25 Tips to Help New Business Owners Achieve Success
Starting a new business can be a very daunting task. It can be extremely overwhelming with many unanswered questions. In order to help new business owners and entrepreneurs achieve success we asked twenty-five business owners to give their best advice to someone just getting started.
Starting a business will involves many ups and downs, obstacles and challenges. Use the following tips to help make your journey towards success less bumpy.
1. Create What Your Audience Wants
One of the hardest lessons to learn is how to create something — a website, product or service — for your audience and not for yourself. You must adopt a test driven mindset and learn to relinquish control to your audience. It’s easy, for example, to spend time and money building a feature-rich landing page. When you test that landing page against a minimalistic landing page you might discover that both perform equally well. So, while you thought you needed the fancy landing page all you really needed was a much simpler, more affordable one. Test what you actually need vs. what you think you need. The two will often be very different.
2. Find Balance Between Planning & Action
The best advice I can give new business owners is to find the balance between planning and action. In my work with new entrepreneurs, I see two types all the time. The first plans obsessively, researching every detail and checking and re-checking calculations wanting everything to be perfect and complete before moving forward. The second plans nothing. They take an idea and run with it believing that a great idea is the key to success and everything will figure itself out simply by changing ahead.
Neither of these strategies is the way to achieve long-term success. You shouldn’t allow yourself to get stuck in analysis paralysis and never move forward, but you also shouldn’t run full speed ahead with no plan of action. Planning to the exclusion of action and action without planning are both recipes for failure. Creating a solid plan of attack and executing it efficiently are keys to success.
When building your business, you have to try to think like an outside consultant and push aside some of the emotion that clouds your decision making. That will help you find the right balance between developing a sound strategic growth plan and taking action to actually implement that plan and achieve your goals.
3. Get a Prototype to Market ASAP
My advice for a new business owner is to get a prototype out as early as possible. The smartest way to build a product, service or website is by launching it and then working towards refining it based on real market needs. As entrepreneurs, we are assuming what the perfect product is and its demand.
Once we actually have something, we can use the market and our customers to really understand and develop a product that will be near perfect. No amount of surveys and interviews can give the true understanding of what customers really need. A prototype though, gets everybody talking and the answers are pretty straight on whether the solution works or not.
4. Pay Attention to Your Business Name
Make sure your business name is easy to pronounce, remember and spell. My business was originally named Callipygian Adventures. It quickly became Fatpacking and subsequently Fitpacking. Nobody can pronounce “Callipygian” much less remember it. Even searching for it online is an exercise in futility. So keep it simple and descriptive. Fitpacking takes people on backpacking adventure vacations to get fit and lose weight, which is pretty much what it sounds like.
5. Learn to Embrace Sales
All business owners have to embrace sales — matching a solution to a problem. If the prospect doesn’t have the problem you solve you cannot sell to them. It’s really that simple. Business owners have to create a selling system that includes identifying their target market, deciding how they are going to reach out to them and creating a list of questions they will ask during the sales meeting.
Most importantly, spend time listening rather than talking. Seek to help solve problems as opposed to sell a product or service. Sales isn’t about convincing or persuading. It’s about matching a solution to a problem. When you proceed with the idea that you are trying to help others solve problems they will want to hear what you have to say. They will want to learn about your product or service — and you will want to hear what they have to say so you can figure out how, and if, you can help them. The point is to realize that sales have to happen and the business owner has to be comfortable with that.
6. Don’t Neglect Your Online Presence
It might sound crazy in a modern world where almost everyone uses the internet, or at least has easy access to it, but many new businesses still do not have a strong online presence. In fact, we’ve come across a lot of new local businesses who refuse to even have a website or any online presence — such as Yelp. The fact is that without a good, well maintained online presence, you’re going to lose customers because they won’t find you.
You don’t have to break the bank — a simple free WordPress site or an online site builder such as Wix is enough to get started. Squarespace is another great alternative for those who aren’t sure how to create a website. Of course, further down the line you can look at getting something professionally made but that isn’t essential in the beginning.
Social media accounts are part of your online presence as well — make sure you have the key accounts set up (Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and potentially
Pinterest) and fill them with content on a regular basis to establish yourself as an authority in your field.
7. Focus on Business Development
As a business owner the best use of your time is not sitting behind the counter ringing up customers, answering phones or doing some other mundane task. Sure, you’ll have to do that in the beginning but once you start brining in enough revenue to hire someone, do it.
