by Christian Nellemann, CEO and Founder of XLN

At XLN the question ‘How can we help your business?’ is the core driver behind all we do. When I began selling telecoms back in 2002, it was because small business owners told me that they were paying too much to make phone calls. I realised if I could get enough small businesses together, I could offer them a better deal — and so XLN was born.
Over the years, I have learnt that to run a successful business it’s crucial to have some solid foundations in place.

There are four key areas that I spend the lion’s share of my time and focus on when building a new business: making sure I know my business better than anyone else, paying close attention to my business costs, effectively promoting what I am selling and making sure I hire the right people who share my vision.

Part 1: How to sell

After many years working hard at refining our sales techniques, I reckon there are four simple tricks that any business can use to make sure they are selling as much as they can, to as many people as they can.

1. Know your market
It is impossible to describe how important knowing your target market is. As I have increasingly discovered the value of knowing my customers, so it has become easier to target them.

2. Know your product
It’s all very well having a target market in mind, but what are you going to sell to them? One of the best things we ever did was to adjust our product to focus more closely on the market we had chosen. It was no longer a case of selling a generic product to one particular set of people, but rather selling a tailored, suitable product to a market ready to receive it.

3. Practice your pitch
They say practice makes perfect, and we learned a lot in those early days (selling telephone lines to the shops around Vauxhall) about what our customers saw as the most attractive features of our product and how we could get those across to them as effectively as possible.

4. Continue to refine what you do
In fact, actually talking to customers about the product helps you further refine your market and whether you need to make any changes to what you offer. The more we speak to our customers, the more we see where we can help them.

Part 2: How to buy

Even if you’re selling the right stuff and selling lots of it, if your business costs are too high then you’re not going to make money.

1. Squeeze your product suppliers… then squeeze them again
Even if you rate your current suppliers highly or if they are particularly convenient, it isn’t disloyal to take a look at alternatives. If you find cheaper prices elsewhere you could use them to negotiate a discount with your current provider.

2. Professional services prices vary wildly
There can be a big difference in the costs charged by accountants, solicitors and other professionals and it is well worth finding out the cheapest rates currently available.

3. Look hard at recurring expenses
Often we pay a lot of attention to money spent on big ticket items like shop fitting or IT equipment. But we spend less time on the small recurring costs that drain our bank accounts every month.

4. Property costs
Property costs like rent, mortgages, leases, etc are really important to keep an eye on. And although you’ll often have relatively lengthy contracts in place, once these are up for renewal these may be flexible, particularly if you are able to relocate your business to new premises.

Part 3: How to market your business[b/]

There are three secrets to taking your business marketing to a new level:

[b]1. Understand how you’re already marketing
Understanding where your customers are coming from can be as cheap and easy as asking them the simple question “Where did you hear about my business.”

2. Find new and improved ways to market
One reason that being able to identify new marketing opportunities is important is that you cannot assume a form of marketing that worked for you once will always continue to work in the future.
Depending on your product or service, you might find internet marketing channels effective —for example, setting up a website or asking your friends to recommend you to others via Facebook or Twitter. You don’t need to be an expert to begin using any of these forms of advertising as the costs can be very low indeed.

3. Eliminate any ineffective ways of marketing that you pay for
If you want to increase the amount of customers you get, start by taking a hard look at what you do, spend a little money to see if you can find new ways of marketing and then cut back if they don’t work.

Part 4: How to hire the right employee

Here is a rundown of some basic tips I found useful when I started hiring:-

1. Where to start?
First you should assess: Do I really need to hire someone? You’ll have to think about what jobs you can get done yourself and what you can get done by freelancers.

2. Flexibility
Often, flexible candidates who are used to smaller environments are often suited to smaller companies. Business owners want employees who can deal with multiple job roles without having their hand held.

3. Networking
A great way to meet potential new employees is through networking. Ask your friends, family and industry colleagues for referrals or introductions. If they recommend somebody, they've helped you with some of the leg work by screening them.

4. Agencies
Larger job boards like Monster.com, while having advantages, can bring an overload of CVs. And a smaller business will not likely have the time to sort through all of these. Smaller sites can narrow your interested applicants to those in your industry or area.