State of Play 7
13 lessons learned after 2 years of small business ownership
- You have to need it to work; wanting it to work isn’t enough. You have to have something riding on your business’s success. Quit your job, sell your house, do something that forces you to have to make it work. Running a business is hard and if you have a Plan B, you will probably go for it at some point.
- Be prepared to make sacrifices. Lots of them. You will work lots more hours than you will get paid for, you will work on weekends, you might have to sell your house, or your car, or something else to make your business work. Be prepared for your business to inconvenience your lifestyle. But be prepared for it all to feel worth it, it’s weird, I know.
- Be ethical. Decide from the start what is important to you as people, and what will be important to your company. Consider your impact on the environment, where your supplies are coming from, conditions for your staff and the staff of your suppliers. Think about who you will sell to, how you will sell to them and what kind of good you can do with the squillions of dollars you are going to make from your new business.
- Ask other business owners for advice. As small business owners, we all start out in this not really knowing what we’re doing, forgetting that every other small business owner that we know also started with no idea what they were doing. But they have figured lots of it out and they could save you a lot of time, frustration and mistakes if they share some of their knowledge with you. Look for someone in small business who you think is doing a good job and ask them for a meeting (just a short one, they have a business to run!) and pick their brains for an hour. You will probably be surprised how much they will tell you and what you will learn.
- Set goals, measurable goals. Say when you want to achieve things by and put numbers (sales figures, dollar targets, quantities) on them. Reassess your goals a couple of times a year. Change them if they aren’t going to be achievable. Look at how far you’ve come. Celebrate your achievements and always keep planning for where you’re going. Figure out the ultimate aim for your business and assess whether your goals are leading your towards your aim. If they aren’t, do you need to change the goal, or the aim?
- Expand at a sustainable rate. It’s inevitable that your business will grow, but we weary of getting too big too quick. You need to manage infrastructure, stock levels, staff and cash flow to meet your growth and you don’t want to be working 70 hours every week to try and keep up with demand.
- Invest in marketing. Put marketing and branding in your budget from the start. Figure out what sets you apart from others in the market and use it to your advantage. Pay someone to help you with this if you aren’t confident. Branding is something you need to get right from the start so spend some time on it and stick to it. Marketing is how you will grow your business, but if you aren’t getting it right, you could go backwards. Build a decent website or have one built. Don’t put anything out there with your brand on it unless you are 100% behind it.
- Reward your customers. Everyone loves something free. Reward your customers with a small product sample with their online order, or a fridge magnet, or a thank-you note in their order. Do something that makes them feel like you really appreciate the fact that they made a conscious decision to hand over their money directly to you. Becauase you really will appreciate that.
- Don’t do anything at all unless your product or service is amazing. You can have the best branding and marketing in the world, but if your product isn’t good, or doesn’t do what you say it will do, your customers will never come back and they will be sure to tell all their friends to stay away too.
- Network. Treat every meeting as a networking opportunity and remember that you represent your company now. So don’t be a jerk. People will associate that with your business and they will remember that you were a jerk and they won’t buy what you’re selling. Then they’ll tell their friends that you’re a jerk and they won’t buy from you either.
- Persist. You’ll want to chuck in the towel sometimes. Sometimes you will make no sales but still have a mountain of bills waiting to be paid. Sometimes you will scroll through the vacancy ads on Trademe. Sometimes you will consider fleeing the country. It will pass. Keep going back to your goals, remember where you are heading with this whole thing and then get back on the horse and keep going.
- Give back. You will rely on lots of people for different reasons when you are starting your business; childcare, money, help creating or selling your product, posting stuff for you, picking orders up for you, building stuff for you, supplying you…. Be grateful. A card, text, email, flowers, chocolate, wine, anything that lets people know that you are grateful for their help and appreciate what they have done for you. We have incredible suppliers who let us pay our bills off with weekly instalments. It doesn’t take much time or money to send them a bottle of wine at Christmas or a bunch of flowers because at the end of the day, if they called in our debts to them, we would probably go under. Be grateful to the community in which you live which buys your products. Volunteer for something. Donate a prize to the local school fundraiser or charity auction. It’s good for your brand, and your conscience.
- If you can think of a job you’d rather be doing, maybe this isn’t right for you. You need to love it, otherwise why put yourself through the hard bits? It doesn’t mean you’ll do it forever but it needs to not feel like work. If this hasn’t put you off, then hold on tight, you are in for a great ride when you start your own business. It will be fantastic.