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Small business owners wear a million different hats. From product development to customer service to order fulfillment to basic HR functions, you do it all in the course of a typical day. But how do you ensure the success of your business when you're focused so much on day-to-day survival? We talked to successful small business owners to see what advice they had to share, and we've pulled their best tips together right here.
As a small business owner, you provide the heart, soul, mind, and muscle that keeps your business running, so the idea of your company running without you can be difficult to accept. But as hard as it is to relinquish control, it's essential if your business is to grow to the next level. There are only so many hours in the day, and one person (even one extremely dedicated person) can only do so much.
Be sure that the information and knowledge you possess exists somewhere besides your own brain. If there are critical skills that you alone possess, train your people to do them better than you do, and see how much faster your company can move when there are more hands to share the important work.
It can be intimidating to hire and work with people who you're pretty sure are smarter than you are. But just as keeping key information to yourself restricts the growth of your business, so does burying yourself in the minutiae of day-to-day operations. Train your employees well, listen to their ideas, and give yourself the freedom to move on to strategic pursuits such as growth planning and business development that will ensure your company's long-term viability.
You’re busy all day, every day, but are you moving in a positive direction, or simply spinning your wheels? Take some time every quarter, or at least once a year, to review the goals you’ve set for your business, measure your progress toward them, then adjust as necessary.
Small businesses are vital to our local communities and our national economy, but small and family-run businesses are also notorious for being difficult to work for, due in part to the complicated dynamic that often exists among company principles. If you have one or more business partners, hash out any differences behind closed doors and present a united front to your employees and customers. Even if you’re the only one in charge, think about the work climate in your office. Are your employees smiling and energetic, or tense and stressed out? If you don’t like what you see, ask for feedback, and be willing to act on it.
If there’s a core area of your business that’s lacking, find ways to make it better. Work with a business coach to set and achieve realistic goals. Look for workshops or webinars on sales strategies or customer relationship management. Talk with others in your industry about tools and technologies that help them save time and money, then invest in training on those that might benefit you. Knowing when to call in the experts can help you move beyond your comfort zone to become a more well-rounded business manager.
If you’re still keeping your own books, doing your own taxes, and managing employee work schedules in a cumbersome Excel spreadsheet, you might not be using your time as efficiently as you could. Consider hiring a part-time bookkeeper, retaining an accountant, and using an online scheduling application to let employees create and maintain their own schedules. You can even outsource functions such as staffing, payroll processing, invoicing, and collections, as well as certain aspects of the sales cycle, like lead generation and appointment setting. Think about how much time these tasks consume over the course of a typical day, week, or month, then decide whether your energies would be better spent on more strategic projects.
Develop a set of core business principles, then live by them. Begin by identifying your unique selling proposition (What product or service do you provide that differentiates your company from any other business?) and defining who your core customer is (and is not!). If you're having trouble committing to one core service or market, consider working with a business consultant until the path seems clear. This could very well be a situation where it pays to call in the experts!
This one may seem obvious, but many a small business has failed because the owners, although experts in the service they provided, were novices at managing the money. Create a detailed profit and loss (P&L) statement that tracks your revenues and expenditures, and always keep current on loan payments, small business credit cards, and other accounts payable, as well as invoicing and receivables.
While many entrepreneurs are autonomous by their very nature, there's a great deal of truth to the saying that two heads are better than one. A carefully selected business partner can be a source of ideas, a sounding board, another set of hands, and a counterpart to your own management strengths and weaknesses.
Force yourself to take a day off, schedule a real vacation, and, above all, remember why it was you started your own business in the first place. Long hours come with the territory, but if you barely recognize your children and your work life has all but consumed any semblance of a personal life, it might be time to reevaluate your priorities. As a small business owner, you could probably find enough work to fill a 37-hour day, so it's important to make a conscious decision to step away from it frequently enough that you avoid burning out or damaging your personal relationships.
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