20/05/2014

By Graham Corfield (@corfers) is UK Managing Director of JUST EAT.

As a range of indicators – from employment, wages, and consumer spending – suggest the UK economy is on the up, now is a great time to be in business.

Businesses of all kinds and sizes are starting to grow as a result of this improving picture. But small, local businesses, which play such a key role in our communities and the wider economy as a whole, are particularly well placed to benefit. These businesses, like the 20,000+ takeaway restaurants we work with across the country, are not only a major source of local jobs, but also ensure the character and diversity of our high streets and towns.

But whatever sector you’re in, there are a number of key steps you can take to ensure your business is best placed to thrive and grow as the economic outlook continues to improve.

Focus on quality and service to stand out

In today’s competitive marketplace, standing out from the crowd, as well as building and retaining a loyal customer base, can sometimes be hard. A great way of tackling this is to make your business famous for going the extra mile by focussing on quality and customer service.

For a takeaway restaurant that means delivering good quality, tasty food that arrives hot, on time, and well packaged. There are more than 2 million customer reviews on our site, and we find that the restaurants rated highest for customer service, quality and speed of delivery, receive around three times more orders than average.

So whether you’re delivering pizzas or building websites, think about how you can differentiate your business from the competition. By exceeding your customers’ expectations, you’ll encourage them to come back to you again and again, and refer you to their friends.

Find new ways to maximise sales and profits

While providing outstanding service is absolutely vital, it’s also important to develop new products and services, and find new ways to maximise sales and profits. This is especially important given that many businesses have significant resources invested in their capital equipment, facilities and supplies.

Many restaurant owners, for example, are experimenting with providing food in new ways. Takeaways that offer a collection service, or dine-in restaurants offering the option to take away, are able to make better use of the chef’s time and produce in the kitchen, while also driving valuable incremental revenue, especially on days when business is slow.

Other restaurants are making increasing use of technology, such as Electronic Point of Sale (ePOS) systems, to centrally manage orders, operations and staff levels. These tools, which are becoming increasingly popular in the restaurant industry and beyond, generate a wealth of useful data entrepreneurs can use to improve their businesses. The ability to gain a deeper understanding of customers’ preferences helps business owners improve things like marketing and the targeting of special offers to increase orders, making them a sensible investment.

Join the digital revolution

There are just under five million small businesses in the UK. Yet according to independent research recognised by government, barely one in three sell their products and services online, and around 1 in 6 are not online at all. But now that more than 80% of the population are regularly using the fixed and mobile internet, two thirds make online purchases, and a third do so using their mobiles, there’s never been a better time for small businesses to get online.

By providing a compelling customer experience and proposition online and on mobile, business owners can greatly increase their customers, orders, and marketing effectiveness.

Conclusion

With the economy and consumer confidence both continuing to improve, 2014 is the first year in many that small businesses can begin planning for a brighter future. Luckily there are a number of simple steps business owners can take to capitalise on this more optimistic situation. Making smart use of technology to increase sales and the customer base, open up new sales channels, and improve operational efficiency, is key. But this needs to be combined with a relentless focus on quality and customer service to really stand out and succeed.