Many small business owners are happy to share their business tips with other entrepreneurs. Check out our 15 top business tips from small business owners, which can help you run and grow your business effectively.
Business Tip 1: Build a Support Network
For Laura Kelly, being a business owner can be an isolating experience at times. “Especially if you’re a solo business owner, you can lose touch with other business owners,” says Kelly, who 15 years ago started The Handwork Studio, a Narberth, Pennsylvania-based company that runs needlework camps and classes for kids in 10 states along the East Coast.
The crucial solution for Kelly has been to stay networked in the larger business community. That means meeting with her personal business coach for an hour every four weeks. Kelly’s coach has provided business tips and helped Kelly her find solutions to problems and work through tough decisions with her business. She also networks on Facebook and LinkedIn from the comfort of her own home.
“[My coach] walked me through some visualization exercises,” Kelly recalls. “Just that sheer exercise of removing myself from the business and looking down on it really helped me see the problems that were bothering me. In an hour’s time, I walked away with clarity and a strategic plan to move forward.
And then there’s the mastermind group to which Kelly belongs. She and her fellow women service business owners get together on a conference line. “We discuss problems and solutions, and we talk each other off the ledge.”
As a busy business owner, it’s tough to find time to network, but getting better at networking and making new contacts—along with nurturing your existing ones—can pay dividends in the future.
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Business Tip 2: Be Very Specific With Your Goals
Another business tip that Kelly has learned over the years: Break big goals into smaller ones. “I have 10-year goals, I have three-year goals and one-year goals, and I have quarterly goals for my business,” she says. “When it comes to revenues, I will break them into smaller numbers so they’re easier to obtain. If I know I need to make a couple hundred thousand in revenue in the first quarter, I say, ‘What does that mean in terms of camp sales? How many campers do I need to obtain?’ If I know I need 800 campers to reach the revenue goal, then it’s easier to figure out how to achieve it. These kinds of really specific goals can help drive your actions.”
Every employee at The Handwork Studio has a dashboard with their goals on it that shows their progress toward those goals. It helps keep everyone focused, Kelly adds: “I can tell you at any exact moment how much revenue we have, the traffic of our website, and how many Facebook likes we have.”
Building a performance-driven culture all starts with being very specific about goals—for yourself and for your employees.
Business Tip 3: Delegate Whenever Possible
When the Marks Group, a technology consultancy, started in 1994, it was just Gene Marks and his dad. “He was doing sales and I was doing service,” Marks recalls. Then his dad died. “When he passed away, I took it over and realized I couldn’t do it all, and hired my first employees. I’ve learned that you can make a lot more money when you have other people doing it for you.”
As he hired more people, it dawned on Marks that he had been doing work that he was bad at doing. The revenue of the business soared after he brought on new employees, because he was hiring people who were better than he was at certain jobs. “I just sort of learned the hard way: Focus on what you do best, and delegate the rest.”
Business Tip 4: Keep Your Overhead Low
Eight years ago, it occurred to Marks that he was sitting in an office costing nearly $30,000 a year in rent, while his employees were out working with clients. So Marks got rid of the office in suburban Philadelphia and made his workforce virtual. Along the way, he replaced the landline with an internet-based phone that cost about $10 a month, and he ditched computer servers for the cloud, too.
Lowering the overhead brought Marks some peace of mind through the Great Recession. “When things turn bad, you don’t have to panic, because you can take a cut in revenue,” Marks says. “Even in the brunt of the recession, we never lost money. Cutting down overhead really gives you that peace of mind. If your overhead is low, you can make pricing decisions that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to make.”
Business Tip 5: Find Your Best Niche—and Stick With It
Trying to do too much too soon? Feel like you need to be all things to all clients? A top business tip is that diversifying isn’t always the best strategy. Sometimes, it’s good to replicate the magic of something that already works well. That’s been the successful strategy for Ace Apparel, according to Marc Mathios, who along with his two brothers are the third generation to run the 78-year-old family business, based in the Bronx, N.Y.
“One of the industry silos that we’re really good in is parking garage operators,” Mathios says. “The reason that parking garage operators like to work with us is because we manufacture our own line of jackets that are suited for parking garage companies. We’ve duplicated that success with 30 different parking garage operators across North America.”
Finding your niche and continually innovating around that niche is a path to success.
