15 Tips for Running a Successful Small Business 27 Jul 2018

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Running a successful small business takes hard work, persistence, the desire to learn, and just a little bit of crazy. But, you also need to continually look for ways to give yourself an edge over the competition.

One way to do this is to take a lesson from drag racers when running your business. Race car drivers are never satisfied with their cars. They’re always looking to add a new part, make it faster, or improve the looks. Like the drag racer, caring about your business should drive you to make it better, even when your business is doing well.

1. Do what they do, not what they say

Over 1 million books are published each year. This means that there are a lot of ideas on how you should run your business. While some of them are useful, a lot are just theories and fluff. So how can you learn to run your small business successfully?

Studying what businesses do can teach you how to improve your business processes. If you don’t have any yet, find a couple of companies that you want to imitate. Then look at how their website is laid out, how they handle customer service and support, and what their content marketing looks like. Mirror what’s working for them and find ways to differentiate yourself making your service just that much better.

2. Focus on micro growth

Sometimes big goals can be overwhelming. Trying to achieve 50% company growth by the end of the year can feel unrealistic and unachievable. But, how would micro goals affect your business? Imagine you only tried to grow 1-2% month over month. This type of goal not only feels manageable, but it gives you something that you can create a realistic strategy around.

Setting micro goals is an excellent way to see compound results and keep your business growing. You’ll avoid stagnation and capitalize on your team’s enthusiasm of hitting their goals month over month.

3. Don’t be a business pup

To grow your business sustainably, you need focus. If you try and follow every new idea, or squirrel, that comes your way you’ll never be able to perfect your craft and dominate the market. To emphasize this, a report by Lucidpress showed that brand consistency increased revenue by 23% on average. What would a 20% increase in revenue do for your company?

We’re not promoting inflexibility but rather a focus on your market and niche. Without priorities, your business will jump from idea to idea and never be able to set business goals and build accompanying strategies.

4. Failing to use feedback is failure

We all have gotten feedback that’s hard to swallow. Learning to accept that feedback is crucial to getting better at your job, creating innovative solutions, and building an offering unlike that of your competitors.

One thing that can make feedback more palatable is believing that the people who give it have good intentions. Usually, if someone doesn’t give it screaming and angry, they’re doing it to help you improve. That could signify that something is broken in your current system or mean that there is room to get better.

5. Get real data on your customers

People are bombarded with products every day of their lives. According to research from MDI, we see about 362 ads per day. Just go to the grocery store’s toilet paper aisle, and you’ll have to choose from many brands all offering different types of toilet paper. From ultra-soft to septic safe, the choices are endless. But what does this have to do with small business?

Due to the intense battle for your customer’s mind, it’s crucial to position your brand where it will be the most effective. This requires that you collect data from your customers. After all, who better to ask what they want than the customers themselves. There are many ways you can do this, from talking directly to your customers to analyzing their shopping habits through purchasing data. Depending on your industry the effectiveness of each can vary.

Here’s a great post of the why and when Buffer did customer research. We hope it will give you some valuable insights for when you do your own.

6. Don’t be a general business

Big companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Google can get into everything. The difference between them and us is that they have a seemingly unlimited amount of resources and connections. As a small business, you don’t. So being niche and focused is your biggest weapon.

Think about it, if you try and do everything any big player with more resources can come in and do what you do and better. But when you’re hyper-focused, you put yourself on a level playing field. Now you can make your specific offering amazing and continually improve. This gives you an edge since big companies do so much they have a hard time specializing.

7. Don’t be afraid of replacing yourself

Your business is special to you. So it can be hard to imagine giving away responsibility. Hiring your replacement can also make you feel vulnerable. But hiring smart people and trusting them with critical work is the only way to keep growing. Remembering that you’re the boss and aren’t expendable can help you give up responsibility.

Hiring people that are better than you is the best thing you can do for your company. It means they won’t need constant management, and you can focus on growing your business.

8. Specialists vs. generalists

You wouldn’t hire a gardener to do electrical work so why look for a jack of all trades when your business has specific needs? We can take a lesson from basketball recruiting. Every player understands the fundamentals of the game. But if you need a 3-point shooter, you recruit a 3-point shooter, not a defender or even a balanced player. While the balanced player may seem appealing, your goal is to fix the hole in your team’s game. Hiring the balanced player won’t fix that problem.

When you hire a specialist, it doesn’t mean that they are inflexible. The specialist title comes from their considerable experience solving a specific problem, not from an inability to adapt. While this title may come with a higher price tag, it also means they can do the job right the first time, autonomously, and apply their experience to avoid pitfalls. All of these benefits can make the long-term costs much cheaper.

