If I Could Do it All Over Again
Discover What You Really Want (in 2 simple steps & 4 hours)
How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Marketing
It's All You Baby (branding advice)
How to Write a Newsletter that People Actually Read
Are Inefficiencies Affecting Your Small Business Bottom Line?
So You Want to be a Small Business Owner?
IF I COULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN...
If I could start Lulu Web Design from scratch again, knowing what I know now, here's how I would do it.
1.Get Creative Before You Get Practical & Logical
Often when we go into business, we are accompanied by many fears about how it won't work, how we won't make enough money, and what we need to do to prevent becoming the 15% of small businesses that close their doors in the first 5 years. We jump right in to researching the competition, creating services and pricing, branding, building a website, and the hundreds of other tasks involved in starting a small business. We put much of our focus on the things that we think will make money.
Before you bury yourself in that To Do List, stop for a moment, and consider that this small business you're starting becomes a great success. I know that imagining abundant success can feel unrealistic, slightly egotistical and, to the superstitious, surely tempting fate but here's the thing; I think a lot of people "fail" because they just didn't stick with it, and they didn't stick with it because the business they started wasn't aligned with who they are, what they love to do, and what matters most to them in life.
So, the very first thing I recommend to fledgling entrepreneurs is that they envision their ideal life in great detail and without limitations. Write it down, reflect on it, refine it and, with eyes closed, imagine and feel it. Don't be afraid about locking yourself into an unchangeable dream because of course it's going to evolve, but don't let that fear prevent you from creating a starting point and a direction that's truly aligned to the most perfect life imaginable. Now, from this place, you can craft a business vision and goals that are aligned with what matters to you. Read this post if you need some help.
2. Create a LEAN Business Strategy
A business plan can seem like an awfully daunting task to many small business owners, and for good reason. If you're old enough to be old school like me, you imagine it to be this massive, multi-page document containing all sorts of data and statistics and research findings. Many folks create business plans like this and never refer back to them. Granted, if you need to secure funding, you might have to go through this grueling task but, for the rest of us, it's completely unnecessary. Start-ups are not smaller versions of large companies. They are constantly evolving, highly dynamic and adaptive entities that must learn, respond, and grow.
I'm an advocate of a SIMPLE, essentials only business strategy document that includes a business vision, target audience, problem statement, solution statement, LIGHT competitive research, services/products & pricing strategy, budget, and year one business goals by quarter. Don't spend a ton of time on this because it's going to change a lot in your first year of business BUT don't skip it either. It's important to have a direction and something to measure progress against. Think of it as an evolving plan that you review and update every quarter instead of a static, never to be seen again document.
You've heard it before--if you don't define a brand your customers will do it for you--and this is true. Google the word "branding" and you'll soon discover that the brand of a company can be its most powerful asset and so it only makes sense that you should focus a lot of time, effort, and perhaps money on this task. For small businesses, branding can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to upwards of $15k, but many entrepreneurs don't have this kind of budget. Still, branding (not just visual identity like logo & colors, but a full brand strategy) truly is important. So, what to do?
First recognize that during the first year of business, you are partly in discovery mode and what you learn will shape year two of being in business, including your brand. This doesn't mean that you should completely ignore branding, which is a strategy doomed for failure. What it does mean, however, is that since things will likely change quite a lot, it's typically not a good idea to blow your entire budget on branding. Don't spend too much money on a logo - a creative text logo is just fine to start with. Do carve out a day to define your brand personality, values, messaging, niche (the more niche the better), and the experience you want your clients to encounter when working with you. Do spend time to identify your ideal clients, especially the problems they are facing, their emotional triggers, and how you are helping to solve those problems. Put this all together in a one or two page document and use it to guide all your customer touch-points. Refine it as you learn. Get help for the pieces that you feel completely stuck on.
It can make sense to spend more money on branding in year 2 of being in business, once you have a better grasp of how things are shaping up.
