I haven’t had a paycheck job in 15 years and as a small business owner for all that time, I have had the opportunity to learn quite a few lessons. Though some of them were more expensive than others, I still wouldn’t trade it for the world. I am grateful to be a small business owner. But it’s more than a notion to kill for your dinner every day. As we kickoff my 15th anniversary, I created a four part series on 15 Things in Business. Part I of this series is 15 Things I’ve Learned in 15 Years in Business. Don’t forget to sign up for my SmallBizLady’s 15 Days of Giveaways Contest, which starts this Wed March 5th .
Be Relentlessly Consistent: The #1 reason why I am still in business today is because I am relentlessly consistent. I do what I say I’m going to do, and if there’s an issue I make sure that I communicate it up front. I don’t have clients looking for me if there’s an issue. Too many small businesses out here do not keep their word. They let people down by not showing up or by doing shoddy work. Stand behind your work or your product even if it costs you money to fix a problem.
Use Contracts: There’s no such thing as a handshake deal. I don’t care who you are hiring or doing business with, you need a legal agreement between you. You want clarification on the services that are being provided and the payment terms. Have a lawyer draft the initial contract you’ll use and then modify it as needed. You need employment contracts, vendor contracts and service contracts for your clients.
Take Responsibility Quickly When Something Goes Wrong: Sometimes all a client wants is an apology and empathy that you understand why they are upset. Don’t argue with paying clients. Quickly take responsibility, find out how to make it right and do it even if it hurts you in the wallet. Sometimes the best relationships are made after there’s been a mistake if you handle it correctly. Show the customer you care.
Never Hire Someone You Can’t Fire: Every time I have ever hired a spouse, a family member or a close friend, it has not turned out well. So I say don’t do it. If the relationship is important to you, don’t test it in this way.
Mentor Your Employees: You want to invest in your employees and help them reach their potential. Take the time to mentor your employees. They are the most valuable asset in your business.
Your Fortune Is In Your Ability Follow-up: Don’t be one of those people who meet great people at networking events and then doesn’t follow-up. You should not allow 48 hours to go by before they hear from you. All those business cards at the bottom of your purse are potential cash you are leaving on the table. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn to quickly connect with new people.
When There’s A Problem; Don’t Use Email: There will be times in your business when your customers get mad at you. They might fire off a nasty email to you, but that is never how you should respond. Don’t use email to solve a customer problem, pick up the phone to sort out the issue. If your client is local, ask to come in a meet with them to resolve a problem. Communicating with an angry person in email is a recipe for a disaster.
Delegate, But Do Spot Checks: You need to delegate tasks to others in order for your business to grow, but you should never completely turn the keys over to someone else. To avoid fraud or theft, sign your own contracts and checks. Stay in contact with key clients to make sure that your customers are being taken care of. You just want to make sure things are running as they should be.
Invest in Coaching: If you want to get up and rolling on something new, it’s best to hire someone who already is an expert so they can teach you what you need to know and all the shortcuts. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Think about how much time it will take you to learn something on your own, versus hiring a consultant or coach who can cut down your learning curve to three to six months. Time is money, so use your time in the most effective way possible.
If Something Feels Wrong, It is Wrong: There have been several times over the years when I had opportunities that looked great, but something in my gut kept warning me not to proceed. Listen to your gut; I believe this is God’s way of protecting you. Trust is the #1 thing you are looking for in any business relationship. If something feels wrong, it is wrong so you should keep it moving.
Get Three Bids and Check References: There are lots of great sales people out there. They will sell you the world, but you still need to check it out. Talk to at least three people who have worked with their company to make sure it’s not all hype and ask to see samples of work product. The same is true for potential employees. There are people out here who are great at interviewing, but be sure to check their references before making an offer of employment.
Systematize or Die: No one will ever be able to come work for you successfully if you don’t have systems written down. Figure out how you do things in your small business. Routine tasks and standard operations should be written down so they can be taught and consistently completed. Sustainable businesses do not wing it.
Hand Written Notes Really Work: I still write hand written notes to new contacts I meet and I often get a great response. I also write personal thank you notes to customers. In the era of email and social media a hand written note is a great way to stand out in the crowd.
What God has for Me Is For Me: I do not worry about the competition. I always get what I need in my business. There have been many times when I thought my firm was going to get a contract, we worked on the deal for months and then things fell apart at the last minute. Of course, it always happens when we really needed a new contract, but some then something else comes along that is bigger and better. I’ve learned that there’s enough for everyone, and what God had for me is for me.
You Never Lose in Business; Either You Win or Learn: The best lesson I’ve learned about running a small business is that you never lose in business, either you win or you learn. Don’t think about failures as mistakes, think of them as learning opportunities. There are plenty of lessons still to learn.
Don’t miss out on my SmallBizLady’s 15 Days of Giveaways Contest March 5 through March 25th Every business day we’re giving away a great prize worth $250 or more to help you in your small business. To participate, you must be a legal U.S. resident and signed up for my email list at www.succeedasyourownboss.com/15daysofgiveaways. Each day an email will be sent with the #15DaysofGIveaways link of the day. Between Noon-6pm ET you can post the link on Twitter or my Facebook Fan Page www.facebook.com/smallbizlady to qualify. One winner will be selected per day. Be sure to use the hashtag #15DaysofGIveaways. We have a ton of great prizes from sponsors including Sam’s Club Google, Infusionsoft and Staples, so stay tuned.