Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Jessica Mah, @JessicaMah.
Smallbizlady: HOW DO YOU HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE?
Jessica Mah: In my experience I’ve tried to hire people that have a strong entrepreneurial drive, just like me and its that common background that lends to a better long term relationship. It makes for a better fit rather than trying to simply find people that have “the right” experience – I look for personality and the fit far more than years of x, y and z experience.
Smallbizlady: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO MAKE SURE CUSTOMERS ARE HAPPY?
Jessica Mah: Customers should be your #1 priority and you will live and die by their success, so there’s never enough time to spend on making sure they are so happy that they can’t wait to recommend you to others. The key in the customer relationship is actually listening to what they need and want and how you can truly help them, rather than trying to plug them into your solution by any means necessary; they will love you for going the extra mile.
Smallbizlady: WHEN SHOULD YOU OUTSOURCE AND WHEN SHOULD YOU KEEP THINGS IN-HOUSE?
Jessica Mah: Really, the skies the limits on outsourcing almost everything these days, you can outsource just about anything you don’t have expertise in. I’d caution however outsourcing the things most near and dear to the success of your business – product, sales, customer success/service – be very careful in farming those out before you have them totally locked down and replicatable. Accounting, IT, HR etc. – those are typically great to outsource.
Smallbizlady: WHAT ARE THE BEST WAYS TO GET CAPITAL TO START OR GROW A BUSINESS?
Jessica Mah: This really depends on what your end-game is. If you want to grow fast and sell, then maybe Angel and VC funding would work for you. But if you want to build and grow a brand for the next 50 years, you might want to bootstrap as far as you can get and then stop at an Angel round or just do some debt financing, why give up too much of the pie if you are going to eat off the pie until you are too old to work anymore?
Smallbizlady: DOES YOUR COMPANY’S CULTURE REALLY MATTER THAT MUCH?
Jessica Mah: Company culture can really make or break your business; it can build love and friendship and momentum or it can be a cancer that kills. It’s a lot like a newborn, you can choose all sorts of child rearing methods, but ultimately your kid will grow up to be a version of you and your personality. So practice what you preach and lay out the foundation for a culture that you’d be proud of and be the biggest proponent of that culture – live it and your staff will much more likely follow suit.
Smallbizlady: IS NETWORKING ALL THAT IMPORTANT, OR OVERRATED?
Jessica Mah: Someone in your small business should be a strong networker and if you as owner are not, you might want to think about taking a class or at least forcing yourself to attend networking events. The real key to spending time on networking is being laser focused on the net result of the networking effort – am I getting sales leads, or building up partnerships or connecting key dots to build my business – or am I filling my face with drinks and I throw all the business cards away days later?
Smallbizlady: HOW DO I KNOW IF MY CPA REALLY KNOWS WHAT HE OR SHE IS DOING?
Jessica Mah: It’s just not good enough to not be audited these days if you are running a small business. Taxes and accounting can truly be a business advantage if done correctly. First, your business should be structured to best take advantage of tax breaks and payroll and profit sharing – make sure of that first. Next, every dollar you ever spend should be accounted for to offset your income. In a nutshell, you need a strategic accounting pro to really make sure you are maximizing all of this, don’t just settle for “ok” when it comes to accounting and tax work.
Smallbizlady: WHAT ARE THE BEST WAYS TO BE EFFICIENT RUNNING A SMALL BUSINESS?
Jessica Mah: There’s tons of ways to either stop doing busy work, or find someone else to do things that free up your business owner time. I don’t check email anymore. I have my assistant keep an eye on it and I meet with her once a week to reply to the super important ones. This is just one of many strategies from the book The Four Hour Work Week that I use to free up my time. Is this task going to have a major impact on the business; that’s what I ask myself each time.
Smallbizlady: HOW DO I CHOOSE THE BEST MENTOR?
Jessica Mah: Really it comes down to who can call you out in the most effective and expedient manner. Sure a good mentor can guide you, give you tips or advice or help you not jump off the cliff, but a great mentor will not hesitate to let you know when you are messing up or missing the mark. Part of running and growing a successful small business is being positive, drinking your own cool-aid, but someone has to be the bearer of bad news, because its in our nature to keep things positive and moving along rather than addressing truly dysfunctional business practices.
Smallbizlady: SHOULD I SPEND MONEY ON ADVERTISING OR PR OR SEO OR ALL THREE EQUALLY?
Jessica Mah: It really depends on what your business is, but by rule, a startup or small business hasn’t established its brand yet and throwing advertising dollars at that first can be a waste. PR and telling your story gives customers an authentic, more impactful and thoughtful way to drink-in your brand/product/company and even empathize with you as a business owner. Rather than paying for a billboard or Google Ads right off the bat, a PR effort might set the stage best for those follow-on efforts.
Smallbizlady: WHAT SIGNS SHOULD I LOOK FOR TO GROW, SHRINK OR KEEP MY BUSINESS AS-IS?
Jessica Mah: If you have a great handle on your revenue, your profit and loss statement, you should be able to see when its time to hire someone or lay someone off or just keep the status quo while you tweak your business practices to increase revenue. One problem small business owners chronically have is not knowing their accounting numbers in real time. It shouldn’t take an act of congress to know exactly where you stand financially speaking at all times, anytime.
Smallbizlady: WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP YOU CAN GIVE ANY SMALL BUSINESS OWNER?
Jessica Mah: Make sure you are ready to live and breathe your business 24/7/365. If your business is going to be secondary or a hobby, be good with that and the subsequent results of that level of commitment. But for those that are truly ready to make their business their 1st, 2nd and 3rd priorities, that’s what it takes to set yourself up to be successful, it’s all the blood, sweat and tears you can handle, but the rewards can be so worth it, if that’s your calling.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter. Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz
For more tips on how to start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.