I’ve always wanted to run my own business. Like most business owners I did worry at first that it may not work out, but I’ve always had the composure to back myself, work hard, and if necessary adapt what I was doing to be successful.
However as I soon learned, nothing can really prepare you for getting down in the trenches, rolling up your sleeves and working on growing and refining your business into a functional and profitable organism.
In this article, I’m going to share with you 10 lessons I’ve learned from running a small business. Some of these lessons I learned fast, some the hard way, and others through persistence, but all of them were invaluable and I know you’ll find them useful if you’re getting ready to fly solo!
1. Everything in business is a silo
One of the most important things I’ve learned in business is that each component of your business is separate, yet needs to work together. For example, if you’re marketing your business on social media don’t sign up for every social channel and do a half-baked job on each, dominate one or two and make sure they support what you do. If you’re selling a product or service, offer a top-notch service in that area provided it fits in with your overall business model. These days’ business is competitive and you need to stand out, so work with this mantra in mind and you’ll do well.
2. Search marketing is vitally important
I’ve long been an advocate of organic and paid search engine marketing, content marketing and growing your brand on Google. If you’re not spending time investing in this area of your business it’s not too late. Search marketing is an infinitely powerful way of driving new business and all business owners should consider this as part of their marketing strategy.
3. Customer service is really important
I run a digital agency in Brisbane and it’s surprising to me how many agencies in our space don’t prioritise customer service…after all, your customers are your life-line. The “one-time sale” approach is crazy. If you’re going to be successful, you need to build a partnership with each of your customers over time if you’re going to grow your business. Look at why to continue to add value to your customers through customer service and ongoing opportunities to work together as a general rule.
4. Corporate culture is king
When I used to work for companies as an employee I’d see one or two individuals in a workplace completely poison the corporate culture of an organisation. These day’s it’s no longer OK to hire on smarts alone, the corporate fit of an individual really matters. If you can’t find the balance between productivity and enjoyment of having someone in your team all week, you need to reassess who’s part of your team.
5. Business is an ever-evolving organism
Since launching my business I have revised our product offering three times and am always tweaking what we do. It’s not necessarily about profitability, just fit for us, what we’re best at, and what we enjoy offering our customers. One thing for sure is that everything we do is under the microscope. If it doesn’t make the grade, we’ll drop it and are not afraid to do so if it means we head in the right direction as a company.
6. Branding is not only cool but sells
You’ve probably heard that website visitors only stay on your site for a couple of seconds before they decide to either stay or go. This is the perfect analogy when it comes to attracting new business with your brand. We recently went through a brand refresh and chose not to cut corners. The results have really been positive and is something I strongly recommend investing in. We’re now able to compete in arenas we could not before and a lot of this is due to our flashy new branding.
7. Surround yourself with experts smarter than you
I consider myself a pretty good Internet marketer and developer, but there are definitely elements of the digital landscape where I just don’t make the grade. One of the best decisions I have made in my time as a small business owner is to hire experts in niche areas. It doesn’t matter what the area, there’ll be an expert you can talk to. If you take the philosophy of always trying to do the best possible job when you undertake a task in your business you’ll do well.
8. Most things should be ROI-based
I’ve worked for large organisations in the past who were totally focused on ‘the doing’ rather than ‘the outcome’, and this seems crazy to me? If I’m going to do something in business there needs to be a really good reason why. Either it’s part of a larger whole with an end-game or has a direct positive return on my investment. I love numbers and analytics so this may explain my OCD towards this attitude, but when you really think about it, in business everything needs an end-game? You can’t just punch out your hours if you’re intending on being around next year.
9. Your partner companies and network is gold
I have a handful of companies and people in my network that I really trust, love what they do, and enjoy being around. These people all add something to my company and life and I hope I do the same to theirs. My advice is to be picky with who you let into your world as there are a lot of ‘all-so-rounds’ that talk a big game that don’t necessarily deliver. If your gut is a little unsure about something or someone, do your research…it could save you a lot of heartaches.
10. I search out the ‘superstars in given niches’
I’ve never been someone to have a mentor that I can touch base with personally to discuss business issues. I have however always been a life-long learner and found the Internet a great place to find good advice and people I can reach out to if needed.
I have a few people I follow online who have really added a lot of value to my business. From Internet marketing to accountancy, to structuring my company and product offerings, you can uncover some amazing truths in business by doing your research from this ‘superstars in their niches’.
If you’re looking for advice on a given topic and are hearing a few different answers, keep looking for that really compelling source. This can make a huge difference to your business.
About the author
Paul Dunstone is the founder and Managing Director of OSE, a Brisbane-based digital agency that offers web development, app development, CMS solutions and cloud hosting services.
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