This week we celebrate my five-year anniversary of hosting #SmallBizChat on Twitter. Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show. #SmallBizChat takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with @SteveStrauss. Steve Strauss is the USA TODAY Senior Small Business Columnist, and CEO & Founder of www.TheSelfEmployed.com
SmallBizLady: What does it really take to stay in business 5 years?
Steve Strauss: This is really an apropos question for me as this year marks my 20th year of being in business for myself. Back in 1994, I was a new lawyer working at a big firm making the so-called big bucks. But I was very unhappy; I longed to be my own boss.
It was that year that I stumbled across a book that changed my life called Making a Living Without a Job, by Barbara Winter. I love that idea– making a living without a job. Also, like many entrepreneurs, I come from a small business family, so it is in my blood.
All of that is a long winded way to say that I have learned, both from my own experience as well as that of my readers and colleagues, that it takes a few things to stay in business for the long haul:
- Be great at what you do. There is a lot of competition out there so if you cannot distinguish yourself by offering exceptional service or products, you probably are not going to stick around.
- Market yourself and then market yourself some more. How do people find out about you? It is either through word-of-mouth or from your marketing efforts. You have to continually market your business if you want to stay business.
- Enjoy the ride. There will be both ups and downs when you own a business, but the ups should far outweigh the downs. Being in business for yourself should be a fun experience, so be sure to figure out how to maximize the parts you enjoy and delegate the parts what you do not.
SmallBizLady: What are the top challenges small businesses are facing in today’s marketplace?
Steve Strauss: I think one of the hardest parts of being in business today is that you have to be somewhat of a techno-geek. Back in the day, an entrepreneur could succeed simply by understanding how to run the business. That is not true today. Today business is as much about technology as almost anything else. So whether you like it or not, you have to stay up-to-date.
SmallBizLady: What kinds of things should a small business owner do to stay relevant in their business?
Steve Strauss: It is very important to stay up to date. I have a friend who says that one of the great things about being an entrepreneur is that you have to be a lifelong learner. I think that is spot on. Take classes at your local community college, attend webinars, follow tweetchats! The important thing is that you stay current with what is happening.
SmallBizLady: What is the right time to bring on management staff in a small business?
Steve Strauss: Learning how and when to scale a business is no easy task. Most entrepreneurs start out on their own, but, if they are good, they soon discover that they need help. In fact, that is one of the distinguishing characteristics of great businesspeople – they see that they cannot really know it all (though they sometimes think they do!) or do it all (though they sometimes try to) and so they need to fill in gaps.
I say start slowly. Start with some interns, hire some independent contractors, hire a part-time employee. As you learn how to manage them, and as your business grows, you can then bring in more people.
SmallBizLady: What is the mistake you see most small businesses make too often?
Steve Strauss: They fail to create an identifiable brand. Far too often small business people think that branding is for the big boys. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is more important for a small business to brand itself then almost any other entity. The reason is that there is so much competition out there. 99% of all business is small business. So you have to stand out from the crowd. You do that by figuring out what you offer that is unique, different, and special and branding around that.
SmallBizLady: What are some of your favorite free resources for small business owners?
Steve Strauss: I have always been a big believer in SCORE it really is a great organization – You get free confidential counseling on almost any business issue or problem you may have. You can do it online or at one of the many SCORE centers around the country. Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are also a great resource.
SmallBizLady: What kinds of things should small business owners be measuring in their small business?
Steve Strauss: The most important thing to measure is your income and profit. Yes, business is interesting and creative, but the bottom line is you have to make money if you want to stick around for five years – or longer. And so that means you not only must be an entrepreneur, but you must be a business person, too. What I mean by that is that you have to understand (or learn) the finances of business. Sure, it’s fun to create something out of nothing but if you want to stay in the game you have to be a businessperson.
SmallBizLady: What are the top 2 marketing tips you suggest for a small business owner?
1. Use as many shoestring marketing ideas as you can. There is no shortage of ways for you to market your business today that do not cost a lot of money. Social media is the obvious one, but what about your website, or your e-newsletter, or writing thank you notes, or having a sale? Check out co-op advertising. My book, The Small Business Bible, has a whole chapter just on shoestring marketing.
2. Have a great website. Half of all small business people still don’t have a website. That is business malpractice. Especially today. It is where people go to find you. And these days you can have a great-looking site for almost nothing. Do it!
SmallBizLady: How should a small business owner decide what niche to pursue?
Steve Strauss: Use the 80-20 rule. What 20% of your products or efforts bring in 80% of your profit? That should be your niche.
SmallBizLady: When do you know it’s time to pivot and focus on a new niche in your business?
Steve Strauss: In business, you have to be nimble. Small businesses especially have to be able to turn on my dime. Part of that is paying attention and seeing what is working and what is not. When something is not working over a sustained period of time it is time to pivot and try something new.
SmallBizLady: How important is mobile web marketing to a small business owner these days?
Steve Strauss: Every year over at USA Today I do a top 10 trends column for the upcoming year. This year, mobile marketing came in at number two, last year it came in number one. But no matter how you slice it, the fact is that mobile is where everything is trending. If you just think about your own habits you will notice that you spend far more time on a mobile phone than you ever used to. Everyone else is too, and as entrepreneurs, we have to go where the eyeballs are, and that is on mobile devices.
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.