It’s no secret that building a business is hard work. A popular definition of an entrepreneur is someone who trades 40 hours for 80, and that isn’t far from the truth. I’m sure there are some of you who would feel that 80 hours would be a relief!
Statistics show that a sizable number of small businesses fail, for a variety of reasons. So, what does it take to beat the odds, to create something that has staying power, that can survive the inevitable challenges that every business must face?
If you were to ask 10 successful business owners this question, I’m sure you would get a variety of answers. While every situation is unique, based on industry, competitive situation, and region of the country, there are some key themes that I see as a Business Coach. There are common issues that every business deals with, in their own way and in their own time. Those who conquer these greatly increase their odds of not only survival, but real, lasting success.
1. Know where you are going. Not in general, vague terms, but in quantifiable specifics. Too many businesses do not have a set of intentional goals. Instead they tend to settle for hopes, taking what comes and simply dealing with it. Hope is not a strategy for success, so take the time to decide what will define success for you. Write it down, read it back, and see if it resonates. Is that really what you want?
2. Be brutally honest with yourself and where you are now. All the plans in the world won’t mean a hill of beans if you don’t face facts right where you are. Identity your limitations and address them. Don’t let romantic dreams of the ‘entrepreneur lifestyle’ cloud your vision. Take a hard look at what is in front of you right now. What skills do you lack? Do you have the necessary funds to survive? What help do you need to get through the hurdles? Don’t postpone the hard decisions.
3. Dream big. Sounds counter-intuitive to brutal honesty, so hear me out. The best entrepreneurs are those with one foot in the clouds and one on the ground. Dreams are powerful motivators, so don’t settle for mediocre results. If you are going to make the sacrifices required to grow a successful business, make the goal significant!
4. Know your customer. Newsflash: it’s not everyone. The customers you will serve best are a subset of the whole, and it’s crucial that you get very intentional about who you want to attract. It’s not just about getting the news out to millions in the hopes of getting a small share, it’s about knowing who you want, and knowing them very well. Your marketing messages need to speak to that specific target, so spend the time necessary to figure that out.
5. Know your numbers. Some of us are more comfortable with our financials than others. That’s natural. But as a business owner, you must have a firm understanding of the financial health of your business. It’s much more than money in the bank, so if you aren’t the ‘numbers type’, get someone on your team who is! Operating a business means the back office is as important as the front, so don’t overlook what your numbers will tell you.
6. Build a sales process. Sales is the lifeblood of any business. New business coming in the door is necessary, and it needs to be consistent and predictable. Once you really know who you are targeting, figure out how to find them, speak to them, engage them, and bring them into the fold. This process of attracting new clients should be easily repeatable. It is made up of steps that you follow on a regular basis. Why reinvent the wheel every time? As your business grows, the investment of time in developing your own sales process will pay off big time!
7. Be scalable. This is a tricky one and won’t happen if you aren’t aware and intentional about how you grow. It’s one thing to have a ‘mom and pop’ feel to your business when you are getting started and very small. It’s kind of a “all hands on deck” feeling, with everyone chipping in when and where they are needed, to make sure the customer’s needs are met. It’s another thing entirely to take that method and grow it profitably. Just like your sales process, your needs to run on a set of repeatable systems. You are going to create them regardless, just be very intentional about it. Imagine your current business processes handling 3-4 time the business they are now. Could they support that growth, or would the wheels come off the engine? Be specific about how things are done, design efficient steps to get the tasks done, but keep an eye towards the future. Don’t just do what is necessary for today; build something that can grow with you.
These are just a few of the keys to creating a business that will deliver real value, not only to your customers, but your employees and your family as well.