it, ask your customers about it, and turn it into a new offering. You don’t have to sink a lot of money into this new endeavor, but you do need to act decisively to beat your competitors. The worst that can happen is you’ll fail. But you’ll know how to improve it before any of your competitors do. Being first fearlessly is a characteristic of successful platform companies. “Merck had put out a drug called Vioxx that cost over $1 billion. All of a sudden the FDA shut it down and there were law suits stemming from the people taking it and dying or having heart attacks,” says Simon. “If you’ve got a digital product you can fix it seamlessly. You can turn it off seamlessly. Your ability, now, to make a change, that’s why to me the costs of failure are a lot smaller.”
Small business is BIG BUSINESS at the 2012 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo hosted by Nationwide, May 23-26, at the Hilton Chicago Hotel in Chicago, IL. Expect innovative sessions, high-powered speakers, and an early peek at the products, trends, and services you’ll need to stay ahead of the curve. Beat the March 16 Early Bird deadline to get a $200 registration discount at www.blackenterprise.com/ec/! And be sure to nominate your company or another business for our Small Business Awards! Want to pitch your business idea and win $10,000? Don’t miss the chance to enter our Elevator Pitch Competition before March 30 to qualify for the $10,000 grand prize. To register and find out more, visit www.blackenterprise.com/ec/