Twenty-seven years in corporate America working at such household brand name companies like GE, Whirlpool, Philips, and Oster provided a great backdrop for my career as a small business owner. But even today, as I celebrate my third year as an entrepreneur, not only do I feel grateful for having survived, but also have garnered a few kernels of wisdom that I’d like to share as part of my journey in business ownership.
Successfully navigating the waters of Entrepreneurship, Small Business Ownership, or Solopreneurship is not an easy task. Looking back over this period of my life, there are three things that are worthy of some additional thought in the form of learnings for small business owners in the hope of helping them better structure their business to today’s reality, avoid some common pitfalls that typically shipwreck small companies, and ultimately contribute to help grow their businesses successfully.
These learnings can be grouped into the following three subjects:
- Doing things out of a general desire to help others
- Do your best to surround yourself with trustworthy people in areas outside your own expertise
Doing things out of a general desire to help people
Now this may appear to be some more of the unconventional wisdom I wrote about in my book “The Success Factor – Unconventional Wisdom for Small Business Success” or alternatively, you may think I’m being overly altruistic or self-congratulatory for having survived the first three years of business ownership. But that’s not the case. Especially coming from me since I deal in one of the most precious commodities to every business – money.
But after three years of running my own small business I am convinced more today than ever before that one of the greatest services we can provide is to ask ourselves consistently “what is the best way I can help a particular business”?
Looking more deeply into this question should provoke some interesting insights if you’re really serious about hearing the answer to the question “what is the best way to help”? Some of the answers may pass through responses that take the form of:
…Come back to me later when you’ve done this or that…
…or simply, I’m not your guy. You really need to find someone else.
But other times, in a more optimistic vein, it may involve you saying:
…I believe in you and will do everything within my reach to help you and your needs.
…let’s work together to see where this can go…because I really don’t know…but let’s try it together.
So, working from the genuine desire to help others can produce two very different responses, but if we pay attention and are honest with ourselves and our Customers’ needs, we can provide the right answer regardless if it involves our direct involvement or not.
Surrounding yourself with trustworthy people in areas outside your own expertise
We are all familiar with the adage “No man is an island” and this has never been truer than it is today.
In today’s business world you can literally outsource every aspect of your business and only focus on those elements of your business where you feel you have the greatest added value or interest.
Now, this may not be the most optimal solution, because at some point you will be managing so many external people, teams or vendors that you will likely come to the conclusion it makes more sense to bring some of them in-house, and by doing so you essentially create the foundation for a larger company.
But outsourcing is not to be confused with trusted partners and partnerships. In the three years since my own start-up I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) that one of the greatest differentiators we can have as small businesses relates to partnering with trusted people who in turn, become great partners to us and indirectly to our Customers or Clients, in the areas outside of our particular business’ expertise.
Who are these potential partners? Well, obviously, they are different for every business, but a few examples might include the following:
- An attorney who provides great legal counsel in addition to solid contract work.
- Your CPA who can provide you tax counseling, tips on ways to save money while at the same time staying compliant in your taxes and reporting.
- A 3rd party manufacturer for competitively and consistently producing the products that are part of your product offering and pipeline.
- A digital marketing agency which helps maintain your brand image while also generating leads necessary for new business development.
- A trusted distribution partner who helps drive sales outside of your geographic area or preferred channel, who maintains pricing and treats your brand as if it were their own.
- A referral partner who knows you and your business intimately, and who can provide targeted and reliable referrals for new business.
Not only do trusted partners add to your business, they also teach and coach you. Surprise…you can learn from them. They can be trusted sources to help you grow intellectually, personally, emotionally, and professionally. Trusted and reliable business partners will ultimately contribute to you more than what is defined in the terms of the service level agreement that governs your relationship. You just have to let them. That means seeking their advice, letting your guard down and asking for their help, and in the end – listening to what they have to say.
If you choose wisely, these trusted partners will teach, coach, and share learnings with you, all the while encouraging and working with you toward a collective goal: growing each of your respective businesses.
So, the 2nd of my 3-year odyssey learnings involves surrounding yourself with the most trusted business partners you can find and work consistently – in a planned, organized, and goal driven manner – to achieve mutually defined and mutually beneficial goals.
The last subject I want to share with you is central to my book – and central to my way of thinking – and it is the notion of Giving.
I have called Giving an unconventional wisdom, in “The Success Factor” but I would really like to challenge you to change your mindset, and rather than consider Giving as unconventional – do the opposite, and make it part of your everyday way of doing business.
In my book, “The Success Factor” I’ve provided some more detail to the art of “giving” and its fundamental role as a baseline to Referral Marketing, so I’m not going to repeat that, but here I want to focus my attention specifically on a few of the gems I’ve learned in my first three years as a small business owner, and they are:
- Start with “The Ask”
- Begin by giving Weekly…and progress to giving Daily
- Work in small groups of Givers
- Start with “The Ask”
What is the sign of a good salesperson? After they’ve made their pitch on a product or service, they always will ask for the sale…and in most cases, if they’ve done their job well, they’ll get it.
So, we, as Givers and owners of small businesses, need to be like a good Salesperson…and start with “the Ask”.
What does that mean? It means start out by asking your colleagues or referral partners “how can I help you’? I have a referral partner who always asks me “hey brother…how can I help you?” With a question like that, how can you not try to find an area where you might be needing some help but were afraid to ask?
So, the 1st step is start with “the Ask” Don’t be afraid! By asking you transmit the confidence to your Referral Partners that you trust them enough to ask for their help. In many cases, they will be so flattered that after a few brief moments of reflection, will offer several areas where you can at least try to work together for mutual gains. But again, this can only happen if you create the possibilities by starting with “the Ask”.
- Begin by giving Weekly…and progress to giving Daily
For many of us giving as a central part of a formal Referral Marketing strategy is a new or novel idea. And that’s fine. So, as a means of getting your feet wet, begin by setting a goal of giving referrals once a week with the ultimate goal of moving to the point where you are giving Daily.
In the beginning you may struggle with questions like:
- Who to give referrals and assistance to?
- How do I do it in the context of a business conversation?
- Am I coming across the right way so as not to appear like I have all the answers or by making my colleague or referral partner appear needy?
My experience has been that once you start giving freely, it will come naturally, and you will find yourself doing it spontaneously. And that’s where the beauty of giving kicks in!
You’ll soon combine giving with “starting with the Ask” and very quickly you’ll find yourself developing new levels of trust and confidence with your Referral Base…and that’s magic.
So, to wrap things up on “what I’ve learned” in my first three years of business ownership, I want to make a final point related to the quality of your partnerships and the people with whom your surround yourself. Identifying who these people are is among the most important business decisions you can make in your Small Business or Start-up. So, it’s important to choose wisely, making sure you work with trusted people who share your beliefs and values. If chosen correctly (and I hope you do) these are the people with whom you will be cultivating some of your most valued business relationships through the process of working closely together to achieve which will ultimately become mutually beneficial goals.
To learn more about how business owners can scale and drive more growth, through tools like Factoring and other important considerations, please check out the list of blogs on this website, or you may contact us directly at [email protected]. You can also find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.