When hiring a new employee consider your business goals first. Asking questions like these can help you determine your needs:

  • Will this new employee’s role primarily involve one main job?
  • Is this a temporary problem, or one that will persist?
  • How would solving this problem affect the business’s bottom line?

9. Help your employees get better at what they do

Training employees is a great way to help your employees get better, and improve their job satisfaction. It also helps employees feel more appreciated which improves employee retention. This is important when you consider that after 3 years most companies lose 41% of their staff.

Proper training is more than just a one-time thing though. Just like keeping up with your car, it requires regular maintenance. Provide your employees with regular refreshers, cross-training, and opportunities for self-learning. These will not only make them better at their jobs, but the fact that you’re investing in them will make them feel more secure and more likely to stick around.

10. Improve communication on your team

Have you ever heard someone speak a foreign language? It can be nearly impossible to communicate with them. Bad communication can make your team feel like everyone is speaking a foreign language. That’s why it’s so important that you have processes in place to make sure your team is always on the same page.

Imagine that you need to deliver bad news but on top of that you communicate the news poorly. Employees could misinterpret the loss of a client to job instability. Fearing for their job they could start to look elsewhere. This may seem like an extreme reaction, but it’s not far-fetched. And history has shown us that misunderstandings have resulted in much worse.

Work on your team’s communication constantly, always looking for ways to reduce friction and increase clarity. Doing so will result in improved team unity, collaboration, trust, and better relationships.

11. Keep your team happy and healthy

In the U.S. absenteeism costs companies up to $84 billion in productivity. Employees that are unhappy or sick can cause people to miss work days, lose productivity, and spread it to others when employers don’t offer provisions for illness. While you can’t control what people do in their personal lives, you can promote a healthier work environment. Investing a small amount of resources in your employee’s work environment can make them feel valued, happy, and help them stay healthier.

This is especially important with the increasing amount of office work and lack of physical activity the average person gets in our age. What are some practical steps you can take to help your employees?

According to NBC News setting micro-goals helps people avoid excuses and can have far-reaching effects. So why not incentivize walking during breaks or after lunch by giving an extended lunch to the step leader at the end of the week. This friendly competition can encourage people to make more health-conscious decisions in other parts of their life. Other practical ways to help your team include standing/sitting desks, wellness programs, and encouraging flu shots.

12. Avoid bad strategy

In his book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt helps you identify what bad strategy is. Interestingly not having a strategy isn’t considered bad strategy, although it’s not good either. But instead, he discusses the dangers of vague strategies that state lofty goals but don’t have a concrete plan for achieving them.

In the book, he talks about how working hard and wanting enough aren’t strategies. He shares his surprising revelation of how many big companies don’t have strategies; they just have goals. As a small business with limited funds, it’s crucial to eliminate waste. This includes strategies that don’t include practical steps to reach your goals.

Ask yourself these questions to see if your strategy needs improvement:

  • Can my team follow the steps of my strategy to reach their goals?
  • Are my goals too vague? (Example: We want to be the best at what we do.)
  • Does my strategy leverage a business advantage to help me gain an edge?

This isn’t an exhaustive list of questions, but it will help you start to analyze your strategy.

13. Connect with mentors and peers

In a 2013 Stanford survey, 80% of CEOs said they received mentorship. Since we are all a product of our environments, having good mentors can be the difference between success and failure. Mentors have typically gone through what we’re struggling with and can give us insights that help us get through difficult business challenges. They can provide the stability you need to not break down when you’re under the gun.

Actively look for mentors in your life. But look beyond just gaining a business edge. A good mentor will also help you achieve better work satisfaction.

14. Your website is important

Your site is now your digital storefront. Where before your physical location was the most important aspect of your brand, now it’s your online experience. Due to budgetary constraints, small businesses gloss over the website. But this is no longer an option, and thankfully we no longer have an excuse.

In the past, you had to pay an expensive web designer to build a decent website. Now, even if you can’t afford that, you can use services like Squarespace to get you through the interim. Not having a modern website will not only hurt your brand but will hurt your bottom line too.

15. Email is not dead

According to DMA Insight, 99% of us check email every day. While many of us ignore the colossal amount of emails we get, these numbers can’t be ignored. If you have accumulated a good amount of emails, use them to keep building your business.

When getting started with email marketing, it’s important to apply best practices and have a solid strategy before getting started. If you start sending emails constantly, people can start to feel harassed. This means you need to make every communication count. Your emails should contain various aspects to get opens. They need to be interesting, valuable, and have an effective CTA. For inspiration look at what the pros are doing.

Don’t wait for problems to make changes

When you proactively work to make your business better you avoid always having to put out fires. Instead, you solve problems before they even happen. Use this list to look at your business objectively. Set small goals, like implementing 1 step of one of these tips this month. This will set you on a path to continual business improvement that will translate to repeat business success.

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