Business Tip 6: Stick to One Goal at a Time
People who chase two rabbits end up with none. It’s difficult to prioritize your work when you’re a small business owner. You have 1 million things on your to-do list, and they are all top priority.
Multitasking is more of a myth than it is a productivity strategy. When you bounce between multiple tasks, you’re not multitasking. You’re task switching. Each time you move from one task to another, you lose productivity. This is because your brain needs to adjust to the changes in priorities and tasks.
Make it a point to focus on one task at a time. Allocate a certain amount of time to the task and keep yourself focused on that task—and that task only—while you’re working. Not as easy as it sounds? The next business tip can help.
Business Tip 7: Use the Pomodoro Technique and 80/20 Rule
The Pomodoro Technique works like this:
- You work for 25 minutes.
- Then you take a three- to five-minute break.
- You then go back to work for 25 minutes.
- After four 25-minute work intervals, it’s time for you to take a 30-minute break
Working in this way helps prevent procrastination. Almost anybody can work on something for 25 minutes straight without breaking concentration. However, after 25 minutes, it’s normal for people to need a break or they’ll get distracted. If you schedule a time for your distraction, then the downtime will be less significant. Also, you’ll be more dedicated to the task if you know you’re only working on it for 25 minutes.
Here’s another business tip to consider: The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, states that 80% of results come from 20% of actions. And this isn’t just for good results. It also can apply to bad results. For example, 80% of your customer complaints may come from 20% of your clients. That’s a bad result. However, 20% of your clients may contribute 80% of your sales. That’s a good result.
Look for the 80/20s of your business. Often, you’ll find that a lot of your problems and successes are coming from just a few sources. This can help you become focused on what’s working and what isn’t so that you can take appropriate action.
Business Tip 8: Encourage and Embrace Feedback
Don’t just be open to customer feedback: Encourage it. Some of your best business ideas may be waiting to arrive from your own customer base. Besides, who knows your products and services better than the people who actively use them?
Services such as Delighted, Qualtrics, and Grade.us are designed to capture customer feedback. Simply asking your customers for feedback is a great way to show that you care about their experience and to gather valuable new information.
Business Tip 9: Let Your Employees Grow
Do your employees have a chance to grow with your company? They should, and this is one of our top business tips, because it can be difficult to run a long-term business if your turnover is high. One of the best ways to retain your employees is by giving them incentives to grow along with your company. Creating a career ladder is one of the best ways to do this.
A career ladder describes to your employees what they can achieve if they stick with your business. So, they may start out as an office manager, then move up to an administrator, then an assistant manager, then manager, and then a VP. This is just an example, but if you have a career path laid out for your employees, then they’ll be encouraged to stick with you and grow with your company.
Business Tip 10: Be Approachable, Committed, and Honest
All great business leaders have certain qualities in common, three of the most important of which are being approachable, committed, and honest.
When your office door is always open, your employees will experience you as being approachable. If you’re the first person to arrive to work and the last one to leave, this demonstrates your commitment. By following through on what you say will be done, you’re showing your employees that honesty is important to you.
Business Tip 11: Simplify Your Life
You start to realize how important your time is when you run a business. Tasks such as figuring out what to wear for the day, or what to cook and eat for dinner, very quickly cut into your business tasks. You may find yourself beginning to shirk these personal responsibilities. But that leaves you dressing like a bum and eating scrambled eggs every night for dinner in order to have as much time as possible for your business.
That’s why it’s important to simplify, automate, and outsource as many processes in your life as you can afford to. Steve Jobs was a good example of this business tip. He always wore jeans, a black turtleneck, and white New Balances. This way he never had to worry about what he was going to wear. You may want to pick something a bit more fashion-forward but simplifying things such as your wardrobe can free up mental bandwidth that can be dedicated to your business.
You also can investigate automating and outsourcing other personal tasks. Automatic bill pay options can further free up mental bandwidth. And paying for services such as wash and fold for your laundry, or landscaping for simple lawn maintenance, can get you up to eight more hours of your time back each week. That’s essentially an extra workday every week that your competition may not have.
Business Tip 12: Hire a Good Accountant and Keep in Touch
Here’s a business tip from an accountant: She doesn’t want to hear from you only at tax time. She wants to hear from you frequently throughout the year. Save yourself the trouble of being audited or leaving money on the table and meet regularly with your accountant.
