Small Business Management Advice from Top Entrepreneurs
There is certainly safety in being employed. You have a job. If it’s full-time, you work 40 or more hours per week and are most likely ensured a paycheck. You also likely have health insurance, and time for rest and rejuvenation with vacation time. What’s more, you are paid on a regular basis and can map out your yearly salary and plan your life around a set career.
Despite the reliability and safety that being employed by another person or company can afford, some people still choose to start their own businesses, whether to live a life filled with personal meaning, to have something to call their own, or to, hopefully, build wealth.
If you are one of 27 million entrepreneurs in the United States who has looked risk in the eye and started your own business, you’re probably more focused on your day-to-day work than you are seeking knowledge from other business owners. But knowledge is power, so we’ve assembled for you some tried-and-tested small business management tips from entrepreneurs across the United States, and a few well-known business publications as well.
Here are 30 tips for running your own business.
1. Your business idea should solve a problem. Such is the story of The Makeup Bullet, a makeup sponge created by Emmy-Award winning makeup artist Eva Jane Bunkley who has been doing the makeup of music, TV and film stars since 1993. The hands-free sponge fits over the finger and allows for more control and speed applying makeup. Bunkley discovered the need–her need–while on set doing makeup at a news station. “I was looking for my blending sponge, and I thought to myself, if this could just stay stuck to my finger, that would be one less thing I’m looking for. I don’t know if there’s anything on the market, but if not, that would be something I want to create.” True to her word, she did. Her invention has been recognized by Makeup Artist Magazine, Glamour Russia for 2017 Best of Beauty, Allure, Ebony, Sheen Magazine, Glamour Brazil and the Today Show for its innovation.
2. “You either win or you learn – there is no losing,” said Terry Brantley, managing member of property management company Brantland LLC. Brantley started working in the family business at 21 years old with his father. One key lesson learned after 25 years in business is to use mistakes to propel you forward by improving processes and your own abilities as a business person.
3. Learn who your customer is. Create a minimum viable product to test in the marketplace to see how the world responds, and then take the feedback to improve upon it until you find a customer match, if one exists.
4. Break goals up into segments over the course of the year. President of co-working space SharedSpace, Michael Everts, recommends the book “Traction” by Gino Wickman, which discusses the importance of defining business goals quarterly to keep the team focused on success. “As a new entrepreneur, when we first started SharedSpace there were so many items and to-do’s coming at me from so many directions. This book really helped me align my business goals and focus only on what really mattered,” Everts said. SharedSpace recently opened its second location in early 2018.
5. Use accounting software or hire an accountant. QuickBooks, FreshBooks and Xero provide a do-it-yourself method for business owners to keep track of invoices, expenses and other financial information themselves. Working with an accountant will give a business owner one less hat to wear and allow him or her to focus on other aspects of a business.
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6. Develop your reputation early on. “The first three-to-five years in business is crucial. It’s all about establishing your name, your reputation, what you’re going to do, letting everybody learn about what makes you special or unique. Every company has its own DNA,” says entrepreneur and two-time SBA award-winner Shaundell Newsome. Newsome is the founder of Sumnu Marketing, a marketing firm for small businesses.
7. Delegate. If someone on your team has a skill for a particular project or department that you don’t have, save both the time and effort by delegating the task to this person.
8. Look at patterns in employees, and maximize strengths. Entrepreneur Kim Scott, who has helped to build teams at Google, Dropbox and Apple and is the author of the bestseller Radical Candor, divides her team into two camps, rockstars and superstars. Rockstars maintain stability and are comfortable in their work roles for many years. Superstars are the basis of company growth and have an upward trajectory in performance and rank. Identifying strengths allow a business owner to delegate certain tasks to employees, as well as allow an employee to maximize his or her abilities.
9. Record expenses, and analyze the need for each one. “When I was working with my dad, I learned the importance of putting the pencil to everything, analyzing the income and expenses associated with every endeavor, keeping a tight rein on expenses,” said Brantley. “If it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense,” he said.
