I spend a lot of time talking to small business owners and startups. I speak with them through my SEO consulting company, during phone calls about social media projects and even just while I’m on my way to and from conferences and taking the train. It’s something I enjoy doing because I like hearing their stories, their successes and the struggles that they’re facing. Often it’s nice to know you’re not the only one going through something and to have a chance to commiserate. I work out of my apartment. I’m not exactly overflowing with social interaction these days.
Through talking with people, I’ve found there are often common factors in the startups and businesses that do well compared to those that struggle. Here are some things I think small business owners should strive to do or remember when working in their business.
Don’t set out trying to solve every problem that your industry has ever experienced. Instead, focus on one problem, the smallest problem, that you can solve in order to be helpful to someone. Once you’ve conquered that one, work out until you’re able to solve more and more problems without straining yourself or your resources. If the Web has taught us anything, it’s that niche sells. All different sorts of little microcosms have been revealed. You just have to find the one you best serve. And remember, it’s not the biggest ideas that do well, it’s the most simple.
Serve Your Needs First
If the idea is to serve one need really well, how do you know what need to focus on first? It’s easy. Focus on yours. What do you wish existed to help make your life easier? What tool could be invented to change the way you do things? What process could be made simpler or broken down? Whatever would help make YOU more productive/happier/content in your day, that’s where you should begin. Because fixing that one area will probably help someone else, as well. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.
Call it a point of difference, call it an angle or call it creating experiences. Whatever term resonates with you the most, the point is you have to find a way to stand out in your market. Regardless of what you do, there are going to be plenty of similar-minded companies trying to do the same. That’s just the nature of the beast. In order to do well and to be successful you need to have something about you that makes you different, and it’s probably not going to be price. It could be your story, a character you create, a social media presence, a core value, etc. Whatever it is, identify it and then market it. Embody it.
Craft a Story
New research tells us what we already knew – people like sharing articles that inspired awe. We are affected by stories and we seek out companies and peoples with compelling ones. Craft a story that represents your brand. Something that is real and authentic and sharable. The more personal you get with your audience, the more connected they’ll feel to you and the more invested they’ll be in your brand. Being cold and mysterious may have worked a few years ago (or in high school), but it doesn’t any more. These days, customers want real transparency. As was mentioned yesterday, customers now value an honest and transparent company more than the services the company actually provides.
Don’t Fear Technology
Every SMB owner is going to have a different comfort level when it comes to technology. Some will struggle with the idea of creating a Web site, others will fear entering the waters of social media, and some will have a hard time selling without seeing someone face-to-face. Whatever obstacles you face, find ways to incorporate technology into your business and everyday life. Refusing to evolve and insisting on doing things ‘the way they’ve always been done’ can often hold your business back and prevent you from reaching the next level. Technology can be scary at first, but it can also open up brand new channels you never had before. Don’t fear it; embrace it.
You cannot do everything by yourself. I know. The idea of delegating tasks to employees, virtual assistants or even partners often sounds like a horrifying concept. However, it’s important. It’s simply impractical to think that you have enough time in your day to become an expert in everything. Luckily, we have the Internet to better connect us with folks who we may be able to delegate tasks to. If you can’t build a Web site, delegate it to someone who can. If you’re not good with numbers, delegate your accounting. If you can’t blog, hire someone to do it. Your trick is to delegate tasks so that you can run your business. If you try to do everything you’re going to burn out on frustration and limit business growth.
Learn Everything You Can
Never. Stop. Learning.
Soak up everything you can about your industry and what it takes to run a business. Regardless of your field, chances are at least part of it is constantly in flux. There are always new and improved ways of doing something, areas where technology has changed, and new books or conferences that will inspire new ideas. Read everything you can get your hands on to help your business continue to grow and evolve.
Be a Work In Progress
Or perhaps just realize that you are a work in progress and that you need to be agile. Early assumptions and beginning business plans are never perfect. Things will come up that you never could have expected and the market will change to expose new holes for you to dip into and take advantage of. Be fluid enough to take advantage of natural opportunities that will arise. Creating an initial business plan is a good first stepbut your success will be in your ability to abandon that plan when it makes sense and do what needs to be done. Successful companies are exceptionally good at this.
Above are some of the qualities I’ve noticed in social companies. What do you think is necessary for startups to become successful?
Great list! I would add: Learn patience. Understand that building a business is more about farming than hunting. Sowing seeds and nurturing them takes time, and doesn’t necessarily get immediate results, but pays off with a bountiful harvest down the road.
Great post Lisa!
I work for a startup company, and reading your post made me think if we do each of those eight things. A great one to add (and one which you hint at in your various ways) is to be humble and persevere no matter what.
Great additions from Susan and Stella. Being the SMB owner isn’t easy, but the rewards outweigh the costs. Keep up the good work everyone!
I’d really appreciate it if you would stop writing these thought-provoking SMB articles on how to improve things in our businesses.
I have work to do, you know.
The Franchise King
Great tips Lisa and everyone of them is important. I love it when there is a list where everything is important and you’re not left thinking that only a couple of the points were worth considering.
Brilliant points raised. Serving Needs is a great process that many forget should be a core function
How about passion? You need to either have it, or learn to have it. If you don’t have passion for what you are doing, it is hard to accomplish any of the 8 items you listed. Passion is neccessary to get over the difficult bumps life seems to send our way.
I have to say, after reading a few of your articles now, I am quite impressed!
I second your call for simplicity. I think that is one of the most important virtues a SMB can keep in mind. From website design to product features, if it ain’t simple, it ain’t selling.
Penny Feigel, IAC-EZ
“delegating tasks to employees, virtual assistants or even partners”
This is great to remember when things get too busy. There are helpful resources and tools all over to make things go just a little smoother. I think a lot of times people try “too” hard to do it all themselves, and lose out on other opportunities.
All great reminders.
The best way to stay naturally motivated is to find a niche that you have a Passion for then, ask yourself what you really love about your business. Some of the work you love, some of it is just plain old work. Focus on what you enjoy. Appreciate what’s working, and when something don’t work, Do not fret! Observe it as feedback then Develop new strategies to make it work and create systems to make the hard work easier. Delegate the work you don’t enjoy. Get outside help. Do what you love and give the rest away.
Thanks Lisa! All of these are very important considerations. With regard to delegation, it can be painful for SMBs who have the know-how but not the time, but it is money well spent . . . especially given your point “Serve Your Needs First!”
Lisa: Thanks for your thought provoking post!
Joel: How are things going?! 😉