In year two of being in business, my skills had improved and my services were in high demand. It was time to raise my prices. I started to offer highly custom websites, often including all sorts of bells, whistles, and animations for a minimum of $2500 (often charging $5000 in the end). There was no shortage of clients coming through my doors but something didn't feel quite right. It took me a while to figure out that I was putting all the emphasis on a fabulous looking, custom website, while ignoring the very important things that go toward its success. I go into more detail about what's important for a website here but, in short, spending lots of money on a custom design is not a good investment when you're just starting out on a tight budget. Focusing on the meat and bones of the website (it's goals, content, clear navigation, SEO, CTAS, the buyer journey, tracking tools and more) IS important and worth spending some money.
5. Processes & Systems
If there are repeatable steps involved in carrying out your business from the get-go, document them and follow them. Automate what you can, create templates and checklists, and become as consistent as possible with how you interact with your customers. Good processes WILL IMPROVE your bottom line, save you oodles of time, and help your customers feel like they are dealing with a pro. As with everything, your processes will evolve as your business grows, so review and refine as you go.
Think about the customer process from inception to completion, as well as how you will support the customer once the job is done if applicable. Make a flow-chart. Don't, unless absolutely necessary, sink a ton of money into software or services until you've been in business for about 6 months when requirements will become clearer.
Take advantage of free trials with companies like Freshbooks and Dropbox. If this isn't your strong point, let me help you, because it is very much mine. I love creating order out of chaos, especially someone else's chaos.
Here's a few examples of processes & systems you should sketch out from the start:
- End-to-end client process (lead-->prospect-->new customer-->existing customer-->support)
- Tracking your time so you can perform checks and balances against your pricing strategy
- Invoicing & tracking payments, obviously
- Accounts payable so it's easy and automated
- Data storage (e.g: Dropbox, Google Drive, OneBox, etc.)
- Customer Relationship Management (where to store all your customer info, and how to track communications)
- Online scheduling (if you have an appointment based business)
6. Real Research
A client of mine was starting a home-inspection business and we decided that one of his very first Get Clients Now goals should include reaching out to five realtors in the area to introduce himself and his services. To make it extra memorable we decided that he would leave each realtor with a box of cupcakes (police like donuts, realtors like cupcakes). While he forgot to pick up the cupcakes on the day (can't blame him, he was excited and nervous) he boldly hit the streets armed with his packets of info and a mighty fine attitude. This experience, although scary, was invaluable. Not only did my client make a lasting impression on his prospective customers, he also learned some valuable information about what would help his chances of securing a sale and getting more business.
We've all become so used to relying on Google for answers, but nothing beats hitting the streets or picking up the phone to talk to real people, preferably our ideal clients. We want to find out what they're really looking for, or how they feel about what you or the competition have already provided them. I know it's not easy, especially if you're an introvert like me but you must get over it just do it, I promise you and your customers will benefit as a result.
7. Draw a Line in the Sand
Give up on making everything perfect before you hang out your shingle, it's not going to happen and is often used as an excuse to avoid starting your business for real. Draw a line in the sand by identifying the absolute MUST-HAVES (which will vary depending on who you are, your clients, and your industry) that need to be completed. Once completed, OPEN YOUR BUSINESS. You are going to learn far more after you have a few customers under your belt than you are through analysis and research. Yes, you'll have some uncomfortable start-up hiccups and bumps. However, there are plenty of ways to set-up your first customers so that they will not only forgive you, but they will understand and applaud you. I've seen it happen, over and over again.
Schedule a quick chat with me. It's on the house.
HOW TO FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU REALLY WANT IN TWO EASY STEPS
Do you know what you really want? I mean, really, really want?
Stop for a moment and ask yourself: What do I really want more than anything else right now? What matters most to me?
What happens when you ask yourself that question? How do you feel? Is there a clear answer?
If the answer isn’t clear and you feel stuck in a place of indecision, fearful of choosing a direction in case it’s wrong, or perhaps forever changing your mind depending on outside extenuating circumstances, I have good news for you.