10. Soldier on, even when no one is watching. Taking action can be a challenge when you report to yourself. However, staying disciplined is required as a business owner. And the last thing you want is lackluster metrics or sales because you didn’t do what you needed to do one month because you didn’t feel like it.
11. Have grit, and acknowledge your wins. “There’s always going to be disappointments,” said Bunkley. “But it’s those glimmers of hope like when a huge influencer in social media gets wind of your product, and then they review it and they love it. And you get the bump in sales. Then you keep going,” she said.
12. Document operational processes. How do you train someone new to the staff in a particular role? What are the steps to performing a certain service, or building a product? Documenting processes will allow you to delegate tasks more easily for new team members, and also in the event of your absence.
13. Put in the work. Not seeing the results of your labor can be disheartening, but sometimes all you can control is what you can control. And the effort is one such thing. While work does not always guarantee succeeding, the success of your business will require work. So work is really the only constant.
14. Do what you say you are going to do. When you make a commitment, deliver on it, according to entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. Doing what you say you will do will help you to establish a good reputation, and one based on trusting that you will follow-through.
15. Use accountability tools. “Select a project management system that creates accountability for your team. We currently use Trello as a project management board and have a “weekly sprint” meeting each week to align the team’s goals. If your staff has no place to go on a weekly basis to track their major projects and goals, there is little accountability for them to get their items done or they might simply forget!” said Everts.
16. (Over) deliver with discretion. Going above and beyond may not be necessary in every case, especially if only the bare minimum is required. It is natural to assume that over delivering reaps more rewards, but research from the University of California, San Diego shows otherwise. In fact, the research shows that a person is just as pleased with receiving what is expected, as he or she is with receiving more than is expected.
17. Secure enough customers to have constant cash flow. “In order to do this, you have to have regular customers that come back over and over again. They not only purchase from your brand, but they recommend your brand. Even more important, they defend your brand,” said Newsome.
18. Treat each customer like an individual. “Treat people right, but not alike,” said Brantley.
19. Build relationships. Be sincere in your questions, compliments and critiques with employees. You never know what connection can come of this, and how a person might be willing to reciprocate this authentic approach in the future.
20. Budget expenses. Having an idea of fixed and variable costs can allow you to plan for business decisions in the future such as seeing if you can afford to bring on a contractor or a new employee.
21. Listen to clients. As you work with an individual or a business, whether B2C or B2B, you will learn more specifically about what they are looking for in your business. So you have additional information that can be used to tweak your offerings and really maximize customer experience. You have the opportunity to say “we hear you” in the way you use this information to further improve your product or service.
22. Network. Attend networking events, and instead of going with the intention of talking about yourself, go with the goal of building relationships and ask the other person about his or her endeavor.
23. Visit your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). SBDCs are independent organizations that provide free or low-cost consulting and training services. If you don’t know where to start, one idea is a visit a place geared toward assisting entrepreneurs and small business owners.
24. Lean on your support base. “I constantly have to stay refueled by surrounding myself with positivity and surrounding myself with people that encourage me,” said Bunkley.
25. Demo with many different people. If your business is product-based, it should be simple to use. So within the ranks of your target audience, demo your product with those from varying education levels, ages, backgrounds.
26. Reinvest money back into your business. Doing so, according to Kyle Taylor, founder of The Penny Hoarder, will allow a business to grow more.
27. Pay it forward. Particularly if someone has provided support with no motive for you or your business, pay it forward. Ideas for continuing the spirit of reciprocity through mentorship, words of advice, or volunteering to share your story with a local high school or professional organization.
28. Continuously learn. Read books about business management and entrepreneurship. Online classes and podcasts can also be tools for continuous learning.
29. Think of content as a way to show how you can solve a customer problem. Use words and images to show that your business offers a real solution to a specific problem in a person’s life to build engagement.
30. Start. Entrepreneurship can be like standing at the edge of a pool afraid to jump in. However, you will only learn by doing. While standing on the sidelines does provide the benefit of learning from others as they play, you can only implement these lessons yourself by getting in the game and making the sale, so to speak.
We hope these words of advice from the lived experiences of many entrepreneurs may offer guidance as you start or continue to build your business.