The 28 million small businesses in the United States account for 54% of all sales and provide 55% of all jobs in the country.  If you own one of these small businesses, you already know that (despite what the Staples ads say) there’s no “easy" button when it comes to starting and growing your outfit. But there are ways to make it a little easier, as we hope these tips and strategies will do.

1. Only Connect

There are two good reasons to reach out to mentors and peers: One is the steep learning curve that comes with being a small business owner. Second, and equally important, being an entrepreneur can be lonely, especially in the early days when you might be working out of a basement or home office. Developing a network gives you a strong support system to lean on and draw from. In most cases, you’ll need other people’s help if you want to make it big. Another set of eyes can make a huge difference when it comes to making the right decisions for starting and growing your businesses.

2. Engage the Experts

Many small business owners try to save money by doing everything themselves – from web design and marketing, to accounting and filing taxes. This can be a big mistake. One reason is you simply may not be very good at doing everything (no shame in that). Do you want your website to look homemade? Do you want to guess at effective marketing strategies? Do you want to risk missing out on valuable tax deductions? Of course not – so hire some pros who can get the job done properly. And keep in mind, even if you are proficient at running every aspect of your business, there probably aren’t enough hours in the workday to do everything well. See Small Business: It's All About Relationships.

3. Do the Math

While you definitely need a professional to do your books, that doesn't mean you can skip the financials altogether. Many small business owners do so, relying instead on bank statements to assess their financial strength. This is a missed opportunity. Income statements, balance sheets and cash flow statements may be  intimidating (at worst) and boring (at best), but they serve as report cards for your business. Viewing these financials on a regular basis can help you make better financial, investment and management decisions.

Financial statements also force you to look beyond the one number that people do tend to focus on: revenue. Revenue is important, but it doesn't tell the complete story. You could make $1 million during your first year of business, for example, but if you spent $2 million to make it happen, you’ve got problems. It’s more important to look at profits: your total revenue minus total expenses. The key to driving growth in business is creating profits.

4. Get It Out There

While it’s natural to want your products to be perfect, it’s more important to launch them – then listen to your customers, users and partners to figure out how you can do better. If you obsess over getting every detail exactly to your liking, it can be like throwing a wrench in your spokes, and you may end up missing out on a lot of opportunities. This “fail fast” approach has been successfully demonstrated time and again by companies Google and Facebook: Google’s product-development mantra is “Experiment, Expedite, Iterate,” and Facebook’s original motto was “Move fast and break things.” (But these are huge, powerhouse companies, you protest. Well, how do you think they got that way?)         

5. Learn from Failure

 As a small business, you’re going to make mistakes, especially if you adopt the aforementioned "fail fast" approach. So a crucial corollary to the above is: Instead of being crushed by those blunders, own up to your errors, learn from them and move on. Ask yourself: What went wrong? How could this have been avoided? What can I learn from this? How can I avoid making the same mistake in the future? As Theodore Roosevelt said, “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything” (and that goes for women, too).

6. Go Digital

Like every business, you have to work to connect your products with customers who want them. While there are lots of avenues for getting your brand out there, the Internet can prove to be one of the more effective methods for many businesses (see Why Every Small Business Needs A Website). One reason is the sheer number of people who are online every day – on computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Here are some interesting statistics:

  • There are 3.01 billion active Internet users (42% of the world’s population)
  • Nearly 2.1 billion people have social media accounts (29% of the world’s population)
  • 75% of online Americans say product information found on social media influences their shopping behavior and enhances brand loyalty
  • Social media is the second most likely way Millennials learn about new products (just a few percentage points behind TV advertising)
  • 33% of consumers say social networks are the way they discover brands, products and services

As social media continues to change the ways people communicate, it becomes an increasingly important tool for small businesses, increasing brand awareness, increasing sales, publicizing products, distributing content and improving customer service. “When it comes to recommendations for products and services, people trust  people they know far more than any sophisticated marketing campaign,” says web marketing strategist/producer Hannah Grace Twigg of HannahGraceCole.com. “The more ‘fans’ you create, the more ‘likes’ you motivate and the more ‘shares’ you inspire. As others in your customers’ circles observe what their friends and relatives promote, they will follow suit.” To learn more, see Implementing a Small Business Social Media Strategy.    

7. Spend Money

It’s normal to try to keep expenditures low, especially early on when you’re not making much money. But this can be a huge mistake – one that can keep your business from growing. You could have the best product on the market, for example, but if you don’t have a budget for advertising that product, it’s going to be a lot harder for your potential buyers to find you (which means fewer sales). Even though it hurts to drop thousands of dollars on an ad campaign, it can be worth it if it brings in tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. The key, of course, is to make sure what money you do spend is spent wisely, so it’s important to track your results.

The Bottom Line

Some of these strategies may seem counterintuitive, admittedly. But we figure you're not one for following conventional paths. Otherwise, you wouldn't be assuming the challenging, but extremely rewarding, role of small business owner in the first place.

 

 

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