Figuring out what you really want is not only doable, but also achievable, in less than half a day.
Ready to give it a try?
STEP 1. What I Think I Really Want is…
Write down, with a pen and piece of paper (NOT DIGITALLY) what it is you think you really want, even if you’re not totally sure. If there are a few competing wants, write them all down. The trick is to get super-specific.
Example of super specific vs. non-specific:
“I want more money so I don’t have to worry about bills and so that I can go on vacation”
“I want $10,000 within 6 months so that all my bills are paid (list out the bills) and have $4000 left to dedicate to a 10 day vacation with my husband to Costa Rica at the Fabulousa Rancho in March 2018.”
I want more time with my husband and kids
I want our family to have supper together five nights a week so that we can talk about our day and reconnect with each other. I want us to clear the table together and then spend 2 hours in the evening playing board games or cards or charades or hoops or going for a walk or anything that doesn’t involve a TV or digital device of any kind.
Just getting it out of your head onto paper should feel good and may lead to some interesting new insights that you didn’t realize existed.
STEP 2 - Discovering WHY You REALLY Want It
Ok, so now you’re going to take those wants and get really clear about WHY you want them because this is how you’re going to know, on a very deep level, the true purpose beneath the assumption. It’s going to help you to find and prioritize what matters most to you.
For each thing you’ve identified as a want, ask yourself “Why do I want this?” Get really honest - nobody is looking over your shoulder. Bear in mind that sometimes the most obvious and first response to “why” is not always the truest, most deepest one for you. You might have to dig a little. Or a lot.
When you think you have the reason why, ask why again. Keep asking why until you’ve got through the entire pile off why’s to one that strikes you as the God’s honest truth of why. You’ll know when you’re there because it’ll light you up, you’ll feel the passion of it, you’ll be excited and raring to go. If any of the whys don’t feel passionate to you, keep going, keep asking.
Don’t try to figure out HOW to get what you want at this point because it will kill your creative juices. That’ll come during the action plan phase. Get as detailed as you possibly can, exploring feelings, things, relationships and places that might be involved in the why. Don’t walk away from a why until you’ve identified the feelings and emotions that are related to it.
Give yourself 30-60 minutes to explore the why of each want (clue: if you can’t afford that kind of time to figure out what you really want, then you probably don’t want to figure out what you really want!).
Once you’ve done these two steps, I’m willing to bet that you’ll walk away with a clear decision about what it is you really want, making you ready to take the next step of creating an action plan to get it.
HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING & LOVE MARKETING
You hate marketing. I get it. Everyone else (who isn’t named Kris Kardashian or Don Draper) does too. It’s become synonymous with long hours, lying to your consumers, and distracting you from what got you into this in the first place. What’s worse, you don’t even know where to start, outside of an inkling that those two “likes” on your business’s Facebook page (which you made last night after three hours and half a bottle of wine) don’t constitute a referral-based clientele… and in that case, you’re right.
The unfortunate truth is that, no matter how great your idea is, no matter how fabulous your new website looks, you've got to find a way to get it out there.
When you first start a business, you need two things to keep from drowning--money, and clients. But here's the thing: as tempting as it is to take MarketingDonut.Com’s “Ten Ways to Build a Brand on a Budget” (yup, that’s a real thing) as scripture, these kind of cheap approaches take 6-9 months, if ever, to reap any kind of reward. Most of us don't have that kind of time. And as for the alternative, a real digital advertising agency that will cost, at minimum, $2000 a month...well, most of us don’t have that kind of money.
Fortunately, marketing doesn’t have to be so, well, hateable. Instead of spending months and months on lukewarm campaigns yielding little results, we're going to execute a killer strategy that is designed to get you clients and money in the first 30 days of opening your new business doors. It's fast, it's furious, it's fun, and yes, it's a little scary, but hey, isn’t that small business in a nutshell? And most importantly, it’s tailor-made for you, which is better than anything that Google, or even a big corporate agency, could ever offer.