Also, your nephew who is taking some accounting classes in college doesn’t count as an accountant. Make the effort to hire a good accountant, preferably a CPA who specializes in small businesses.
Business Tip 13: Always Use Contracts
It doesn’t matter how simple the job is. If you’re hiring someone to do the work for you, then you need to make sure you have a written contract. This business tip includes seasonal employees, regular employees, vendors, and contractors.
The basics of what you need in the contract should include:
- What is expected of the person doing the work
- What you are expected to provide to the person doing the work
- The cost and the payment schedule
- Who will do the work and if subcontractors are allowed
- What the time frame is for the work to be done
- The desired quality level for the work to be done
- How either party ends the agreement
Getting this ironed out and put in writing can save you a lot of time and frustration. Not only will it help you communicate with the people you’re hiring—so that both of you understand what is being requested—but also it can save you if you hire a dud.
Business Tip 14: Cut Your Losses With Bad Vendors
Working off the previous business tip, it’s important to know when to cut your losses with a bad vendor. The legal side of ending the agreement should be simple if you have a good contract. The difficult part is knowing when it’s time to cut a bad vendor loose.
There are a few singular, definitive reasons to fire a vendor. Obviously, reasons such as the vendor stealing from you stand out. But there are several subtle warning signs that can tip you off that a vendor isn’t going to work out. If your vendor has hit any of these, it may be time to consider ending your agreement:
- They miss deadlines and don’t give you a heads up about it. Vendors are going to miss deadlines. It’s no reason to fire a vendor—so long as they give you notice that they’re going to miss the deadline. If you’re on a six-week schedule for a project, then it’s reasonable for a vendor to let you know at week three if they think they can’t make the deadline. On the other hand, if they let you know the morning of the delivery date that it’s going to be two more weeks, then it may be time to look for someone new.
- They lose key employees. Sometimes one employee can really elevate an entire agency. If the agency you hired has a standout employee who always delivers results and then this standout employee leaves to go to another agency, there’s a good chance that the vendor’s performance and results are going to drop, at least in the near term. It may be worth looking into getting a new vendor. If a few more employees from the vendor end up leaving, the vendor may have a turnover problem that could be the sign of a sinking ship.
- They can’t walk you through the process. The vendor should provide an outline and timetable of how they’re going to accomplish their goals and what you are paying for. This outline should include regular milestones, check-ins, and communication points that both of you will adhere to. This way you can always feel like you’re making progress toward your goals and you know when you will achieve a finished result. If the vendor can’t outline their process, then there’s a good chance they can’t achieve what you’re paying them to do.
Business Tip 15: Know When to Outsource and When to Hire Consultants and Contractors
Even the most talented business leaders know there’s a time to call in reinforcements. There may be functions that are critical to your business—yet not within your direct area of expertise—that can be outsourced. The best tasks to outsource that tasks that support, rather than identify, your brand. Flexible staffing, via consultants or contractors, also may be appropriate, depending on your needs.
If your business is struggling and you don’t know what to do, you may want to consider hiring a consultant. They can offer valuable outside perspective on your business operations based on their experience with other businesses. For example, if your food shop now faces competition from a larger, franchise food shop that’s moved into the neighborhood, a consultant can help you adjust your strategy to stay competitive.
Contractors are an option for getting work done without adding permanent staff. For example, if you need an online presence but are not a developer, then you might engage a contractor to build or update your website. While the contractor is not your employee, your business owns what the contractor produces. Identifying the right contractors can add expertise to your business that you need only for a specific project or series of tasks.
Outsourcing is another good solution when the work to be done is outside of your business’s expertise. For example, if you own a bakery, outsourcing your IT support could make sense. For larger businesses, outsourcing an entire business function—such as using a call center for customer service—may be an efficient use of funds. Whenever you’re considering outsourcing, be sure to calculate the costs of outsourcing the work versus handling it in-house.
Plenty of Work to Go Around
From managing your own staff to engaging the assistance of consultants or contractors, your duties as a small business owner can really weigh on you. You can wear yourself out simply switching from the big picture to the daily details and back again…and again.
Any one of these 15 tips can help you and your business be more successful. Consider taking on at least two or three of these suggestions and see what happens. So many small business owners waste time reinventing the wheel when others who’ve gone before have the answers they need and are happy to share them.
What business tips would you offer a fellow small business owner? Please add your expertise to the comments below.