Devote your newly freed up time to business development. Go to networking events, join associations, volunteer, join mommy groups — get involved in whatever circles of people you would consider potential customers. Always approach it with the goal of building genuine relationships — this is a sure way of accelerating your business growth, as long as you’re a likeable person.
– Paul Ohlson | Bartlett’s Candy House
8. Have a Professional Logo Designed
Hire a designer or design team to create a professional looking logo that reflects your brand. Your logo will be everywhere, from your business cards and website to your embroidered shirts and invoices — it is critical that it looks amazing. Don’t make it yourself using Word or MS Paint. A professionally designed logo says a lot about a company, while a poorly designed logo also says a lot.
When you are just starting out you often have to appear larger than you are to give potential clients the confidence to spend their money with your business. Take the time to research people and/or companies that create logos and be sure to view as many samples of their work as you can. Be sure you understand how many revisions you get during the process, and ensure you will receive several different file types of your finished logo and not just a single .jpeg. Ideally you should be getting back several .jpg or .jpeg files with different sizes/resolutions, and at least one of the following: .TIFF, .EPS, an Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop file and a text file with the exact font(s) and colors (in HEX code, pantone and RGB values). This ensures your branding will be consistent across all of your marketing materials.
9. Set Knowledge & Expertise Boundaries
Running a business is not easy — it requires wearing multiple hats and knowledge (not expertise) of everything. As a business owner you need to know when to stop. Know when you have reached the boundaries of your knowledge and expertise. Sure, you could make an excel document that tracks customers, sales leads, and opportunities – but SaaS (software as a service) companies have developed customer relationship management (CRM) software to take care of that for you.
You only have so much time — you can’t buy any more of it. Once you realize this, it’s a balancing act. You have to balance the opportunity cost of working on something yourself or outsourcing the task or service to a third party, which could be one of your own employees. You are the owner because you have the knowledge and expertise of the entire business. Understand when a tool, technology, or service can be used and take advantage of it. This allows you to focus on running your business successfully.
10. Setup Your Business Properly
It is very important that your business is set up properly. The right legal structure will prevent you from experiencing potential problems and save you money by avoiding certain taxes.
No single entity is perfect for every business venture; there are a number of different factors that would favor the selection of one entity over another.
Choosing the right business structure can save you money and the pain of many headaches. There are several different legal structures under which you can choose to operate: sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), S-corporation, C-corporation and non-profit corporation. Each has advantages and disadvantages. When all factors are considered, however, I believe the LLC is the best all-around entity choice, especially if liability protection is paramount.
Before making a decision on how to properly set up your business, make sure you consult with a professional to help you make the best decision. Not having the proper legal structure in place can cost you a lot of unnecessary money and potentially cause trouble in the future.
11. Learn from Your Failures
I started my medical equipment export business two years ago and the best piece of advice I would give to a new business owner is that you will fail often — but it’s how you deal with it that will determine how far you will go. Dwelling on mistakes and mishaps while trying to grow your business will only set you back.
When I first started my company there was a huge learning curve I had to overcome. I had an idea but didn’t know that much about how to export equipment overseas. I knew I had my hands on some good equipment and had buyers in other countries waiting for it. The mistakes were plentiful and I failed often while trying to figure it out. I lost customers and money in the beginning, but now two years later I have grown tremendously, both personally and as a business owner. I
When you fail make sure to take a moment to understand why it happened, what you could have done differently and what to do the next time if a similar situation occurs. It used to take days for me to process my failure — it was frustrating and I felt just outright inept, but now I spend no more than 5 minutes beating myself up about something I couldn’t control at that moment. Learn from it, don’t repeat it and move on quickly.
– Loleta M. Robinson | Sanusek, LLC
12. Learn to Live on a Shoestring Budget
My one piece of advice is learn how to survive on a shoestring budget. If at all possible, start your business as a side project, while keeping your day job. Tighten up your budget during this time so you can use savings from your day job to help fund your business. Pay off any outstanding loans and credit card balances that you can. Take this time to get any additional training and certifications you will need. Attend free and low price seminars/webinars to learn about business plans, websites, social media, budgeting, etc. The more you learn, the more prepared you will be. Recognize that you will not be able to pay yourself very well at first and make sure you can survive on limited income for a while.
– Joan Fradella | Divorce thru Mediation, Inc.
13. Have a Solid Implementation Strategy
A successful startup isn’t always defined by the idea, but rather the implementation strategy. As the CEO of the only woman-owned, woman run wealth management firm on Wall Street I built my wealth management firm from the ground up thanks in part to my understanding of three key factors: my burn rate, the length of my runway, and the number of clients in my best-case scenario.