When I rebranded Lulu, I followed this exact same process, and the results were dazzling. I surpassed the goals I set for myself for the month, doubled the sales I had projected, and was able to significantly reduce on-going marketing efforts because of the upfront legwork I did in those 30 days to get my new business going.
It worked for me. That means it’ll work for you, too. And the best part is, you have an advantage over me! You get a partner in crime (yours truly, of course) to help you through every step of the way.
IT'S ALL ABOUT YOU BABY!
What do online dating and branding have in common? Let me lay out a scenario for you.
Swipe, swipe, swipe about 300 times until, astoundingly, you find a potential mate who isn't headless, shirtless, or living 1000 miles away. He's not wearing sunglasses in his profile pic, he's not leaning against a fancy car, and he doesn't have his arm around some chic who could be his mother or his former lover. Things are looking good. He’s brainy, he’s a dog person, he's "spiritual but not religious" and he doesn't use "lol" even once in his description. He's even handsome to boot. It’s a no-brainer--you set up a date.
Then you meet him.
Oh the disappointment. He's appeared to have left his brains at home, chivalry is completely lost on him, he kind of likes puppies but he’s more of a bird guy, and that awesome profile picture he had set up? It was that awesome… twenty years ago.
This is highly disconcerting for a few reasons, and it’s not just because you have to politely sit across the table from this guy for the next hour (lesson learned, stick with a short coffee meeting for the first date). He put on someone he thought you’d like, only for the façade to inevitably fall away in minutes. This happens professionally and personally, and it sucks both times, for one reason. It’s not honest. Cliché or not, honesty is the best policy personally and professionally, because your clients? They’ll see right through you no matter what.
Clients are Super(wo)men. They all--and I mean all--have X-Ray vision. If you’re faking, if you’re putting on some uptight demeanor that you think is “professional” just to give them what you think they want, then that superpower is a bad thing. It means you’re insincere and they know it.
But, if you’re being yourself, your real self, then it’s a great thing! It means that they’ll feel that you’re a real person--which, in this society, is actually quite a big deal. And the best part? You know your ideal client, the one you were trying so hard to attract with your corporate nonsense? If you’re being you, they’ll flock to you without you even trying.
If you’re anything like me, your ideal client (whether you know it or not) is someone you’d buy a drink for, someone you’d take to the movies, heck, someone you’d be fine stuck in traffic with. Those sorts of people aren’t going to be impressed by big, meaningless buzzwords like “synergy” or “mock vortex principle” or the "7 steps to something unbelievable." They’re not even going to be impressed by the “Client is always right, we’re all about our customers” mentality--they can get that anywhere. They’re going to be impressed by you. And the ones that aren’t? They aren’t your ideal clients.
Professionalism is great and all; trust me, I like a man in a sharply tailored suit as much as the next gal. But at the end of the day, that guy is just the vanilla first date who paid for your meal but didn’t warrant a call back.
When we’re talking about branding, let’s get rid of that word “Professional” and replace it with “Personal.” That way, on your first date, you’re finding your soulmates, the clients you really want, whether you knew it or not. And not only that, you’re also giving them a service that they aren’t used to, a service that extends beyond the office into the dinner, drinks, maybe even a friendship. A service that benefits them as much as it benefits you.
That’s why I can tell you to be yourself and not sound like an afterschool special. Don’t believe me? Give it a shot with your friends. I’ll bet that, after an hour of you shouting “infomediaries” into their ears, they’ll be sick of you. They’ll want the real you back. That’s how your clients feel, too.
Want to know more?
CREATING EMAIL NEWSLETTERS THAT PEOPLE ACTUALLY READ
While most companies do some form of email marketing, very few do it effectively. In fact, most are of the assumption that simply writing some branded piece of content and hitting "Send" is marketing. It isn't. It is closer to a waste of time as fewer and fewer of these emails, blog posts, and ads get read each day unless they are done effectively. Don't get me wrong - there is a great deal of value in email marketing and newsletters. Let's run through seven tips to creating email newsletters that your targeted audience will actually read.
