Every successful business owner has made missteps along the way and faced challenges they’ve had to overcome to reach their goals. If they tell you otherwise, they probably aren’t being truthful with themselves.
Owning a business is hard. The line between success and failure is thin, but the best business owners can reflect on what propelled them across the chasm of doom and onto the mountaintop of glory.
This curation of things business owners wish they knew when starting their business will give you a sneak peek at what may be to come as you embark on your business ownership journey.
Before You Begin
Every business starts with an idea, a dream and a can-do attitude. But you need to lay some groundwork before you dive into the deep end.
Learning to crawl before you can run is important. Here are a couple things to do before you launch your business.
Determine Your Why
Why is this business needed? Will it fill a gap for your community? What makes now the right time to start? Why are you the right person for the job?
Asking yourself these questions, and providing good answers, is important. If you don’t know why the business should exist, then you should reconsider your idea.
Have a Business Plan
It should include sections on Executive Summary, Business Description and Structure, Market Research and Strategies, Management and Personnel, and Financial Documents.
These 5 sections of your business plan will inform yourself and your investors (if you have them) about your:
- company background
- market opportunity
- competitive advantages
- operational details
- financial highlights
- intellectual property
- legal structure
- marketing strategy
- sales forecasts
- deadlines and milestones
- advertising & public relations
- the competition
Your local small business association has a number of resources that can help you with all of this.
Craft the Mission, Vision and Values
If the Business Plan is considered the coach’s playbook to your business, then the Mission/Vision/Values are the inspiring halftime speech. They’re the soaring words, platitudes and historic reminders of who you are, what you do and who you strive to be.
Remember them. Eat, sleep and breathe them. Live them.
Keep Things Simple
Early on, it’ll feel like you’re trying to drink from a firehose and the house is always burning.
The more you keep things simple and don’t overwhelm yourself the easier owning your own business will be. Make your processes, systems and marketing simple.
Be sure that they can be easily duplicated and are scalable. Juggling three balls now might be easy, but what happens when you add more balls? Is the process in place one that can keep up with the action as your business grows?
Remember That You Don’t Have to Do It All Alone
Don’t be stubborn and think you can do everything by yourself. Even the simplest businesses rely on a team.
There aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done you wish you had time for. Many hands make light work. Even one other person can help you split the duties in half.
Along with this, you should be honest with yourself and admit that you don’t know everything. There’s always someone out there with valuable input. Find a mentor or an advisor to help you on your business ownership journey. Listen to them.
After awhile, you’ll have gotten the hang of it and maybe you’ll feel like this could be a business that could stick around for a few years.
Now it’s time to tighten up the screws, put some makeup on the blemishes and establish a professional brand for your business. Here are some things to keep in mind during this phase.
Think About Branding
The first step many people want to take is branding their new company. While it’s an important step, it doesn’t have to come first.
The kid who starts a lemonade stand or a lawn mowing business or a dog walking service knows that it’s more important to get out there, get systems in place and get some experience under your belt before you start hiring a creative team to build your branding.
When it does come time to build your brand, it’s important to get it right. Doing so will prevent you from having to re-do it again and again. Follow the steps in our ultimate brand checklist to ensure you’re on the right track.
Use online platforms to market your business. There’s a reason advertising on social media has exploded.
It can be uniquely targeted to the people most likely to purchase your product or need your services, and it’s cheaper than traditional advertising on TV, radio or billboards.
This next batch of tips are things you should do on an ongoing basis; make sure you are always staying on top of these.
Doing so will mean that your resources are being used well, you’re at the forefront of your industry, and — once you have employees — that you’re giving them the power to succeed.
Hone Time Management Skills
As you start taking on more tasks, responsibilities and obligations and are generally having to meet more demands and deadlines, this becomes an important skill.
Making wise use of your time and managing your schedule is crucial to your business’s success. Overloading yourself, burning yourself out and getting lost on an endless loop of never having enough time is a recipe for disaster.
Understand the Market and Your Competitors
The only constant is change. You need to continuously evaluate your market and who the other players are.
What are your customers doing differently than before? What are your competitors doing to meet your customer’s needs, and how are they siphoning off business from you?
Always keep yourself informed so you can perform at your best.
Pay for Tools Your Business Needs
There’s a tool for every job.
If your business needs design software, buy it and stay up to date on the software subscription. If you need storage, physical or digital, secure it. If you need a delivery van, find one.
Essential tools wear out, get outdated and fall apart. Make sure you supply your business and your team with the tools they need to effectively and cost efficiently do their jobs.
Conversely, don’t drain your budget on shiny things that won’t move your business forward.
Everyone wants a corporate jet, but not everyone needs one. Some businesses need a storefront in a high-traffic area. Others can operate 100% remotely.
Don’t pay for things you don’t need.
Empower Employees to Be Autonomous
Along with providing your team with the tools they need, you should also give them the power to make decisions and operate without your need to babysit them.
Micromanaging employees causes two problems.
First, it prevents your employees from being confident and developing a pride of ownership, which stunts their growth.
Secondly, it saps your ability to focus on higher level tasks, such as building new revenue streams, making new partnerships or even seeing ways to improve your overall operations from a 10,000 foot view.