Before I opened my business I had a good idea of how much cash I would burn through in a month and how long that level of spending could be sustained — this is what I like to call my burn rate. Ultimately, what makes or breaks any startup is its cash flow and sustainability, so knowing how much you have and how much you can afford to spend is essential to starting and sustaining your small business.
The length of your runway is tied to your burn rate — not only is knowing how much you can spend important, but being realistic about how long you can spend based on your savings and capital is key. When I first started my company, LexION Capital, I gave myself a runway of three years. If by the end of three years I hadn’t built a business that was turning a profit I knew I would have to re-enter the corporate workforce.
Part of calculating your runway is projecting a target number of clients for your launch, your first quarter of business and your first year. As an entrepreneur, you have to be prepared for both falling short of your goal and signing more clients on your first day than you might be able to handle. Planning for a worst-case and best-case scenario will only set your business up for success in the future.
14. Focus on Bringing in Revenue
Many new business owners are fascinated with being their own boss, creating their personalized business cards or designing their own logo. At the same time, with entrepreneurship becoming more mainstream thanks to TV programs like Shark Tank, new business owners may become enamored with the prospect of raising millions (if not billions) of dollars from angel and venture capital investors towards becoming the next successful IPO on Wall Street.
However, even after you created the business, designed the logo, and even raised some seed funding, you — as the business owner — still have to be responsible for earning revenue for your business. Most businesses die because they lack sufficient cash flow. You can solve that problem by having a solid strategy to attract customers to your business — customers that will pay you for your goods & services, ensuring you have enough profitable revenue to take care of all your expenses, grow your business and avoid bankruptcy.
15. Eat Peanut Butter if Needed
Looking back at our journey to success, the one thing that I feel contributed the most to our success was our willingness to reinvest our profits. My brother and I built our agency from ground up, starting in 2006. We saw a lot of late nights and 80-hour weeks, but we never wavered on reinvesting our entire profits back into the business, and because of that, we grew at a faster rate than many of our competitors.
So my once piece of advice to a new business owners is to pretend your early profits don’t exist, and roll them right back into your company. Use it to buy new leads, or purchase advertising and build new avenues of marketing. Live on peanut butter and ramen noodles — (we did!) — if that is what it takes. You will never regret it once your business begins to take off. In fact, you will remember fondly those early days when you were sacrificing everything. It’s almost like raising a child and watching him or her grow — it’s one of the most soul satisfying things you will ever do.
16. Dedicate the First Fifteen Minutes of Every Day to Goal Planning
My best tip to share is to set aside the first fifteen minutes of every day to think about your long-term goals and your daily objectives. The most critical piece to launching any new business is to gain momentum and then keep it going. It is easy to get distracted and this practice helps to minimize the noise — keeping the entrepreneur focused on the task at hand, which is launching the business. This practice of setting daily objectives helps you keep momentum going as well as make steady progress towards building your business.
The practice of first thinking about the long-term goals makes sure that when you get to the daily objectives you are not wasting your time on activities that do not line up with the long term. This ensures the daily activity the entrepreneur is undertaking is making measurable progress to the long-term momentum of the business. In addition, thinking through your daily objectives before the day starts lets you plan out your day and keeps you on track with daily tasks.
17. Collect Email Addresses
Despite the assumption that social media is replacing email marketing, it still remains the go-to form of communication within the business world.
Growing your email list is the best way to communicate with your customers or potential customers. When someone gives you permission to send them an email it means that they have an interest in your company or product. A newsletter opt-in is a high indicator that they are receptive to your message and interested in new features, product updates or special deals.
Your website should provide an easy way for people to sign up to receive more information. Be clear about the type of information that the subscriber will receive. Let them know that you will never sell their email address and that they can opt-out at any time. Also, indicate how often they can expect email updates from you.
Popular email service providers such as MailChimp, Constant Contact and
Sendloop provide web-forms that small business owners can add to their website to collect email addresses. In addition to web-forms, there are some easy-to-implement tools for getting newsletter signups via a pop-up such as
SumoMe and PopUp Domination. These pop-ups can be triggered after a set number of seconds, and some feature exit-intent technology, triggering a pop-up before a customer is about to leave your website.
Email marketing is the most effective type of marketing available for driving customers to your website and attracting sales. This medium is not going away anytime soon and developing your email list should be your first step toward creating a sustainable new business.