1) Focus, Focus, Focus
First and foremost, you should decide what kind of newsletter you want to have and set expectations with your customers. An everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sort of newsletter feels very random and likely won't be read twice. It would be a better idea to either have company newsletters by division or product line if you are a large company or to stick with a different theme each month if you are a small business. For example, January could focus on emerging trends in your industry for the new year. Earth Day is in April, kids get out of school in June, and the weather starts to get colder in October. Find ways to relate holidays, seasonal changes, or other national observances into a focused newsletter.
2) Uber-Creative Subject Lines
Believe it or not, this could be the most important part of your newsletter. Ever heard of a thing called "ad blindness"? In essence, content marketing and advertising online has become so prevalent that many of us have become blind to it, only seeing the updates from our friends on Facebook and completely tuning out ads on search pages. This is what often happens with our inboxes now as well unless an eye-catching and creative subject line is used. Here are some examples:
• "*Don't Open This Email*"
• This is a little embarrassing…
• I’m pulling the plug…
• My Gift to you…
• Join me in congratulating…
• You’re going to miss this?!
• I was wrong…
• Can you explain THIS to me?
As you create your email subject line for your newsletter, keep in mind a few guidelines. Under 50 characters is best as these have higher open rates. Writing in ALL CAPS will not help you. Look at these as little newsletter grenades that should be used sparingly. Overuse can be disastrous. Finally, know your audience and match your tone and approach with your subject line, whether it be casual and fun or more formal.
3) Can the Salesy Pitches
Everyone understands that you are in business to make money. Yet, if you talk about your products and services with a convenient link to buy 100% of the time, you'll lose subscribers fast. Newsletter content should be 90% educational and 10% promotional. Provide subscribers with relevant and interesting material and include just a few calls-to-action (CTAs) in your newsletter that makes it both clear what you want customers to do and easy for them to do it.
4) Simple Design and Copy
When it comes to email marketing, simplicity is key. Unless you are running a haute couture fashion house in Manhattan, the expectation is that there won't be flashing lights or animation on your pages. Click through and open rates are much higher on newsletters with a simple design that emphasizes content over bells and whistles. Let's not forget that anything produced today should be mobile responsive. According to Google, mobile internet traffic surpassed desktop traffic for the first time in 2015. More mobile device users than ever before are using smartphones and tablets to open email and view content, and that includes reading your online newsletter.
5) Deliver Engaging Content
Speaking of content, make it useful. Your subscribers are giving you permission to send them information directly to their inboxes. This is an investment for them so they should be rewarded with such things as insight into the industry, information on new trends, or a heads up about new products or services that are being introduced. A dry, poorly written newsletter can actually do more harm than good to your business so skimping on newsletter content is a bad idea.
6) Dare to Get Personal
Don't be afraid to engage with your readers through your newsletter. There are several ways to do this and it makes for intriguing copy that brings customers back month after month. One is to allow readers to get to know you on a personal level. Include one section of each newsletter that brings the audience into your personal life and what matters to you. Another is to include a Q&A section and ask readers to participate. Readers who have had questions answered will love to see their name in print and others will be encouraged to write in with questions.
7) Test, Test, Test
As with anything online, testing, tracking and then more testing is crucial. Stats such as open rates, click-throughs, and contacts should be tracked for each newsletter. If the first email newsletter doesn't go as you had hoped, chalk it up to a valuable learning experience and move on to the next one. Different groups have different quirks and desires, and it is your job to find the voice that appeals to your group. Nearly all email marketing programs give you the tools to do this sort of tracking.
Email newsletters can be a cost-effective way to reach your targeted audience. They are a great way to provide additional value to customers and to encourage further engagement. If not done properly, however, they can have the opposite effect. Customers may be turned off by salesy pitches or simply
ARE INEFFICIENCIES AFFECTING YOUR SMALL BUSINESS BOTTOM LINE?
