There are several universal truths every aspiring small-business owner already understands before starting a business: You’re going to work long hours, it could take awhile before your business catches on and you turn a profit, and you’ll be chief cook and bottle washer for the foreseeable future.
As your business evolves past these early stages, however, there are lesser-known, yet equally important lessons to learn. Knowing the five most critical ones—and what to do when they arise—can mean the difference between owning a company that’s ready to take off and one that stays stuck in neutral.
1. You Will Procrastinate When It Comes to Taking Time Off
For most small-business owners, your passion is your job, and when you factor in your never-ending to-do list, taking time off seems impossible. Yet in order to do what’s best for your business and your customers, you need downtime. You can find time to recharge if you focus your marketing efforts on the most cost-effective, high-impact activities, such as email and social media. When combined, these vehicles can help you maximize your presence while engaging customers in the least amount of time.
2. You Will Want to Do Everything, But You Can’t
Many entrepreneurs are reluctant to hire or outsource certain activities because of the cost or the belief that nobody can do the job quite like they can. However, this limits your ability to grow your business and may actually cost you more in the long run. Instead of trying to handle everything yourself, outsource the functions that take too much time and take you away from your core responsibilities. Then educate your staff on what makes your business different, such as strong customer engagement, so that your employees are ambassadors of the spirit and passion behind your business.
3. Customers Don’t Easily Return
While a good location or positive word of mouth may bring a customer in, whether or not they come back to do business with you again is up to you. Since customers will remember how they were treated more than the products or services they purchased, it's up to you to create an experience that will stand out in their memory.
I recently returned to a local sporting goods store that I'd visited early last spring with my three sons to buy lacrosse sticks. To my surprise, the salesperson remembered meeting my boys and me and asked me how their lacrosse season had turned out. Needless to say, his genuine interest (and amazing memory!) left a lasting impression on me, and I'll no doubt make many return visits to this store. When you go out of your way to develop a relationship with your customers or ensure your customers’ satisfaction, they’re more likely to return and also tell their friends about the experience.
4. Marketing Is Not an Optional Activity
You don’t have to invest in expensive advertising or spend hours working on marketing campaigns to reach your audience. Odds are, you’re probably already marketing in lots of ways, but you may not officially label it as "marketing." When you engage customers face to face, use email and social media to connect with them between visits, and deliver great customer experiences, you're marketing your business.
5. Good—and Bad—Customer Experiences Travel Far and Fast Online
We’ve all heard stories of social media being both a blessing and a curse when it comes to making or breaking a small business. To use it to your advantage, ask satisfied customers to share their experiences on social media review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. This will help spread the word and build up an arsenal of positive reviews should you ever be faced with negative public comments. If that ever happens, respond on the site where the comments were posted, asking the customer if you can take the conversation offline to rectify the situation. Once the problem's been resolved, ask the customer to post an update or post it yourself to let others know the outcome.
The small-business owner’s journey is filled with valuable lessons—many of which can take you by surprise. But if you’re aware of the potential bumps in the road, you can proactively address the challenges and successfully grow your business.
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