Article January 12, 2017

8 Tips for Small Business Owners

If You Have Decided To Buy An Existing Business, You Will Want To Be Sure You Are Making The Right Choice In Your New Venture.

Tips for Business Owners

For 25+ years we’ve helped hundreds of small business owners start and run their businesses. Even now we still spend a good share of our day either working on business or helping small business owners succeed. We've spent countless hours listening as clients describe their business dreams and processes. My conclusion? Owning your own business is awesome! It doesn’t matter if we're sitting down with seasoned business owners or meeting with budding entrepreneurs to finalize a startup, we always enjoy hearing stories of their successes. Their energy and their passion amaze me. (We frequently see the other side as well. If the former is the good, then the bad and the very ugly sometimes show up as well. We’re here for too, but that’s another article.) We often find ourselves having the same conversations over and over again. Guess what? No matter the business, the challenges are not that different.

Here are a few of our current small business clients:

  • Construction General Contractor
  • Pool Company
  • Health Industry Consultants
  • Graphic Designer
  • Mortgage Broker
  • Physical Therapy Clinic Owner
  • Roofers
  • Software Developers
  • Photographers
  • And the list goes on . . .

All different niches but my conversations are similar.

Although we don’t claim to be experts in all things, we thought it might help to offer some business tips. These are just our general observations from years spent working with successful businesses, some positive, some negative.

  1. Set expectations high from the start. When you hire employees, give them an assignment and have them report back to you. When they present their report, ask, “Is this your best work? Is this the best that you can do? If not, then go work on it for another hour or so and come back when it is your best work.” People like working in places where the expectations are high. This reduces employee problems, creates a company culture of energy and passion, and increases the quality of your company. Set the bar high for yourself as well. We once discovered a rather significant legal point and filed a pivotal motion on that point, which consisted of an obscure footnote in a relevant case. The Court scheduled a 15 minute oral argument on the motion. We were going to have ½ of that – just 7 minutes! The responsible attorney, the senior partner, a paralegal, and two associate attorneys spent two weeks preparing for that 15 minute hearing! That only happened because we cared deeply about the case. That attention to detail is still important to us.

  2. Never stop being scrappy! When you’re scrappy things are less complicated. Whatever it is, you know you’re just going to get it done, no matter what it takes. We love the quote by Will Smith in Pursuit of Happyness: “Don’t ever let someone tell you that you cannot do something. If you have a dream you have to protect it. If people cannot do something themselves, they want to tell you that you cannot do it. If you want something, go get it. PERIOD!!!”

  3. No lying to yourself.As a business owner you must quit telling yourself delusional stories. We all tell ourselves stories about why things are the way they are. This is something so hard for us to admit that most would deny its obvious truth. The truth is too shameful. The truth is that whatever you are doing is what you want to do. If you’re miserable the problem is you. Be accountable. You probably don’t need to learn more time management tricks. You are managing your time exactly how you want. It’s not a failure of willpower. You are exerting your will exactly as you want. Does your business struggle? Is it in debt? Does going to work make you sick? If so, why haven’t you changed? It is 2014. The saddest secret in the world is that people are miserable by choice. You are content to stay where you are. I personally have no problem with that. It’s your life, your business. Do your thing. Just don’t act as if you aren’t, with each business decision made day after day, singularly responsible for ruining it. Quit telling yourself crazy stories about why you aren’t getting the results you want.
  4. Keep It Simple. Many business owners and startups drift toward complexity. The way you run your company should not be complicated. Consider the well-known story of Steve Jobs’ return to Apple, which teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

  5. Jobs co-founded Apple in his parents’ garage in 1976 but was ousted as CEO in 1985 at 30. Jobs left to found NeXT and Pixar Animation Studios. In 1997 he returned to Apple at the request of Apple’s Board of Directors in a bid to rescue the company. By the time he died Jobs had built Apple into the world’s most valuable company.

    It’s a remarkable story. Steve Jobs twice built Apple into a world leader in a highly competitive and fast moving technology market. He also built Pixar into the world’s preeminent computer animation company. And although NeXT may have been a failure financially, the core technology developed by Jobs at NeXT found its way into Apple’s products when Jobs returned. Jobs’ successes were not accidents. He was not just lucky. One of the first things Jobs did when he returned was to reduce the complexity of Apple’s product lines. Jobs had toured the company and believed that too many teams worked on the Mac. Each team had different names.

    Each team offered its’ own perspectives of the Mac. The company lacked coherence. Jobs unveiled a four-quadrant grid. He devised the idea of a simple four-quadrant grid with two rows labeled as ‘Consumer’, ‘Professional’, and the columns as ‘Portable’ and ‘Desktop’. He redesigned Apple after that grid. After that Apple engineers and managers needed only to focus on four core product areas. Apple assembled the best engineers in those areas, and eliminated resource overlap. Jobs even adopted a simpler naming convention, e.g. ‘i’ in consumer products and ‘Power/Mac’ in professional products. Don’t complicate things.

  6. Know Your Numbers. Can you give a quick answer if you’re asked, “how much money did you make in profit last month?” A lot of leaders don’t know the income or expenses of the last month, or they can’t project their upcoming income and expenses. Those business often fail, or they struggle month to month. Some owners will say, “I don’t know, somebody else does that.”  While this is cool as the company gets larger, right now it’s just foolish. Cash is the life blood of your company. It’s not cool to not know the numbers at all times.

  7. Your idea is as good as the market says it is. We get it. You are sold on your idea but it’s only as good as people will pay for it. If you have been trying to push something for years and you can’t get traction, it’s either the wrong idea or you are the wrong person. You must be realistic about your ideas and skill sets.  If you are STICKING with the same idea for too long and seeing no traction, try to pivot the idea or do something else. We see so many people drain their life savings and relationships trying to fight for something that just isn’t working.

  8. You must be sales focused. You can have great products but if they aren’t sold, it doesn’t matter. This isn’t about gifting, it’s about reality. Just because you have a good idea means nothing unless someone will give you their credit card number for it, over and over again. If you don’t want to be sales focused, don’t lead a small business.

  9. You aren’t alone in your struggles. The reason most people don’t want to hear this truth is because we like to be different. Business owners almost always tell me how different their niche, their idea, or their burins execution is. While they are all unique, the struggles of taking an idea to market remain the same. You feel alone but you aren’t. The guy you see tweeting about how awesome his company and life is goes through the same thing, you are just brave enough to admit it. Business is just the process of problem solving.