Whether you run a product or a service-based company, inefficiencies in your small business can eat away at your bottom line. While finding solutions to glaring problems is one solution, there are likely other areas of your small business that you are oblivious to. Here are some simple tips to identify the most common inefficiencies in a small business and how you can make improvements.
1. Where is your time spent?
It probably shouldn't come as a surprise that one of the top reasons that small businesses are ineffective is a lack of focus. If you are working 12 hours a day, six days a week but feel like you aren't getting much accomplished, there's a problem. One of the best ways to address this is to begin tracking your time - every minute and every task.
I use the Timetracker App that is integrated with Freshbooks, but you can download any timetracking App, and many are free. If you're App-averse, try pen and paper. Develop a discipline of tracking every minute of what you're doing during a work day and commit to doing this for one month. The end result is that you'll receive a clear picture of what you are dedicating your time to, and you will notice a side-benefit of becoming better organized during the course of your day.
This is an important task so don't skip it! There is a big difference between what you "think" are inefficiencies vs. what actually materializes. Only the data in black and white will reveal the truth.
2. Identify and address your patterns.
Now that you have some solid data (see #1) to work with, you can identify those glaring holes, patterns, and opportunities in your work day. Are you spending a lot of "free time" helping customers but not getting paid for it? If yes, is there a way to "productize" this? For example, by tracking my time, I realized that I was devoting a lot of resources to helping new businesses get established by doing all sorts of things that did not fall under the scope of small business web design or our original quote. This is typical and natural when building a small biz website for someone because nothing happens in a vacuum, and if you don’t have your ducks in a row, things can go pear-shaped quite quickly. There are not only essential elements that go into making a small business website successful, but if your overall business processes and set-up aren't in good shape, the business and its clients will feel the pain. Here's one small example: if you are selling branded products online, have you checked to see if you need to register with the FDA, and do your labels match the current labeling laws? Two important things to check BEFORE you print your product labels!
As much as I love being helpful, my extracurricular involvement in these matters was seriously affecting my bottom line. Since I was able to spot an obvious pattern and my help to these businesses was always appreciated, I decided to "productize" some consulting packages for small businesses that need help with such things as starting a new business or promoting a new product/service. Now, the time that I spend providing this support to clients is billable. Lulu Web Design remains profitable and sustainable, clients get what they need, and everyone wins.
3. Create workflows for your business.
Most businesses are built on a series of repetitive actions. There are reports due, emails to send, meetings to hold, and data to review. Where you can, create workflows, templates, and checklists for these items so that they are simple to replicate. If some tasks can be automated, even better. Workflows should be logical, efficient, and not so rigid that they can't be adjusted when conditions change. If you have a management team or a partner, involve them in this process. Here is an example of several useful workflows:
a. Customer management: Depending on your type of business, some companies opt to invest in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that can help to track the process of turning a lead into a prospect, a prospect into a sale, and a sale into a loyal customer. These systems allow you to create your own workflows for marketing, sales, order follow-up, and even support.
b. Newsletter management: Newsletters have many elements that must be managed to be successful. They need to be relevant, interesting, and well-designed. A workflow may include a draft stage with target distribution dates each month or quarter.
c. Internal admin procedures: You can set up workflows for everything from opening and responding to emails to how expense reports should be filled out and submitted each month.
d. E-Commerce: A website with an e-commerce element needs to be carefully planned as breakdowns in the process are one of the quickest ways to lose customers. A simple workflow diagram will map out the order process, payment transaction, order transmission to the seller, order fulfillment, and shipping confirmation.
e. Issue tracking: Whether it's an internal issue or an unhappy customer, staying on top of problems can be a challenge when there are so many balls in the air. This is why it's important to have established workflows in place to ensure that issues are tracked from first notification through resolution.
f. New hires: Your business is only going to be as good as the people you have working for it, and your new hires need to feel both informed and inspired. Establish workflows to welcome new hires, educate them, provide timely reviews, and ask for their feedback.
g. Change requests: A change request can be a workflow similar to issue tracking. For example, if a client requests a change outside of the scope of their quote, it needs to be assessed for cost and time impacts, reviewed, approved, and then added to the schedule/scope.
h. Design approvals: When a custom product is being delivered, whether it be a website or a new kitchen, the client will need to sign off on the design before the project can move forward. A workflow for this might go through a draft and feedback stage to final design approval before the customer's endorsement is given.
