1. It’s About People
The path to business success is built on personal relationships. If you think the most valuable aspect of school is the information or training, you may have missed many opportunities already. Look around when you’re around colleagues and form meaningful relationships. Take your colleagues out to lunch and dinner. The sooner you form these relationnships, the more they can grow. Professional relationships will support you in down times and create opportunities that can make the difference between average and great success. Don’t think of relationships with colleagues as just professional either. Form personal bonds. Invite new colleagues over to your house, get your kids together. Personal relationships are the most meaningful to people, and you may make some great new friends in the process. I can’t tell you how many folks I met in graduate school that said they wanted a future successful business but turned down most opportunities to form relationships with their peers. Don’t confuse ‘professional’ with ‘impersonal’. Personal is professional. The world runs on emotional and personal connections. Much great professional success can come from the bonds you form with others!
2. Don’t Skimp on Marketing
Many new organizations use core staff to market the business even though those individuals don’t specialize in marketing. Many small business owners and entrepreneurs market themselves and do not consider outsourcing the job. Assuming you’re operating along principle 3 (below), bring in pros as soon as you can. Dedicate a percentage of all proceeds to professional marketing. Growth is an engine you need to sustain your business. A few things to keep in mind, however. Much of what is offered in the way of marketing services is overpriced and overrated. Sort through the run of the mill outfits and find someone with above-average talent. Verify best practices by interviewing more than one marketing outfit every year. Effective strategies can change quickly due to evolving technology and social practices. Don’t get caught thinking that your core staff, who may not have specialized training, don’t attend leading marketing conferences, and probably wear too many hats already, are up to the task. You’re probably limiting your success by having non-specialists handle one of the most important aspects of building your business!
3. Hit the Pavement
In addition to hiring marketing pros (see above), you need to engage in your own marketing. As the principal figure in your business, marketing yourself will help you to properly evaluate the folks you hire to market on your behalf. And as the core from which your message to the world emanates, engaging in your own marketing will help you refine what you stand for and the value of what you’re offering.
Make brochures and go from business to business talking about what you do. Give free talks at the local library. Design your own business card as an exercise. If you don’t know how to sell yourself, your team will be much less effective. Anytime business gets slow, go back to the pavement and engage in some down-home, grassroots marketing yourself. Put up flyers in coffee shops and bookstores advertising your services. Create a free study group on an area of expertise. Write articles. Do some social media messaging. You should understand the value of your business so well that you can convince anyone in less than a minute that they need what you offer. Rinse and repeat until business picks up.
4. Increase Your Knowledge
Professionals can set themselves apart from the competition by increasing their knowledge in key areas of their field. Knowledge is power, and currency. You can use it to market your advantage over competitors, and to sell clients on the value of your product or services. The most advantageous knowledge is the type few others have. You may need to go outside your local area to find sources of knowledge that is uncommon in your community. Knowledge gets exponentially refined as expertise increases. Top experts will have a quantum grade over others. Knowledge also buys you credibility and access to others with similar knowledge, powering up the size and influence of your network.
5. Be Tenacious
Building a successful business often takes sustained effort over time, a tireless belief in the value of what you’re offering, and a refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer. Entrepreneurs find ways through and around any obstacles in their path. They are not deterred. They turn failures into opportunities, and successes into greater successes. You’ll have down days and up days. Treat them like a roller coaster and keep on going. Remember, the weak give up. Don’t be in that group.
6. Seek Advice
You don’t know most of what you don’t know. Then there are the things you know you don’t know, and then the few things you know. Pollinate your mind constantly by seeking sources of inspiration and wisdom. Seasoned elders in your trade are often honored and willing to help if you ask for guidance. Many folks in senior positions want the world to be a better place and a chance to pass down lessons they have learned along the way to eager listeners.
If you meet business people who guard all their secrets, look elsewhere for mentors. Church can be a good place to find a professional mentor, or ask your friend group or family members. Identify the top ten people in your field locally and nationally, and see how many you can meet with to express a desire to learn from them. You should have one or two mentors you meet with regularly. A bonus: If they take a liking to you and if you impress them, they may also open doors for you or send you clients.
7. Create Your Own Jet-Stream
Building off of tip #6, find a way to support the work of people you admire. It’s a way to learn from them by being around them and how they function. Talented individuals have a wake that follows their work because of the demand for their skill set. Be in their wake and model after them. You can learn an incredible amount from taking on the qualities of talented mentors, and you get a close-up view of how they operate by helping them in their work. The qualities of great people rub off on those around them. Make yourself useful and you’ll learn by doing. One day, if you become as successful as your role models, you’ll need those skills!
8. Tend to Every Aspect
Building a successful business requires tending to many disparate tasks and areas. This need to be good at different skill sets is one reason it is hard for many to succeed at their own ventures. Bring in consultants to support you in any areas that you don’t have expertise in. Consider this short list of key areas to tend to:
1. Your content. What you sell, whether it be product or message. Make sure it is clear, relevant, useful and inspiring.
2. Your self. You are the face of your business. Care for and tend to yourself. You are a walking billboard. Keep that in mind in terms of how you present yourself.
3. Your audience. What good is a great message/product if no one knows you exist? Focus on building your fan base & database.
4. Marketing. Includes online, print, PR, advertising, etc.
5. Design. Makes a big difference, especially in this day of urban, aesthetic-savvy consumers. Get help.
6. Branding. This matters a great deal. Your brand should be easy to understand and memorable, both linguistically and visually. Don’t muddy the waters with too many names for what you do, divisions, departments, groups, etc. Keep your name and mission focused and in front with everything you do, in-house and with the public.
7. The technology side. You need to have an effective web presence and consider using technological tools to assist your business. This use of technology goes beyond the typical website. It includes software, analytics, algorithms, information capturing, automating processes, etc.
8. The business side. We all need a good CEO. Someone with business expertise to consider how they would grow our company. Take a few seminars, consult with your local Chamber of Commerce, and consult experienced veterans. The business world has its own norms and language. You need someone who can speak that language, or teach you how, especially if you plan to partner or collaborate with other businesses.
9. The legal side. Not be to be ignored. Keep things in order, and ask your attorney to help identify the areas that need attention first.
10. Your team. As you start attracting quality professionals that can help you, identify a way to tend to them and keep the vision and mission coherent in their minds.
9. Leverage Opportunities
Sounds simple, but few people do it well. When an opportunity comes your way, you get a foot in the door, or a chance to speak to someone influential, it doesn’t just count as the one opportunity, you must think of how to leverage it to create other opportunities. The art of parlaying one success into another will definitely set you apart from folks who take the chances they get but don’t know how to make those part of a larger strategy.
10. Make Use of Free Resources
There are many free resources that can help you become a success. Non-profits that support small business non-profits may offer free support. Your local Chamber of Commerce may offer free guidance and networking opportunities. Public universities often have department or office to support entrepreneurs. There are countless Meetups for like-minded business owners and to learn important skills. There are even private organizations that gather the collective wisdom of local executives who donate their time to support local businesses. Make use of the free support before you begin shopping for paid help and you’ll be more informed as to what you actually need.
These 10 tips will definitely put you on the right footing when it comes to launching a small business. Remember, put relationships with other professionals first (and make them personal). Prioritize effective marketing (decide on goals ahead of time, then run regular metrics to test what you’re doing). Seek out mentors and thought leaders, tend to every aspect of your business, leverage your opportunities and plug in to local resources. Now go get ’em!