Small business advice isn’t hard to come by. As a new business owner, you’ve probably heard advice from older, more tenured owners.

While most people appreciate advice, some of you probably ignored it.

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Maybe you saw it as a waste of time and instead focused your energy on making money. With overhead costs to consider, who has the time to hear an old person rattle off a list of platitudes?

Now is the Time

Well, if you ignored it in the past, it’s time to revisit that advice once more. That information is more valuable than that polished business plan you have sitting in your desk drawer.

Why?

Because conversations with more experienced owners can help connect you to the networks and resources you need to grow your business quickly and efficiently.

Not to mention, some tips can help you avoid common first-time-owner headaches.

Imagine the next year of your business as a journey.

If your success lies at the top of a mountain, would you rather guess how to get there or have someone show you the easiest path?

I don’t know about you, but please hand me the map to the cash!

Here are the top 9 pieces of advice we wish we had heard sooner before we started climbing the mountain:

Know Yourself

Think back to your dusty business plan sitting in your top desk drawer. It should say something about who you are, what you do or provide, and why you matter to your customer.

It sounded great then, but is it true today? If you asked your customers to sum up who you are and why you matter, would it match your original plan?

You started your business because you specialize in something. If your customers don’t know why you matter, it’s time to re-evaluate your business plan.

Take Two

Don’t hit the panic button if they don’t know why you’re great. Instead, view it as an opportunity to improve.

Maybe when you first started out, you made the mistake of trying to “be everything to everyone” and lost focus. It’s not too late to get it back.

For example:

Say you baked the best bread in town and added coffee and donuts to the menu at the request of the customer. Now your bakery looks like a convenience store rather than the high-end bake shop you envisioned. The bread even isn’t that good anymore since you had to spend more money on cups and napkins instead of new equipment.

What happened?

Here’s the thing:

You tried too hard to please everyone instead of focusing on your specialty.

Good small business advice says:

You should have invested all your time, energy, and capital into making the best bread they have ever tasted. You can direct that customer to the coffee shop around the corner. Lesson learned.

Or, if you have a bigger business vision, you might want to consider bringing in a coffee expert to run that side of the business.

It’s important that you stick to your brand vision and mission.

Key takeaway: Commit to your specialty by reminding yourself and employees why you come to work each day. This will keep your business laser-focused on why you matter so your customer doesn’t have to guess. If another business-related issue takes too much of your time, delegate that work to your employees or an agency. This ensures your time is well spent each day.

Set Reasonable Goals

Speaking of time, how are you accounting for yours?

As a new business owner, it is wise to set reasonable goals to gauge how well your business is growing (or isn’t) based on market research and feasibility studies.

Have you set yours?

If you can’t honestly answer a friend when they ask you how your business is doing, then the answer is probably no, you have not set up any accountability metrics yet.

Now What?

When we started our business, we quickly learned to become obsessed with accountability metrics.

Any business needs steady growth to survive, so we devised an accountability framework. We filled it with reasonable goals which undeniably helped our business grow to the thriving agency we are today.

Now, that doesn’t mean it’s because we hit every single goal each time.

If we did fall short, we would reevaluate and create strategies for improvement. We also learned to readjust our goals based on the ebbs and flows, or rhythm, of our industry.

The best thing to do with goals, is aim for the moon, and if you miss, you’ll hit the stars.

Sure, that sounds like a juvenile approach. But if you aim to make $5 million, but you fall short and make $4 million, that’s still a lot of money in the back.

Key takeaway: Only you can define the goals your business needs to meet on a regular basis. These metrics will help your business survive, and most importantly, thrive. This calendar-based plan should include specific, and most importantly attainable, goals based on your research. It should also provide some flexibility as your business grows.

Be Passionate

Look around your business: how does the customer perceive you and your employees?

Do they see and hear how much you love what you do? Or are you a grumpy manager barking orders at employees without ever looking your customers in the eyes?

How about your employees?

Do they greet each customer with a smile and engage them in conversation? Or are they sitting behind a register looking bored on their phone?

How you and your employees appear and interact with your customers will determine the success of your business.

When you love what you do, and are passionate about your product or service, people notice. In turn they will reward you with their time and money.

Sometimes as a small business owner, you are passionate about what you provide, but the rest of your team doesn’t equally share your enthusiasm.

While you can’t expect everyone that works for you to think and feel the same way about your business, you can help create a creative, collaborative work environment that encourages your employees to become more than just a hired hand.

You want your employees to feel comfortable, confident, and creative while at work. This will bring out the best versions of themselves during their time with you.

Give them the authority to make decisions so they will feel confident in their ability and judgment regarding their role in your business.

Engage them in conversations about how to improve the look and feel of your business; they may have some strong creative ideas you may not have considered before that could help your business stand out among the competition.

Finally, foster an environment of open communication so your employees are comfortable enough to approach you with ideas to help grow your business or manage it more efficiently.

Nothing motivates employees more than rewards programs. Just like a loyalty scheme helps build your customer base, rewards programs keep your employees engaged.

However, if you decide to design it, you can create sales contests that reward the top earners with attractive bonuses or vacation time. This gives them an incentive to be passionate at work, or at the very least fake it, so they can earn a reward.

Show and tell them how much you appreciate them as a member of your team. This could mean an employee appreciation lunch every month, hosting a Friday night happy hour after work, or tickets to a movie or a game.