Establish As Habits
Successful people stick to successful habits. They develop rituals and routines that keep their minds — and relationships with colleagues — healthy. Stick to some of our suggested good habits to keep yourself sane.
Schedule Time to Just Think
It’s easy to have months and years go by in the blink of an eye if you don’t take time to slow down and think. Set aside time at regular intervals (once a week, once a day, once a month) to think.
Ask yourself thought provoking questions or have a go-to thought starter. Maybe spend time at the end of each day to identify the daily peak and a pit: What was the best part of the day and what was the worst?
Start a journal and make regular entries. Write down your reflections, your wishes and your goals. Monitor your mental health and take time to check in with yourself regularly.
Maybe you do this during your morning run or your afternoon lap swim. You can do it on your commute instead of listening to the morning radio jocks go on and on about the latest viral video or Hollywood gossip.
Whenever you do it, make it a positive experience so it can become an easy, healthy habit.
To some, networking is a necessary evil. But it can be an enjoyable experience.
Here are some ways to make it less of a chore and more of a habit:
- Join a networking group that shares your interests.
- Join a country club where you can meet new people.
- Attend trade shows and conventions to learn from other experts.
- Sign up for an industry association and volunteer to be part of the leadership.
- Listen to podcasts and read blogs aimed at your industry and participate in the comments or message boards.
When you and your business do well, it’s time to celebrate. Office parties and happy hours are a good start. Golf outings, corporate retreats and bonuses are even better.
If you’ve had a big win, celebrate accordingly. Hand out pay raises, award paid time off and always be looking to take care of the employees that make your success possible.
Bringing in donuts on casual Fridays is ok, but don’t let small tokens of appreciation like logo coffee mugs and meaningless Employee of the Month plaques be the only way you celebrate accomplishments.
Make celebrating accomplishments a meaningful part of your culture. Encourage your people to recognize each other and celebrate each other as much as you recognize and celebrate them.
Attitudes and Focus Points
Approaching your business with the right attitude can make all the difference. Poor attitudes are easy to spot, and good ones are hard to fake. Approach your business with a smile and keep negativity at bay.
Commit to Personal and Business Development
Gaining ground on the competition, meeting sales targets, building your loyalty among clients and customers and staying ahead of the competition are all important things to strive for. But in your race to the top, don’t forget to grow as a person as well.
Pushing hard and striving to be the best is good. However, overdoing it, dedicating all your time and energy at the expense of friends and family, and skipping out on time to relax can be a good way to burn yourself out.
There’s more to life than money and work. Don’t literally kill yourself making your dreams a reality. Stress is the silent killer, causing a long list of health issues, including heart attacks. Take time to recharge. You’ll be at your best when you come back from time off.
Work life balance is crucial. I encourage you to be mindful of it so that you don’t lose your mind running your small business.
Know That Done Is Better Than Perfect
If you’re like me, you’ve got a thousand ideas floating around in your head and often want to develop and execute all of them all at once. A small mindset shift can keep you moving forward rather than getting bogged down by every last detail.
Take a “test and learn” approach vs. waiting for perfection.
Once you’ve got the idea built out to 80 or 90 percent completion, let it live and see what happens. You’ll gain valuable feedback and learn so much from your customers once they start adopting it and trying it.
Things you thought were a problem will turn out to be just fine. You can dial it in later. Don’t wait until you’ve got it “perfect” to start implementing it.
Every successful business owner regularly checks in with how things are going and how they can improve their company.
Find a way to do this a few times a year so that you’re regularly reassessing and adjusting.
Get and Apply Feedback
Ask for, and openly receive and apply, honest feedback. This can come in the form of employee surveys, interactions and discussions with customers, online reviews from places like yelp and google, or even secret shoppers.
Receiving and applying feedback isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. To some people, “feedback” is just a nicer word for “criticism.”
But there’s a big difference between feedback and criticism. Don’t worry, it’s ok to admit your soft skills could use some improvement and to brush up on your ability to ask for, receive and apply feedback.
Make sure whatever method or forum you’re using doesn’t just feed your ego or try to make you happy.
I know a guy who used to moonlight as a secret shopper. He’s an honest guy who gave thoughtful reviews of places that he was assigned to review… until one day he was assigned a business who was angry about the feedback they received and refused to pay him for his visit to their establishment. From then on, he only gave glowingly positive reviews.
Soliciting feedback is only useful if you’re openly listening to what is being said and genuinely taking actions to do better.
Diversify Services and/or Client Portfolios
Oftentimes, rather than spending time and money looking for new customers, you can make more profit by selling additional services or products to your existing clients. Knowing this is like having a cheat code to small business ownership.
Don’t think of this as trying to upsell your customers. You’re not trying to add a cooling system flush and a timing belt adjustment to a customer who only wants an oil change.
You’re actually creating new revenue streams for yourself that your customers want and can use, building more brand loyalty.
Approach this idea with soft sales techniques rather than guilt trips. Offer them something that can add value to what they are already getting from you.
More Useful Info
Every small business faces challenges. I’ve faced my share and have found solves that work for my photography business. Many of them can be applied to your business. Check out some common challenges and how to overcome them now.