You have the idea! Something so brilliant that you will be sure to be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerburg. The only catch is that you don’t know much about how to build a successful small business. While certainly a lot of work, time and passion are needed, the keys to success may be easier than you think, if you are willing to ask for help, admit what you don’t know and not fall into the traps that so many other entrepreneurs do.
1. Put on Katy Perry and, “Roar” with Courage
It sounds rather obvious, perhaps simplistic to say that it takes courage to start a successful small business. But, consider this: if it didn’t take courage, then more people would do it. Starting ones own small business can be a long, even life-long endeavor; it requires having the courage to pursue your dream even though you may face numerous hurdles and setbacks.
Additionally, acknowledge that the majority of the fear is in getting started. Many entrepreneurs allow themselves to get caught up in making excuses like, “I need to collect more data”, “I need more funding”, “I don’t have the right team of talent assembled, yet”, etc. Many would-be business owners are never able to get past the planning stage, because they use such rationalizations to feed their fear. While it is certainly possible to take the leap too quickly, the time will come when you need to stop writing business plans, and creating charts and graphs; you will need to just make that leap. If you have trusted your gut enough to know that you have a good idea for a successful small business, then you can trust your gut enough to know when the time is right and quite the voices holding you back.
Remember: being courageous isn’t the absence of fear. It’s having fear, yet doing it anyway.
2. Don’t Try Selling the Brooklyn Bridge
Do people really want to buy what you are selling? Or, do you simply think that people want it. Many small business owners fall into the trap of launching a product that they think will be successful, rather than one that already has a proven market. Certainly, it’s important to be innovative as that is how you put yourself in front of your competitors, but if there isn’t a real market for a flashlight that is also a parachute and a pair of sunglasses, your innovation isn’t going to translate into sales.
Perhaps a “sports light”, a flashlight with functionality that appeals to athletic or outdoorsy people would be a better way to go. Once that idea gains traction and you have a recognizable brand, then perhaps you can start to take bigger risks with newer, innovative product development.
3. Use the Wit and Wisdom of Those Who Came Before You
Edmund Hillary couldn’t have climbed Mount Everest without Tenzing Norgay. Beethoven needed early instruction from Christian Neefe. Even Luke Skywalker needed Yoda to use The Force. And, any successful small business owner needs strong mentors, as well.
It’s certainly humbling to admit that we don’t know what we don’t know, but there can also be great power in doing so, as it allows us to remain open. It can also open doors for networking opportunities, which can help boost sales or better negotiate with vendors. If you have never owned and run a million-dollar business before, then are you sure you really know how to do it? Or, would you perhaps benefit from getting guidance from someone who has that experience. An outside perspective can help offer guidance on identifying any fears that may be holding you back and how to best work through them, and keep your mission focused without getting into too much of a niche market (as mentioned above).
Certainly, this can be a delicate dance, much like knowing when the time is right to launch the business; it’s a lot of trusting ones gut instinct. After all, not all potential mentors may offer the best guidance. Spending time with them and seeing their own processes will help you best identify if this person has what you want. Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable to disagree with a mentor, the key is being open enough to see when it’s truly a difference of opinion and when it’s your own ego getting in the way of listening to someone else’s suggestion.
Not sure where to start in terms of finding good mentors? Former professors or bosses are always good places to start. Even if they cannot fit the bill, chances are, they can recommend someone who will be a good fit. Checking out your area’s Chamber of Commerce can also be a good place to meet people and it is easy enough to contact them and find out when their events are and obtain a list of their members.
4. Keep The Dreams High and the Spending Low
Lack of cash flow is likely certain death for a new business. As such, it’s necessary to keep spending down, while generating cash flow, immediately. Certainly, there are costs that must be accrued, but it’s easier to expand than it is to downsize.
Ways that you can accomplish this, are:
- If you are running a service-related business, you can ask for a deposit, upfront with the deposit to be paid upon completion.
- Paying vendors up-front can give you leverage in being able to negotiate better prices.
- If you are running a retail business, you can utilize a model made popular by Amazon with their Prime Membership, where a monthly or annual fee guarantees delivery within a certain number of days.
- Add value to otherwise generic items by creating custom label pieces for boutiques or specialty shops.
Ultimately, this is where your creativity and innovation can really flourish, as there are always ways that a savvy business owner can think of to keep costs low and sales high, without sacrificing the quality of products or services.
5. Cool, Calm and in Control
The word, “controlling” has taken on a negative connotation when it comes to being a successful small business owner. While no one like a micromanager, in our litigious times, it’s often necessary for a successful small business owner to maintain control over the day-to-day operations to ensure things are being run in a way that is keeping with the mission and vision of the company.
Additionally, it’s important to be mindful when choosing potential business partners and hiring for your start up or small business, should you choose to go that route. Consider their temperament: when problems arise, will you be able to work towards a solution together or will there only be greater conflict? Do their goals support yours, or do will they have their own agenda? Again, we are back to listening to your gut instincts.
Embarking on being a small business owner takes guts, intuition, creativity, and humility. If you can work through your fears, trust your gut, think outside the box and ask for help, you are well-positioned to be a successful small business owner! And, how knows, perhaps some day the pupil will become the master and you will then have the privilege of mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs. As anyone who has experienced success will tell you: it’s important to send the elevator back down.