20 years ago I started Quintessence Group, my marketing consulting firm that works with Fortune 500 firm to reach small business, in the basement of my house. We work with brands such as VISA, Google, FedEx, Sam’s Club, ADP, The Hartford, and Pitney Bowes. I launched the business in March 1999, after a five-year career as a TV news producer. This is also a double milestone year as I’m also celebrating my 10th year as SmallBizLady, a nickname I picked up from Twitter since Melinda Emerson was not available back then.
I could not have imagined how amazing this journey in business and becoming a top small business influencer would be. There are so many people who have helped me, given me opportunities, mentored me, and prayed for me, and I love you all. Special thanks to Team SmallBizLady. They are an extraordinary group of women and one man who keep things running smoothly. As I reflect on this incredible milestone, I contemplate the biggest small business lessons I’ve learned along the way.
10 Small Business Lessons from 20 Years of Business
Here are the top small business lessons I’ve learned after 20 years of business.
1. Pay Attention to Marketing Trends
Things are changing with SEO, social media, mobile/web & text marketing, voice search, online ads and so on. You could easily be left behind. Make sure your website is updated every 24-36 months and that it can be found by any device. Take note of new keywords, hashtags, content ideas, and online marketing tactics. For example, at this time, video is converting better than anything on all platforms.
2. Look at Your Leadership Style
My leadership style has changed quite a bit over the last 20 years. I must say that I am a kinder, gentler version of myself in my business these days. People disappoint me, but my reaction to it is quite different. What Kind of Boss Are You? A Good Boss? A Bad Boss? Are you the kind of boss who everyone knows what kind of day you are having by how you treat them? Your leadership sets the tone for your company culture, so consider making an adjustment if you see high churn among your employees or customers. You might just be the problem
3. Use Your Accountant as a Business Advisor
Another small business lesson I’ve learned is the value of your accountant. If you only talk to an accountant at tax time, you are doing your business a disservice. You should make time to plan things with your accountant. They can help you develop your annual budget and also give you valuable advice before seeking a loan.
4. Keep Your Files Organized
I recently had an opportunity fall in my lap, but I had to become certified as a minority business over a weekend. I hadn’t done certification in years, but because my files are well organized, what could have taken weeks, took less than three hours to pull together.
5. Be Intentional About Learning New Things
I have been in business for a long time, and this year I decided that I wanted to learn LinkedIn Sales Navigator. I have salespeople who know it, but I didn’t, so I learned it, and I use it too. Don’t over-rely on your team; take the time to learn things for yourself too.
6. Mentor Your Employees
Take the time to train and onboard your employees. The longer you invest in training them, the longer they will likely stay with your company. This is a way to teach them your expectations as well. Mentor your employees so that they will know that you care about them personally, and not just how they work.
7. Establish a Profit Account for Your Business
My good friend and college classmate Mike Michalowicz believes all business owners should have a profit account. No matter what check comes in, you need to take a percentage off the top for yourself. It could be 1, 2, 10 percent or something else, but it should be consistent and maintained in a separate bank account that cannot be accessed alongside your other business accounts. This is so you won’t be tempted to steal from yourself!
8. Build Partnerships
You don’t just want to sell services; you want to partner with customers to create a solution set for them.
9. Protect Your Business Credit
If you have a line of credit, use it for short-term expenses only. Once your client pays you, repay the line back in full immediately. Don’t treat your line of credit like a credit card. Otherwise you won’t have space available when you need it. Try to anticipate things in advance. Borrow money before you need it. Keep your personal credit score as high as possible since everything still goes back to that. Pay your bills and vendors on time, and especially pay your taxes and quarterly payments on time.
10. Be Grateful for the Journey
It’s stressful to run a business, but the good days far outweigh the bad days. Try to be grateful for all the lessons, even the most expensive ones. Bad employees and clients will come and go—you’ll just be better at spotting these folks next time. Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.
You are brave to start a business, but you know you must keep pushing yourself if you want to stay in business. What you have always done won’t work forever so be flexible. Your business should allow you to live your dream life. If not, it might be time to pivot and reinvent your business model. But that is okay too because you’ll be smarter about things next time.
That’s the recap from 20 years in business, but if you want more small business lessons and advice, don’t forget to grab a copy of my latest book FIX YOUR BUSINESS, A 90-Day Plan to Get Back Your Life and Reduce Chaos In Your Business.