Are you starting a business? Or have been thinking about starting a business but aren't sure if you have what you need? Maybe nerves or fear is holding you back? Take the leap - get prepared with these steps for small business success. Research shows most businesses that fail, do not fail because they weren't profitable. They fail because they fail to plan.
So what do you need to do to plan for success?
1. A realistic plan
So many small business owners start with little or no plan at all. There are many that encourage "launch before you're ready" and while I agree you do not have to have everything in place before you begin, you do need to be prepared. Try asking yourself;
How are you going to fund your business?
How long can your capital support your start up? 3 months? 6? 12?
Do you have the tools/skills/resources you need if you get a client right away?
What resources do you need to source prior and what can be built on as you go?
What is your customer value and how will you deliver on your promises?
How will you market your brand? And, how will you close the sale?
At what point will you need employees? What areas do you lack skill that you will need to outsource?
How will you show consistency?
These starting points will ensure you have the basics in place to respond to your business. RVA has many planning documents available through our Shop that can support you with financial and business planning.
2. Never stop planning
Once you've launched, don't stop there. When asked for a business plan, those who have one, produce a document that hasn't been touched since the beginning of their launch. Your business plan should be ever evolving and growing to allow room for your business to evolve too. If your goal was to launch and attain 3 clients to make your desired profit and you've reached it - congratulations! - however, have you planned for what happens when you get your fourth? Fifth?
How will you grow your business and ensure it is sustainable? If you're currently working 50 hours a week on your business, you cannot possibly sustain this long term. Not only will you and your family suffer but so will your business. I've turned my business plan into a management tool that is updated at least monthly and more often than not, weekly. Planning for improvements, consistency and growth will push your business that much closer to long-term success.
Utilise your business plan to note ideas, tips and information as they arise. This will help you keep everything compiled and organised and aid in quick decision making when needed. There is nothing worse than spending hours searching for a specific bit of information when you finally have time to work on your business.
3. Work on your business, not for your business
When starting, unless you have a large amount of capital, you can be guaranteed you will spend many, many hours working for your business. You'll deal with the largest amount of clients and delivery. However, do not let yourself get stuck here. Once you have a firm foundation or even while you are developing this foundation plan to reduce your role to working on your business, not for your business.
This means, you will not be in charge of customer care, service/product delivery, or anything else required of your business to deliver its value. Your greatest role should be working on your business which takes you back to your previous step. Acting as planner, you plan the stepping stones your business needs to continue growing. As the expert in your field, you create the new products or services, enhance processes, form new ideas, put plans for growth into action... you grow your business.
4. Outsource and build a team
It is unrealistic to believe you can do it all yourself and as mentioned earlier, this is unsustainable. Will you never take time off? A holiday? Time with your family? A sick day? Because if you do, everything stops. Focus on outsourcing repetitive tasks that do not contribute to your business growth but are vital to your business' success, examples of this are your administration such as data organisation, bookkeeping and customer service and troubleshooting. All the behind the scenes that are important for delivering a consistent and reliable image.
Build a team that will help you deliver your products/services and show the expertise that you have. Spending time fostering human resource management and a positive culture will provide you the tools to recruit and RETAIN high quality staff. This not only helps you focus on working on your business but it also ensures you are able to grow your offerings without sacrificing consistency which is vital for return business and recommendations.
Identifying and understanding your organisational goals, customer value and company culture will help you choose staff who represent this value. Shared goals and values have been shown to lead to higher staff retainment and greater company success.
5. The customer is NOT always right
Weird, right? You have always heard the opposite? The key to successful customer service is to foster relationships and deliver consistent and reliable services. If you're a "yes man", supplying anything and everything asked for by a client, are you delivering the highest value service? As the expert, you have access to knowledge and skills that your client doesn't, that is why they are coming to you. To build honest relationships built on shared value, you need to share this expertise and steer your clients into making decisions that will exceed their expectations and provide them with the best result.
You need to ensure you are respectful, honest, knowledgeable, you hear their pain points, and you offer only what you can deliver.
