Have you ever felt as if you were playing one big game of fling-the-spaghetti-on-the-fridge-to-see-what-sticks? Business is like that.
There are days (sometimes years) when we wonder if anything is working out as it should. We'll look at our bank accounts and laugh. (You know, the kind of laugh that makes people in a coffee shop move their stuff.) We wonder when we’ll be as successful as “those people,” you know the ones on the covers of magazines, the keynote speakers, the folks with book deals and the ones who get interviewed here, there and everywhere.
Today, I want to help you put down the spaghetti and step away from the fridge. I want to help you find your version of success as a small-business owner. So I'm sharing with you the screwups I've made along the way. This way, you can skip making the same screwups I made, and make your own. You'll learn from them as I did these, and you'll be that much closer to your own version of success.
Now, isn’t that a nice gift to give yourself this holiday season?
All business isn’t good business. Not by a long shot. When you’re starting out or times are lean, it’s easy to take any business that comes your way in the name of making your monthly nut. But, really, that just makes you nuttier, it's business you don't want for a reason, and in the long run it's not helping you move forward.
You can say no. To business you don’t want, to that conference that “everyone” is attending. You can say no to it all. No is the most powerful word in a business owner’s vocabulary. It keeps your eye on the prize and away from those all-too-common "squirrel moments" that distract us from our purpose.
Treat trade just like paid business. Any time money is supposed to change hands, it’s business, even if money doesn’t actually change hands. Stop hoping to get a fair shake when you engage in trade. Create a contract, get it signed and make sure both parties hold up their ends of the bargain.
Get it in writing. Did I mention make a contract and get it signed? A simple agreement goes miles to making sure everyone in an arrangement is happy. It doesn’t have to be rocket science, but it does have to make both parties feel they're each getting a fair shake.
Learn the difference between cheap and great value. If I added up all the coin I’ve wasted on quick fixes and cheap solutions in the past five years ... I’d be depressed. Cheap usually ends up getting replaced sooner rather than later. Value—while it might cost a bit more—is done well. Done right. And done best for your brand. Value lasts. Think about that when you’re facing cheap in the face. And don’t train your customers to buy on price, either. Or else, they’ll never pay you what you’re worth.
You can’t make money if you don’t know where your money is going. Get your business finances together. You know they’re a mess and I know you think you can do it all. I know you also don’t want to see the reality of your financial situation. But do it. Figure it out. You can save a ton if you know full well where your cash is going.
Spend just as much time outside your industry as you do in it. Whatever you’re reading about your industry, that’s fantastic. Splendid, jolly good job! Now, put it down and get out of your industry, leave the daily grind behind, and learn more about amazing people who are doing amazing things that have nothing to do with your industry. You'll be surprised on how the ideas start flowing.
Stop glamorizing failure. I hate the phrases “fail fast” and “failure is not an option.” You know what? If you keep failing, there’s a reason. And failure is always an option. Your job as a small-business owner is to fail differently and less spectacularly as time goes on. More successes. There are no annual awards for the biggest failure, and if there were, would you really want to be nominated?
Speak English. No, this isn’t a call for a nationalized language. “Speak English” is about using words that your audience understands and make sense. Buzzspeak is for bees. And while you’re at it, speak less about what you do and more about how your audience will feel when they experience what you have to offer. That’s what you’re really selling.
There are things I downright suck at. Same for you. What stinks is that those things—the ones we suck at—have to get done or business won’t get done. Admit something is not your cup of tea and then hire someone good at it to do it. Time and money best spent. This way, you can do things you love doing, and are really good at.
Don’t believe the hype of the Internet. Not everyone is as successful as they sound on Facebook. Blog subscribers aren’t the only metric that screams “success!” I wish I’d spent less time worrying about all the success that everyone else seemed to be having and more time defining what I would consider to be successful and why. Then I would actually know it when I accomplished something. Oh—and it’s okay to be proud of what you’ve accomplished.
Manage your asks. When you’re asking others to help build your business, keep those asks in check. If you’re not paying, the list should be short and the ask small. And try to keep those asks from sounding like a part-time job for the person you’re asking. Simple, small requests accompanied by a gracious thank you note (mailed, please) will go further than your diabolical and complicated plans for world domination every time.
99 percent of the time, it’s my fault. Yep. It’s not my client or customer’s fault. It’s not the Internet’s fault. It certainly wasn’t my bank’s fault my account was in the red. It’s all my fault. I wish I’d copped to that sooner. Blame is a waste. When things go wrong, you’re generally the one to blame. After all, we’re the ones who built the environment and allowed those things to happen.
Strategy is a higher priority than spending. We can buy anything on the Internet, including a gazillion courses and tools and plug-ins and services that will take us (instantly) from zero to hero. Naturally, they all come with a cost. Stop spending and start strategizing. Every dollar you spend should have a goal it’s clearly working toward. If it doesn’t, then shut the wallet and get back to strategy. Be more Trojan Horse than Monty Python Trojan Rabbit.
You’re building a community as much as you’re building a business. You can build all you want, but without repeat clients and customers, you’re building for naught. Give people ways to interact with and share your brand. They’ll do it. And meet your customers where they are, instead of asking them to come to where you feel most comfortable.
Other people are the most important people in your business. Without those people, you don’t get to do what you love every day. Clients, employees, vendors—they are the reason what you run ... runs. Never forget it, and above all else, start living and breathing this: Running a business is never about you.
Hire people, not paper. Hire people who are just as invested in your brand’s success as you are, if not more so. That’s more than education and work experience. It’s attitude, enthusiasm and work ethic. Ask for referrals, check them diligently.
Trust your gut. It’s never wrong. Ever. Turn up the volume knob on your heart and turn down the one on other people’s voices telling you what you “should” be doing.
Owning a business is supposed to be fun. This is a glorious ride! For all its ups, downs and sideways, owning a business is an amazing asset to a life well lived. Just don’t forget to live and have fun. When it stops being fun, it’s time to start making changes. Remember your gut? Start there and find the fun again. And it’s okay to shake things up every now and then—you'll be left with the pieces worth taking, and a much lighter load to carry.
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