Being able to learn as you go is an important skill for all small business owners. At every phase of the business lifestyle, there are new decisions to be made and issues to overcome. Ingenuity, persistence, and flexibility are critical characteristics, even for the most experienced entrepreneur.
Every business is different, and the best course of action in any given situation will vary wildly for different locations, industries, and business types. However, while there is no roadmap to guaranteed success, there are a few important lessons all successful small business owners know.
Lesson #1 – Know your niche
The temptation to diversify can be quite strong – particularly early on. However, widening the scope of your services or branching out into new product lines can split your focus and water down your offering. It’s much better to be seen as a master of one service than simply a provider of many, so focus on what you know and do it better than anyone else.
Lesson #2 – Don’t be afraid to delegate
No small business owner is an expert in everything, and you can waste a lot of time trying to do things you’re not naturally adept at. Thankfully, the rise of the gig economy and freelancing platforms (like Upwork, Freelancer, and even Airtasker) have made it super easy to outsource activities like bookkeeping, marketing, and IT. In addition to letting you focus on what you do best, offloading your least liked admin tasks can help you avoid burnout and keep you more engaged with your business.
Lesson #3 – Create unique customer experiences
Chances are, you provide similar products and services to other businesses in your area and industry. As such, how you interact with your customers will be the main thing that sets you apart from your competitors. From the design of your storefront, to your approach to relationship management, and even the social causes you engage with, there are many ways to stand out from the crowd and connect with your customers.
Lesson #4 – Know when to say no
As a business owner, your natural inclination is to take all work that comes your way – particularly when you are just starting out. However, not all jobs are right for your business, and compromising can undermine your entire operation. So, whether it’s a request for a heavily discounted rate, an unnecessarily difficult customer, or simply something that’s not your specialty – know that it’s OK to say no.
Lesson #5 – Define and document ‘your way’
Repeatability and consistency are the keys to stability. Having a clearly articulated view of who you are, what you do, and how you do it will make it easier to bring in new people (there will be a documented ‘system’ that they can learn) and set your business up to almost run itself (allowing you to focus on growth and new opportunities). It can also act as a framework for decision making, helping you assess whether opportunities align with your business and its goals.
Lesson #6 – Establish your own vision of success
There’s no hard-and-fast measure of success for a small business. For some, it might be based on the speed of growth and expansion; for others, it could be about stability or turnover; and for many, it’s as simple as having a fulfilling creative outlet that also pays the bills. Understanding what drives you, and where you want to get to, is critical to your business planning and can help make sure the decisions you’re making are moving you closer to your ultimate goal.
Lesson #7 -Make time to focus on the business itself
Even the most self-sufficient businesses need regular maintenance – but often, this falls by the wayside as servicing your customers takes priority. However, if you don’t take a moment to take a step back and think about the business strategically, you’re basically leaving your future up to fate and, most likely, will end up stuck in the one place – spinning your wheels. So, make regular space in your schedule to assess the progress you’ve made and plan what you need to do to keep moving in the right direction.
Lesson #8 – Remember to look after yourself
While it may not feel like it at times, you are one of your business’ most important assets. As such, making sure you exercise, eat right, and take the time to unwind should be a business priority. After all, without you, there is no business.