4 Lessons for Small Business Owners who Want Success
There are things that can make or break a business long before it celebrates its first year in business. These four lessons are essential for the small business owners who want success and a business that stands the test of time.
For the majority of my years in marketing I have worked with small businesses. I have helped them with marketing strategies that targeted various objectives (lead generation, increased revenue, launch in new markets, develop brand reputation through content marketing, communicate their brand to B2B and B2C consumers etc) and during the process I learned so much about marketing, running a business, life, and mindset.
Over the years, I have learned that the aspects that make or break the success of a small business are linked primarily to vision, strategy and good leadership. Yes, marketing, sales, branding are part of the story, but without these 3 key aspects it’s hard to make the needle move.
The following 4 quotes reflect the most important 4 lessons that I have learned from working with small businesses over a duration of about 10 years. In time, these have become part of my consulting business, and as I talk with people who want to start a business, or with people who have a business but don’t know why they aren’t seeing the desired results, I find these four to be ever more important in developing successful businesses that will stand the test of time.
A small business can be classified by various methods (numbers of employees, annual revenue, sales, assets, net revenue etc). To help you better understand the concept, a small business is a company with a maximum of fifteen employees under the Australian Fair Work Act 2009, fifty employees according to the definition used by the European Union, and fewer than five hundred employees to qualify for many U.S. Small Business Administration programs.
“A big business starts small.”
I love this quote by Richard Branson - it sums up in a few words the potential every business has to grow. However, many small business owners sabotage their own growth by either running their operations thinking they are already a big business (but lack the resources, experience and vision of a big player) OR by assuming the hustle will never end, so they think and act small.
Embracing this idea helps business owners think long term, it helps them embrace the times they fail as learning experiences, and it allows them to plan for business revenue goals that grow organically, consistently over a longer period of time, rather than next month.
“Bringing great people onto your team is about demonstrating that size really doesn’t matter – people do.”
Jess Campbell nailed this one. The quality of the people you have on staff as a small business is what can make or break your success. Many owners believe they can’t attract top talent because they run small operations, but if you are a visionary leader, and can sell your idea, you will attract top talent just as easily as big companies attract them. Give people meaning and they will come to you, and help you build your dream. Give people money and they will work for you as long as you can provide financially.
Other owners put all the strain of marketing (or sales, or production, or customer support, or operations) on one or two people, and cut corners when recruiting for other positions.
Long term, both strategies will end up in failure.
The first one will deliver average results, as the company continues to play small. The second one will deliver short term peak results, until those top players end up exhausted, unsatisfied and eventually leave the company, which can spin out of control until they hire replacements that can fill in the shoes.
“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
This Jack Welch quote points to one of the biggest issues small businesses have: good management and leadership. When you are in business for yourself (and you are the only employee) your responsibility to grow and improve yourself as a manager has impact primarily on yourself. When you are a business owner and have a team, have employees, the quality of your leadership, vision, determination and basic communication skills reflects on the happiness, productivity and dedication of your team.
Running a business, being a good manager and leader is not easy to achieve, and it is not something that happens overnight. In fact, the more your business grows, the more you need to grow as a business owner. What worked last year, might not work this year. The needs of both your customers and employees evolve over time, and so should your management and vision.
There are many ways in which small business owners struggle with this aspect. Some are so scared of failing, or appearing vulnerable, that they just stop trying altogether. Others allow the stress of making ends meet reflect on business directions, prices and overall employee communication. Some can’t (or don’t know how to) delegate and try to control every aspect of their business and micromanage their employees into despair. There are others who want no involvement in their business’ operations but do not nothing to ensure the business has direction, vision and good leadership.
“Don’t spread yourself too thin… focus trumps freneticism any day.”
John Coleman is the author of this quote, something that I find to be painfully true when it comes to how small businesses do their marketing. Owners who don’t have a long term vision for their business usually expect great results over a short period of time, and don’t understand how to make use of their resources and assets in an optimum way.
In regards to marketing, one way small businesses fail is by attempting to be everywhere at all times, disregarding their limited resources. They want to compete with the behemoths of their industry but don’t have the brain power, the financial resources or the human resources to do it at this moment in time. Instead of planning for this in the future, they expect to be able to compete with brands that invest millions in marketing over night.
Small businesses usually operate with one person in charge of marketing, and two common beliefs. One is that the more channels they use in their marketing strategy, the more people will see them. But this strategy is a surefire way to send their marketing employee towards exhaustion, while spreading resources too thin.
The other common belief is that they don’t need visibility. They don’t need marketing (a website, a social channel, an email list, a lead generation strategy, an ad budget etc) to grow. A business will always need clients, marketing is one way to get people to learn about your services, and sales is how you convert them into customers. You can do one without the other, but you’re not going to see consistent and solid results.
In terms of general objectives, many small businesses, especially in the beginning, will shift focus month after month (target audience, target market, marketing channel or tactic, pricing strategy, positioning). Some do it because they want results fast and don’t have the patience to focus on just one long term objective, so they end up juggling multiple growth opportunities at the same time, with limited resources, focus and budget.
Are you a small business owner?
Congrats go-getter. It’s great to have you here. Launching and running a business takes courage and determination to grow. And I am curious. Which of these lessons hit home with you? What other lessons have you experienced in your role as a business owner?