4. Follow the money!
Most companies don't go into business to deal with accounting or do math all day long but keeping up with the financial side of owning a small business is essential to survival. From invoicing to expense-tracking to daily accounting and dealing with the IRS, it's a wonder that you ever get to speak to your customers! Fortunately, technology has taken a lot of the headache out of many of these tasks, and your first order of business is to find the right tools and get your financial system established.
QuickBooks is the gold standard for many small businesses when it comes to accounting software, but there are other solutions to choose from as well. Here at Lulu Web Design, we use Freshbooks. Whatever solution you choose should be flexible enough to handle such things as invoicing, payroll, credit card processing, expense tracking, inventory management, and financial reporting. Once you have a system set up, use it religiously to plan, budget, and run your business.
5. Create a Personal Routine. We all have a personal routine that we're most comfortable with, but have you taken the time to identify yours? For example, I am at my most creative in the morning. By 2:00 p.m. each day, I know that it is pointless to start working on a new website design because I just don’t have enough creative energy for it. Despite the obvious, it took me a while to realize this and I would sit at my computer, drifting between looking for inspiration, responding to emails, and zoning out completely.
Because I recognize this, I now have organized my day so that all creative work is done in the morning, and development, client meetings, and admin are performed in the afternoons. I also dedicate certain times of the day to check email (and yes, admittedly, my personal Facebook page!), but I leave these applications CLOSED at all other times. My phone remains silenced during the creative period.
Take some time to consider what personal routine best suits your work style and personality. Are you a morning person? Or, do you get your most productive work accomplished in the evenings? Make a list of all of the things that you need to get done each day (or week) in both your work and personal life. If some of those are not time-flexible, make note of when they need to be accomplished. For the remainder of the items, lump smaller tasks together in batches to avoid interruption and slot in your most difficult tasks for the times of the day that you are most productive. Test out your routine and make adjustments as needed.
6. Review, analyze, and adjust.
Whether you are working alone or with a team, it's important to continually take stock of your progress and make adjustments where needed. Too often, major issues don't just "appear" but were slowly accumulating for many months and could have been addressed much sooner with a few minor modifications to processes.
To that end, make a commitment to dedicate one day each month to review how things are going with your business. Go over key financial statements, sales reports, and projections. If possible, get feedback from clients about your products or services. Those minor adjustments that you make today could be the keys to your business' success in the future.
SO YOU WANT TO BE A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER?
Quick question: what is the first step to take when starting a new business?
a. Write a business plan?
b. Perform market research?
c. Secure funding?
d. None of the above
e. All of the above
The answer is "d." but if you Google the question you'll be told, nine times out of ten, that the answer is "a." or "b."
But something is missing from this list of options, like how about questioning things like passion, heart, motivation, BALLS!, or entrepreneurial spirit? Aren’t these things fundamental to starting a small business?
I think so.
All too many times people start a business for the wrong reasons. They want the freedom to make their own schedule, they want to get rich, they have a brilliant idea, or they just want to be their own boss. These things might play into it, but are by no means the only considerations.
This post will take you through some fundamental but essential steps to actively consider before spending an ounce of energy on a business plan.
Soon-to-be business owners, this post is for you! Existing business owners, use this post as a litmus test to see if you're where you want to be.
1. What Do You REALLY Want?
Throw all business logic out the window for a moment and answer this question: If you were going to volunteer to do something because you just LOVE doing it, what would it be? If you were already financially free, what would you spend your time doing (and will you marry me?) Write the answer(s) down - they are valuable insights into whether you should even own a business and, if so, what it could be and also, what the vision for your business might start to look like.
