Small Business Essentials

In response to a recent email question regarding how to succeed in a small business venture, I began to distill what I’ve learned from over one-thousand business owners of all sizes, categories and ethnicities. They are people whose television stories I’ve presided over as executive producer of the Making It! weekly TV show. Though the end goals are consistently familiar, the pathways to a thriving enterprise are many. Here are several important things they’ve taught me and our viewers.

If you are only focused on what business is trendy today and how much money you can make quickly, the end is already in sight for your enterprise. To succeed long term, you must invest the time to dig deep into your interests and determine what you are truly passionate about. What would you be willing to do for ten hours a day even if you weren’t being paid for it? There may be many days like that!

Get customers first before you spend on the trappings! Don’t waste your precious start up dollars on expensive stationary and office space. These days, you can have a virtual phone system, a virtual assistant, online marketing material and all the trappings to appear larger than you are. Focus everything on marketing, sales and establishing an income stream — then you are in business.

Hire the best people you can find for what you can afford to pay. Whether your early hires are just out of school or have twenty years experience, take time to ensure that they bring something to the party beyond being pleasant and amenable. They too need to be fully immersed in your goals and business culture as well as understanding that sales and marketing are the lifeblood of the business. If you pay them ten dollars, they should support a multiple of that in sales. I’ve seen some small businesses that gross a half-million dollars per staff employee.

Don’t rely on your family and friends for advice regarding the prospects for success with your business idea. They only know what whey know and your vision may not easily translate for them. That is, unless they have started and operated a successful business for more than five years. Even better is the advice you can get from someone who has failed at least once on their way to a successful enterprise. That knowledge is worth its weight in platinum.

Spend at least thirty percent of your time outside the office. Emails and social media can help you keep in touch with customers and prospects, but pressing the flesh is the key to launching important relationships. Networking events, trade shows and workshops can help you make connections. I’ve met the men and women who sell airliners at one hundred million dollars or more each. They know their customers and prospects better than they know some family members! People will say yes to people they know, like and trust. You can’t fully create that electronically.

Never stop seeking greater knowledge and considering collaborations with other entrepreneurs. Small businesses can work together to cast a longer shadow and attract bigger contracts and customers. Giant corporations like to see scale in their potential vendors. If you can show that by bidding jointly with another company, they’ll usually choose that versus having to manage two different companies themselves. If you are strong at sales, another business owner who isn’t will be happy to join in with you to go after larger fish. One plus one can sometimes equal 2.5! This type of collaboration can be much better than wrestling with the demons that show up in classic partnerships.

There is no certainty that you’ll succeed in your first business or even the second or third. Many years ago my first partnership attempt with a submarine sandwich shop failed miserably but it delivered some precious if painful lessons. Being doggedly persistent, I started over again in a different city with the same principal partner and it grew into multiple locations before the partnership came apart and I sold out. The ultimate essential lesson is that if you have a business dream the time to act on it is now. Waiting for perfection simply allows that dream to be obscured by layers of dust and to fade away.