18. Be Prepared to Pivot
My piece of advice would be to cover everything imaginable during the planning phase, but then to not be too attached to the outcome. I find most businesses have almost no plan they are going off, and no contingency plans for when things don’t go right. Spend the time before launching your product or service to really think out every detail of your business, how you will run it, how you will scale when successful, how you will handle problems when they come up.
This isn’t as fun as going out and starting a business, but this will give a logical platform to make decisions from and a focus for your organization. I usually recommend making both best and worst case scenario business plans and financial projections. This exercise helps the business owner to work through many potential roadblocks while still in the planning stage, thereby averting many a potential crisis.
However, when you do get the business operational things might not go as planned. If so, give yourself permission to change the plans and re-envision the company. I like to include those types of pivot plans when creating a business plan as well — a list of other directions the company could re-focus in if the initial sales figures don’t give the expected feedback. Nothing in business is ever as expected, results are better or worse, and plans must have the flexibility to recognize this and scale accordingly.
19. Keep Expenses as Low as Possible
The best advice after owning businesses for 30 years in NYC is to keep expenses as low as possible, not just in the beginning, but all the time. Do not take on office space if you can run the business from your garage for free. Do not pay for advertising if you can do it on social media for free. Run the business yourself or with the co-founders for as long as possible before taking on employees.
Keep this in mind while the business grows. Ask yourself if spending money at this time will be money well spent and produce an ROI. If there is any question don’t do it. I certainly do advocate taking educated risks though — that’s what business is all about. Being in the men’s suit business my whole life I remember a lesson told to me by my grandfather. He said you make money when you buy the suits, not when you sell them. He was right. The better deals I was able to get for the business from the wholesale side, the more money I made on the retail side. Starting the business in the first place may be risky, but if you can keep costs at bay and increase sales and profits, success is just around the corner.
20. Don’t be Afraid to Outsource
My advice for a business owner just starting out would be to feel comfortable outsourcing certain tasks. There are only so many hours in the day, and as someone trying to start your own business, the to-do list can seem endless and daunting. It is crucial to find effective and efficient avenues for delegating certain tasks.
For example, tasks that are simple but take up a lot of time and suck resources; and tasks that are complicated, and would take you too much time and energy to do well. In both of those examples, paying a freelancer in that area of expertise is a major time-saver. Freeing yourself up to pursue other priorities, and knowing that those other items are being taken care of for you, is crucial to getting your business off the ground.
– Justin Katz | Justin Katz Photography
21. Take Action
The very best ideas are worthless if you don’t take action and bring them to life. Rigorously do your research and then open that bank account, sign that purchase order and engage that marketing firm. Your ideas may or may not work, but if you don’t try they definitely won’t.
Starting a business is an experimental learning process. You’ll always be doing things for the first time and, just like learning to walk, you’ll stumble a few times before you get to where you want to go. It’s important to learn from your mistakes and take corrective action. For instance, when we created a website for Big Apple Buddy, we engaged a number of freelancers and agencies before taking what we had learned along the way to bring the website development in-house.
22. Surround Yourself with Great People
Starting a business, especially your first, is not easy and often scary. A personal support group of friends and family is essential to maintain a person’s mental and emotional health. In addition, a professional support group is just as necessary. No one person can have an expertise in all aspects of business. While it is of course wise to have a general understanding of all aspects of your business, it is a wiser choice to surround yourself with the best people you can find, all with their own specialized expertise.
23. Make Sure You Have Passion for What You are Doing
Make sure that whatever you choose to do, it is something you are truly passionate about and has made a difference in your life. You have to believe in the idea so much that you would do it daily even without getting paid for it — because at first, you may not get paid. Some business owners don’t get paid for a long time, so never start a business for just the money – do it because you are passionate about the idea.
24. Treat Your Employees Well
Treat your employees well. Like it says in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. You can buy a person’s hand, but you can’t buy his heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm, his loyalty is. You can buy his back, but you can’t buy his brain. That’s where his creativity is, his ingenuity, his resourcefulness.”
It can also become expensive and time consuming if you are constantly hiring new employees and training them — being a small business will often times limit the amount of money you can pay your employees — treating them well can go a long way to retain them and keep them happy.
25. Learn to Delegate
Learn to delegate now. The ultimate equalizer is hours in the day. Want more? Delegate. Even if you can’t afford to hire someone, take advantage of e-mail filters and other free software tools to start freeing you up and getting used to the feeling of not doing it all yourself. If you look at any successful business, the owner is not the only person capable of running the day-to-day activities.
Do you have additional tips to add? Share yours in the comments section below.