Starting a small business as a means to an end (e.g: an attempt to gain something like money, freedom, or more time) is not a strong enough foundation to keep you going through the rough times.
PASSION for doing something you love on a daily basis IS a good foundation from which to start and, arguably, the most important one to start with. If you don't believe in (fill in the blank), how will you convince others (your customers) to buy or use (fill in the blank)?
2. Would you REALLY want to do that as a business?
The next step is to visualize your passion as a business. It's one thing to do something as and when you feel like it (a hobby) but another to keep at it on a daily basis no matter what.
I love gardening and am passionate about nutrition. I thought about starting a business where I'd install raised beds in people's front yards and teach them how to grow their own food. I even flew to Seattle to meet with a company already doing this. I soon realized that if my company (I even had the name "Raised with Love"picked out ) were to make enough money for me to live off, I would have to hire the labor out and just run the business, which meant no gardening or nutrition. I also realized that even if I could do the labor myself, it would get old pretty quickly and would probably kill the joy of gardening for me.
Take the time to sit down and do a bit of creative writing about what your days might look like when working your passion as a business.
3. What does SUCCESS mean to you?
This is an important adjunct to #2 above and will become a part of your business goals. What does "running a successful business" mean to you personally? In other words, what would you call a successful day/week/month on the job?
- Working for three hours, taking the rest of the day off, while still making enough money to support you and your family?
- Positively impacting 5 clients a day with your fantastic services?
- Flying internationally to meet your clients?
- Working with a team of enthusiastic employees that you’ve been able to hire?
Forget about, for now, what you think makes business sense. Just focus on what success would mean personally to you.
Take a while. Write it down. Imagine it in as much detail as possible, and then refine it.
After this step, you will have defined something that you are truly passionate about, can imagine doing for a business, and have a good idea of what success would mean for you. How does it align with the business you are in or about to start?
4. Have you got the personality of a business owner?
Here's a few personality traits that I personally think are the makings of a successful business owner:
● You prefer to lead than be led
● You love to learn
● You consider "failure" as a crucial part of success
● You are not easily swayed by the opinions of others
● You are business savvy
● Following your heart is more important to you than financial security
● You are action-oriented, not a window shopper
● Nobody would ever describe you as riding on the coat-tails of another
● You exude enthusiasm
● If something isn’t working in your life, you take action to change it as opposed to letting off steam by complaining about it (and boring your friends in the process!)
5. Do you BELIEVE?
If your business idea isn't charged with desire and a belief that you can do it, you're not going to have the energy to maintain it, sell it, or weather the storms of it.
Limiting beliefs like, "I don't have enough (money/education/time)," overwhelming fears "what if I can't pay the mortgage," "how will I manage in retirement if it fails," are simply excuses that you put into place and then do your best to prove right, so even though the business failed, you were right in thinking it would. If this is you, either change your beliefs on a very deep, gut level or do not proceed forward lest you want free membership to the large community of failed small businesses.
The fake belief stuff won't work either (e.g: repeating affirmations in the mirror ten times each morning despite the fact that your gut is telling you otherwise).
6. Can you afford it?
There are tons of creative ways that you can market your business while constrained to a very small budget, so don’t let that stop you, but you do need to be able to support yourself (and perhaps a two or four-legged family) until the business generates enough income. The general rule of thumb is to allow 1-2 years before expecting to turn a profit on your business.
Have you got enough money to survive for two years?
If you are thinking about maintaining a regular job while building your business on the side (I won’t tell your employer, I promise), remember to consider what this is going to do to your life/wife/kids. Starting a business takes a great deal of time and effort, so you’ll be working two jobs until you can give up one.
You will always be able to find reasons to NOT start your own business, but if you’ve got the passion, confidence, commitment and dedication, you’re already ahead of the game. Put your heart into it, take the leap, and join the small business owner community!
Want some help? Check out the Services Page which has all sorts of packages at all sorts of prices to help you start your business.
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