These small gestures can improve employee morale and help create a more pleasant work environment.

Key takeaway: Your employees will help your business succeed when you create an empowering and positive work environment, and when given proper incentive they too can share your passion for success.

Embrace Change

Change is an inevitable part of life and is especially true as a new business owner. As your business grows and evolves the one thing that will remain constant is change.

  • What you sell and how you sell it will change.
  • The technology available to support your business will change.
  • Your competitors and industry landscape will change.
  • YOU as a business owner will change.

Do you get the point?

Key takeaway: Either you learn how to embrace change as it happens to you and your business, or you will fail. It’s those that can adapt to change and learn to improve their work as their business evolves that become successful.

It’s True! It Costs Money to Make Money, and You Pay for What You Get

We have all heard this story before:

A guy wants to start a business, but he doesn’t anticipate the start-up costs. He tries to cut corners to make it work anyway, and now he’s back working in retail for someone else.

It happens time and again.

New owners don’t believe there are start-up costs (there are) or they think they can beat the system by cutting corners with cheap purchases or services (they can’t).

Design is a prime example here. People rush off and have their logo designed on Fiverr and end up having to have it redesigned later.

This is because they don’t understand the value of design.

You shouldn’t be trying to save on key purchases and services. Sometimes you just have to invest.

For example:

You have dreamed of starting your own business for years, and finally, after jumping through countless administrative hoops you are ready to begin publicizing your new venture.

Instead of the effective and professional logo design that you loved developed, by a local marketing agency, you decided to buy a cheaper, less polished logo from a crowdsourcing website to save some money.

That makes sense, right?

It’s not like you depend on name recognition as a new company, and you certainly don’t want that more professional logo distracting potential customers at trade shows… oh, wait.

This is not the time to tighten your purse strings!

Digital assets like the logo of your brand are critical aspects and believe it or not, can make or break your business.

After regretting this choice for years, you decide that you need to invest money into rebranding your company.

If you don’t rebrand with a professional, this could be a huge shakeup for your company, risking future market share and overall profit.

Still, think that cheaper logo was worth it?

Key takeaway: Carefully consider “the costs of doing business” to identify those worth investing in (like digital marketing assets) and those worth buying at a discount (like snacks for the office kitchen).

Be Positive

Many new business owners can feel discouraged when their expectations of success don’t match the reality of their business after a few months. While most understand it takes time, it’s harder to live that reality.

It may be difficult, but see every rejection as a new opportunity for growth. Then you can focus on building a great relationship with the customers that you do have on board.

If potential customers prefer your competitor over what you offer, ask them why. As you begin to learn about the needs of your customers and how your industry operates, you can adjust your sales strategy accordingly.

Key takeaway: You decide how to approach your business each day mentally; being positive especially when faced with adversity will help both you and your business succeed in the face of adversity.

When Success Arrives, Don’t Overspend

It’s exciting when the revenue starts adding up in your bank account; especially if you were discouraged previously (see above).

While it may be tempting to dip into that business checking account to “borrow” money and buy a new car – wait! You have worked way too hard to blow it now.

Instead:

Make a commitment to yourself, your family and employees by investing that money back into your business. It takes money to grow your business, and committing these funds to initiatives like hiring the best talent, buying the latest technology, or investing in capital improvements will help your business grow faster. 

This means bigger paychecks in the future, and that’s when it’s time to buy that new car.

Key takeaway: Even though you have achieved some measure of success, it still takes money to make money. Reinvesting early earnings will sustain the degree of success you have work so hard to earn so far; resist spending too much too quickly!

Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks

Don’t let fear dictate the future of your business. Confident leaders create successful enterprises. Anxious micro-managers do not.

You know who doesn’t let fear dictate how he does business? World famous Facebook founder and entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg:

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk…In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” -Mark Zuckerberg

Key takeaway: While fear of failure is something all new business owners feel on some level, you must not let it dictate your future by giving it too much control over how you operate. If you must “fake it until you make it” then so be it; your future self will thank you.

Remember That Growing a Business is Fun!

The story of your business begins with you. Each day you decide how your business will impact the lives of those that interact with it, and whether you are aware of it now or not, you are creating a legacy.

The birth and growth (hopefully at an impressive rate) will all be attributed to you—so have fun taking risks and reaping the rewards along the way!

Each sale, each milestone your business celebrates is another chapter in the life of the business that you created.

Whether it was that one huge deal that finally put your business on the map, or the celebrity endorsement you unexpectedly received; be proud of your accomplishment now while it is happening, not fifty years from now as you reminisce about the “good old days.”

Key takeaway: Live in the moment and have fun creating your legacy.

How Canny Creative Can Help You Grow Your Business

At Canny Creative, we help business owners build their brand.

We have the web design, e-commerce, digital marketing and branding expertise your business needs to become a major competitor in your industry. Our team can help audit your brand, craft a customized voice, look, and feel for your brand that will resonate with your target market and grow your business.

Let us handle the important job of telling the world who you are and why you matter while you get back to why you started your business in the first place. Contact us today!

Amy Aitman is the owner of 8menCan, a content agency based in Toronto, Canada. She works to create content strategies and digital marketing plans for businesses around the world. Away from the office, Amy takes her team out for chicken tacos and martins, extra dirty, extra olives of course.

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