Thankfully, Facebook is always there for me. Reminding me of what happened on this day in Facebook-land. Usually it’s something I thought was quite witty at the time or a picture of our Scarlett. But this particular update caught me off guard:
According to the Small Business Administration – about 50% of businesses fail in their first year. The other half tend to survive the next 4 years and about 30% will make it to the 10 year mark. As a business continues to age, its odds of staying in business increase.
So I’m at least in the 50% that made it to the 5 year mark and focused on joining the 10 year club. How did I make it happen? Best business plan ever? Hardest working kid out there? Blind luck? Probably bits and pieces of each. But here are 7 pieces of invaluable information that I’ve picked up along the years. Hopefully at least one of them gives you some help in driving your business success.
One of the hardest things to do in life is admit you need help. There’s something grandiose about saying “I did it all on my own!” And I did, for 6 years. I grew from 2 clients in my first week (my dad & my father-in-law) to more than 90 clients in year 7. But as you can imagine, running a shop of almost 100 clients, managing more than 100 websites can be taxing on time. So I finally found the right person to help me continue growing my business.
In addition to adding Rachel as my first employee, I’ve focused on trying to outsource & automate as many tasks as possible. Invoicing, accounting, email marketing, analytics reporting and many other tasks that used to be hours out of my productive week are handled automatically for me. I’m still watching over these tasks, but I’m relieved of many hours to make sure they’re getting done. Of course, there’s a cost trade off for automating these tasks, but you need to realize that your time is more valuable than menial tasks.
Take Action: Do what you do best, work on automating (or outsourcing) the rest.
In the spring of 2015, I took a trip to Arizona for a small business conference put on by the CRM company, Infusionsoft. I had never heard of their product before – but I really enjoyed the conference. One of the most memorable speeches was by Jay Baer, author of Youtility. I had heard of Jay before, but wasn’t prepared to hear what he told the crowd that morning. “Just don’t suck.”
Be better than awful. Companies that do this succeed. Don’t give your client/customer a reason to leave you. There are so many companies out there that suck, as long as you aren’t one of them, you’ll do OK for yourself. The bar is sometimes so low, all you need to do is be ‘good’ – not ‘great.’
While I don’t go out there every morning with the mantra of “just don’t suck” – I do make sure that I focus on delivering what I promised. Ensuring that each of your clients has their expectations met (or preferably, exceeded) is a cornerstone of growing your business.
Take Action: Don’t over-promise and under-deliver. If you think that project is going to take three months, say it will take four months and get it done in three. Beating your deliver date by 25% is much more impressive than saying you’d get it done in two and it taking three, missing your date by 50%.
This one of the things I stress on when talking about not only managing a business, but doing it from home. Making a game plan for my day, week, month, quarter & year to get things done takes time to organize & get right.
I use a planner that I found on Kickstarter, now called the Ink & Volt notebook, is something that’s revolutionized how I get things done. I believe in it so much that I bought & sent some to some of my long-standing clients for Christmas gifts last year. I take time each Monday morning to plan my week and make sure that I get enough done so when I look back at the week on Sunday, I feel like I did a good job. With the planner, I also match my weekly & monthly goals to align with my yearly goals to make sure I’m advancing towards reaching those by the end of December.
Take Action: Make a realistic set of goals to accomplish for your day. Too many items and you’ll feel overwhelmed, continuing to push things back to the next day. It’s OK to have too few items, if you have extra time you can knock out a task for tomorrow or go outside and see what the sun looks like again. (Please let me know when you do, it’s been awhile.)
Part of planning for a business is having realistic goals. Sure, it would be exciting to sit at my desk in January and say that I’ll double my business this year. Seems like a fun goal to hit. But what if I only grow 50%? That would still be a great number, but I’d still be far off of my goal for the year.
