Have an Plan. Writing down WHAT you want to achieve (goals) and HOW you will get there (actions or tactics) is a must. As a small business owner, you wear a lot of hats and have a lot to do. Without a roadmap, everything looks like a priority and the important stuff ends up on the back burner. It doesn't need to be long and fancy. It simply needs to be clear and actionable. Successful businesses take the time to write down their goals and plan their path to get there. You should too.
Think Long-Term Value. When times are tough, it's natural to look for ways to save money. While it should be a priority in both good and bad times, you need to look at the big picture. Are you creating short-term profit at the expense of long-term value. I recently spoke with a business owner who laid off staff a few years ago when times were tough. As the business recovered, he made a decision to fill some of his staffing needs with temporary employees to save money. Over the past year, service levels declined, customers left and his reputation took a hit. He saved money short-term but it had long-term implications. Think long-term value when making critical decisions for your business.
Focus on Results. As a business, you invest a lot of resources in activities - from marketing and sales to service and team building. But do you track or monitor the results to see what works and make adjustments based on what you learn? Activities that don't produce the outcome you expect - more sales, efficiency, profit, etc -- are simply a waste of time and money.
Leverage Your Business. Time is a valuable commodity for you and your staff. So it's important to simplify and get more done with a lot less effort. The key here of course is systems! Documenting procedures and systematizing routine and critical tasks makes it easy to do or delegate what you do consistently, effectively and efficiently - so you get more done and make more money. They also make life easier for you, the business owner, your team and your customers! Systems may not be glitzy, but they sure are profitable.
Be a Lifetime Learner. Entrepreneurs by nature tend to be self-confident. Would you start a business if you didn't believe in yourself and your abilities? But none of us are experts at everything and sometimes we just don't know what we don't know. Successful owners understand this. They recognize their strengths and are willing to teach others what they know. But they are equally willing to learn from others - employees, customers, business associates and mentors. They are open to new ideas, willing to try new things and gladly give credit to others along the way.
Speak the Language of Business. You don't need to be an accountant or a math guru, but you do need to understand the numbers that drive your business. Whether you do it yourself or hire a bookkeeper, QuickBooks makes it easy for any small business to KNOW what is going on with your sales, profit and cashflow at any time. Have an accountant to help with tax preparation and strategic planning - but take ownership for learning and understanding your financials. In doing so, you will uncover opportunities and make better business decisions.
Niche - Think Small to Grow Big. Trying to reach and serve everyone to create sales opportunities is a costly mistake. Especially today, when customers are more cautious about spending. To be effective, your marketing must be compelling to potential buyers. How do your products or services address their goals, desires and problems? Difficult to answer when you are trying to 'talk' to everyone. But when you employ a niche marketing strategy - think small to grow big - it's easier, more effective and ultimately more profitable!
Here's where to start. Pick a product or service - most businesses have multiple. Next, identify the niche or ideal customer for your product or service. Then identify the problems experienced by those customers. Finally, communicate the solutions your products / services offer for the problems they experience. If you are not sure what the problems are, ask.