The month of March means different things to different people. For us, it’s a seasonal reminder that change is on the horizon. Cold weather, off-kilter circadian rhythms, and a grumpiness fueled by vitamin-D deficiency will soon be replaced by brave tulip bulbs, warm sunshine, and beckoning muddy puddles. It’s a time that welcomes transformation and intuitive thought. Even if you’re the type of person who doesn’t exactly embrace change, now’s a great time to reflect on the efficacy of your current methods when conducting business.
There’s an old saying that time gives great advice. The older we get, the more we (hopefully) learn from our mistakes, and are able to share a little of that wisdom along the way. Owning a small business is incredibly hard work. It involves wearing many hats—often two or three at the same time. Here are six of the best tips we’ve picked up from fellow small biz entrepreneurs and through our own challenges.
You are who you surround yourself with.
We know, this sounds like something Mom said in high school when she was worried you were falling in with a bad crowd. But she had a point. If you build a team full of self-servers, or underachievers, or whiners—how successful can you really be? Building a team is like building a family. There needs to be trust and confidence, and the ability to tell (and be told!) when you’re doing a crappy job. An effective team, just like a good family, knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to make each member be the best they can be.
So, keep an eye out for passionate candidates. Employees who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty or tackle the mundane tasks. The ones who show a genuine desire to earn more responsibility, and take the initiative to learn more about their industry. It can be tough to weed out the brownnosers or the ones who are only great on paper. But trust your gut. As my mother likes to say, you want people with personality—not “a bunch of salamis.”
Find a mentor.
We all need an advisor. Someone to bounce ideas off of, and who will ask the hard questions that a colleague may be too afraid to voice. Consider who in your life could fill that role. A former manager? A professional friend? People like to give advice; they like feeling useful. Developing that line of communication can help strengthen a relationship, or even build new ones.
And if you’re uncomfortable approaching someone you know, consider buying some advice. There are many businesses out there who specialize in helping small businesses (Hey! That’s what WE do!). And sometimes, the best way to approach a challenge is with some fresh eyes that belong to an outsider. They won’t be biased and can make some great first-impression suggestions.
Network, network, network.
Reach out to other businesses in your area, join the Chamber of Commerce, or check out meet-and-greets in your community. Get involved and show others that you’re proud of what you’ve built. Networking is one of the purest examples of getting what you give. Even if you’re the type of person who struggles with first impressions, or is nervous about meeting new people, just showing up to community events shows others that you care.
And if crowds just really aren’t your thing, consider some goodwill gestures. Refer customers to the competition when you know they can do a better job. Highlight other businesses in your area on Facebook, or even just in conversation. Send a handwritten note to a fellow business owner who may be celebrating a store anniversary. Courtesy costs you nothing but could buy you everything.
Don’t fear technology.
Every day the world gets a little more tech-obsessed. And while preserving the old ways of doing things is important, it has a time and a place. Stubbornly resisting modern tools like social media channels, mobile technology, websites, demo videos, and innovative software simply because you don’t understand or trust them is foolish. Sure, there’s benefits to keeping it old school. But you can’t expect to maximize profits by staying analog in a digital world.
Reach out to IT professionals who can put complicated tech into laymen’s terms for you. Take baby steps when it comes to introducing new forms of outreach. And look to other businesses like yours for guidance. How are they taking advantage of modern technology without losing sight of their brand’s values? How do they strike a balance between human and web-based interaction?
As we like to say, a goal without a plan is just a wish. You can’t expect to achieve all you have in mind for your business if you don’t plan wisely. Do your research, reach out to licensed professionals, understand the risks and then plan. Make comprehensive lists of expenses, record sales cycles, spend prudently, and plan.
Did we mention plan? Plan.
Your reputation is everything.
Businesses come and go everyday, and some endure longer than others. Remember that change is inevitable and life throws a lot of curve balls. Planning for the long-term is imperative, but be mindful that it doesn’t distract you from the present. Because even if your business only shines for a short while, it can still shine brightly.
Yes, diversifying options and attracting new business are important sales strategies. But so is appreciating the customers you already have, particularly the ones who believed in you first. Follow through on your promises, treat others with respect, and make the effort to respond to both praise and criticism. As renowned author and motivational speaker Erik Qualman said in a recent presentation at the Keystone BIG Show, stumbling along the way is part of the process. It’s how we respond to those challenges that defines us. So, if the worst thing a customer can say about your business is that they had a problem but you addressed it professionally–that’s not so bad, right?
Hopefully you find these bits of practical advice as helpful as we have. Maybe one or two will even inspire you to make a positive change in your own life. Either way, we wish you the best of luck in your business endeavors and a happy start to spring.