What makes some businesses scrape by from day to day while others go from strength to strength? Inspired by the behaviours of successful business owners, we've put together a list of seven essentials.
1. Establish routines
While most business owners understand the huge productivity benefits of having standard procedures in place, they are also the first to break the rules when things get busy.
That's when you start to see what is commonly known as binge behaviours. Do any of these sound familiar?
- Binge book-keeping - where bills and invoices are dealt with in a late night frenzy
- Binge working - where neglected deadlines result in all-nighters to clear the bottleneck
- Binge marketing -where sudden quiet patch results in knee-jerk promotions
Not only do these negatively impact the bottom line, but they can also take a toll on your enjoyment of your work and health. The solution is to design and stick to a plan of daily, weekly and monthly actions for running your business.
In your marketing this might involve sending one introductory email to a new contact each day or committing to writing a weekly blog post. For administration it might be committing to writing your to-do list for the next day before you leave your desk.
The key point is to document a routine that works for you and then stick to it until it becomes a habit.
2. Focus your energy
When you're being pummelled everyday with emails, tweets, phone calls, new opportunities, paperwork and everything else, it's easy to forget that all these distractions are secondary to what drives your business.
Successful business owners are able to keep this 'static' at arm's length and focus on delivering quality products and services day after day. It's critical to strike that balance between working in your business (doing the day-to-day work) as opposed to working on your business (marketing, strategy and processes).
3. Take control of your time
Once you've got a routine that works for you, the next step is taking control of your most precious resource - time!
As a curious and energetic breed, business owners can be easily distracted by shiny new opportunities. But equally they can be shocked into incredible productivity and move heaven and earth when motivated by client or customer deadlines.
Keep your priorities at the top of your list. To avoid reacting to requests from others all day, occasionally divert your phone to voicemail, shut down email for blocks of time or consider using a virtual assistant to help out with your administration.
4. Think like your customer
When busy business owners get to get together to let off steam, the talk sometimes descends into client-bashing.
The fact is that if customers are consistently giving you grief then it's your fault. It could be that your marketing materials set up false expectations, or your processes aren't smooth enough or, gasp, your products and services need to be improved.
There are simple ways to get to the bottom of this without conducting expensive market research. One way is to ask a trusted friend to act as a 'mystery buyer' by having them play the role of a customer. As an outsider, they can often provide valuable input. Or, simply sit down and ask a couple of your regular customers.
5. Stay strong
As a nimble small business, it can be tempting to stretch your rules to accommodate customer and supplier requests.
While flexibility can be a great asset, be sure that you don't fall into the trap of allowing third parties to tell you how to run your business. The result can often be weekend work, rush jobs and discounts. For the sake of your well-being, sustainability and bottom line, don't be shy in putting your foot down and explaining politely but firmly how things work in your business.
Once you've done it a few times you'll find that your confident stance will gain you the respect of those around you and reduce the requests for special deal and negotiations.
6. Invest in your network
Social networking and relationship marketing are becoming critically important as the lines blur between our personal and professional lives.
Think about the people around you that genuinely add value to your business. These will probably include suppliers, existing customers, competitors, staff members, friends and family. If looked after, this is the group of 'fans' that will talk about you to others.
Consider ways to genuinely look after these groups. Start a profile on your professional contacts - ideally in the form of customer relationship management software - that enables you to store information such as birthdays, partner's name, children's name and personal interests.
When used with authentic interest, these details can help form connections that move beyond the professional and into the personal, creating a loyal and supportive network.
7. Stay lean
Leo Babauta is the minimalist guru behind ZenHabits.net and author of The Power of Less. In his book he explains convincingly how the answer to achievement is to do less, yet get more done.
He outlines two simple steps to work efficiently:
- Identify the essential.
- Eliminate the rest.
These seven simple yet effective structures can help form a stable platform for long-term success and growth. Whether you're just starting out, or you've been ticking along for years, the sooner you can build these into your business the better.