6. Never stop learning
Change the way you see failure. Something going wrong or not as you expected, is not you failing, it is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to learn something you didn't know before. An opportunity to make improvements and enhance what you are offering. Without mistakes and missteps, it is difficult to know what needs your attention and where possible improvements lie.
Reflect on your business often, where you are, where you are going, what is holding you back, and what is working really well. Head back to step 2 and use these reflections and mistakes to plan for improvements.
When planning, don't forget about sustainability. Aiming for growth in your business is great but if you leave out sustainability, your plans will quickly become unmanageable and growing too fast can be as deadly as not planning for growth at all.
7. Say "no"
So many new businesses feel they cannot say no. They need to say yes to each and every client or demand that comes their way. This can easily lead you into a trap of stress, business burnout and being unable to deliver on your promises. It is much better to say no to a client, then say yes and let them down. I believe honesty is the key to successful relationships and if I am new to a specific skill or project requested, I am honest and share with them where my capabilities are. Most clients will appreciate the honesty, some will choose to work with you any way as you trial this new skill and others will choose to find an expert in the field. Either way, you will not be walking away with a bad review.
If you are having a bad feeling about a client or don't believe you and the client fit, in a professional way tell them no. Share you do not have the time to provide the focus they need, provide referrals if you have access to any and stay strong. It is okay to say no - a working relationship goes both ways, as you need to be a fit for your client, they need to be a fit for you too. This ensures the best outcome.
8. Stay passionate
Don't let your passion for what you do go. This is a huge part of your success. As soon as you start losing interest in your business or see it as a burden, your business will suffer. Your clients will feel and notice this change. Take time to self-manage, schedule time for yourself and friends and family and connect with why you started the business in the first place.
Don't forget the importance of outsourcing and growing a team. It is your organisation's people that give you the opportunity to lesson your load, take time off and stay passionate about what you do. If you do not find a reliable team, you will be forever chained to your business.
9. Check out the competition
This helps you identify what about your brand or services makes you different from those in your industry. It might also help you identify possible opportunities for partnerships and networking. Learn from them but do not judge yourself. Everyone has different strengths and customer value, some of these businesses have been perfecting their offerings for years while you're just getting started. Business is a never ending road of learning that is constantly changing and challenging you.
10. Be organised
Organisation is as important as your planning. If you're not great on keeping on top of priority tasks or managing your time, this is an excellent place to outsource. An executive assistant can manage your calendar, project management, priorities, action and record emails, and ensure you're staying on track.
In addition, organised, accurate and detailed records are invaluable. Records are vital to knowing where your business stands financially, helps you address new challenges and situations consistently, ensures the development of accurate goals and strategies and keeps client or business information from going missing.
As things start to slip through the cracks, your professionalism and reputation may be at stake.
11. Build an image
Understand what your business image is, what your brand is all about and how you are going to portray this. If you're a small start up with not too much capital, investing too much in paid advertising can very easily leave you out of money before you've even begun. You have to carefully plan for your marketing and ensure client attainment outweighs advertising costs.
It is great to focus on building your image organically and social media is the place to do this. Post consistently within your brand personality, connect with groups and people, interact with followers and friends and maintain this professional image. After all, return business and referrals is a small businesses bread and butter. This isn't all about promotion but about building connections and relationships.
Developing company profiles, documentation, media plans, SOPs and other forms of communication that are consistent with your brand image will allow you to quickly share company information when requested and reconfirm the professional image you are portraying.
Having company contracts in place and processes for getting confirmations in writing will save you a lot of problems down the road. It will also ensure all expectations are laid out from the start and there are no unpleasant surprises later.
This documentation and your SOPs are what ensure efficiency and effectiveness saving you time and money.
13. A personalised touch
Even in the digital age, a focus on a personal touch will take you the one step closer to return business and referral based customers. Find a way to connect, share your appreciation and foster relationships. While being prepared with documentation and communication plans are great, do not get in the habit of sending unpersonalised information and messages. Take the time to personalise each one to show you know about the client and their needs, this will go a long way.