I recently met with my cousin-in-law/financial planner and he made a great presentation when charting our future goals. He set the baseline of growth at 6% while a lot of financial planners will set it at 8%. Not a huge difference in % when you look at it, but obviously 2% over 30+ years makes quite a difference. Now, if Jason is able to beat our 6% expectation and hit that 8% growth over the years, he’s going to look like a real genius. If it’s at 6%, we’re still going to be happy. But if he promises 8% and it comes in at 6%, we’re going to stop inviting him to Thanksgiving. Difference in goal planning and expectations can be the difference between happiness and depression.
Depending on the size of your business & budget, it might not be easy to adjust to wild swings of too-much-business & not-enough-business. But setting realistic goals, putting the systems in place to achieve them and working daily to make sure they happen is part of what make business ownership exciting.
Take action: At the beginning of each year, I set a low (slow growth) & high range (rapid growth) of where I want to grow for the year. My goal is the average of those two numbers. I’ve found this to be a pretty accurate predictor of where my business goes for the year. Then I break it down by quarter & then by month. Hitting goals & targets is less daunting when it’s done in smaller chunks.
It’s easy to let the long-term goals of your business slip away if you’re stuck doing too much of the in-business work (building websites – in my world) and not enough the on-business planning and thinking about growing the business.
I try my best to take at least a half day each week to do nothing but think about how to make my business better. Improving systems, finding new solutions for clients and making their marketing better. I turn my email & Slack off and sit with a notebook and write down ideas as they come to me. Sometimes I do this while playing a round of golf, sometimes I do this at a local coffee shop with my headphones in. The important thing to note is that this isn’t ‘work’ time. This is totally focused on me & the business and how to keep it growing.
Another great way you can spend your time thinking about how to make your business better is networking. I’ve gotten some of my best ideas from other business owners while ‘talking shop.’ Mastermind groups are a great meetup for small business owners to share their thoughts, successes and failures with other like-minded people.
Take action: Take time each week to look at your systems and how to improve them. It’s hard to step away from the helm, I know. But believe me, it’s time well spent.
I know, I said earlier to just go out and ‘not suck’ – but we know that isn’t enough. I’m not saying to set the bar as low as possible and look like a hero when you’re able to get over it. I’m saying you should always look to go the extra mile for your clients.
I feel like I do this pretty well for my clients, which is why they stick with me year after year even with a quickly growing group of competition in the website design & hosting field. I can’t spend all day telling you about all the little things I do for my clients that my competition doesn’t – you’ll need to ask them to find out (or join the family!) But the little things I do get noticed. I get thank you notes (seriously, hand written thank you notes), emails, calls, FB messages and Christmas cards.
When my clients received a big box of Christmas gifts this year (from their website designer, mind you) – they took notice. Any time I see a client at a meeting or out and about, I get thanked for the seriously awesome pens I’ve had made for them. Or the coffee mugs. Or the monthly newsletters chock-full of marketing goodness & tips. Ok, there’s a few of the small things…
Go above & beyond their expectations. Show them that you genuinely care about them and their business. So much so that they can’t help but not be impressed.
Take action: Reward your loyal clients with ‘a little extra’. Whether it’s not raising prices on them all the time or giving them a discount when they refer new business to you. Or a really awesome set of pens, notepads and coffee mugs. Whatever it is, they’ll appreciate that you show your appreciation.
Lastly, take time to just be a better you. Spend some of that on-business time that you’re going to carve out of your schedule to go to a local (or not-as-local) conference. I’ve never been to a conference that I didn’t get something valuable from. Even the bad conferences have a good speaker somewhere or a good idea that you can take home, build on & cultivate into a better idea.
Read. I admit that I don’t do this near enough. But find some good books on business and read a little at night. Find some blogs that speak your language or use an app like Flipbook to find resources from around the web that can add insight to your goals.
Network. I’m on the board of a local group, GETDOT. We get together to raise money for local kids charities and network. I’ll be honest, the crowd at GETDOT generally isn’t my target market. I’ve never picked up a client at a GETDOT meeting. But I like the people that come to the meetings, so I go when I can. It’s good to get out and talk to other business professionals and business owners. And you never know when you’ll meet someone that can introduce you to the right person to help grow your business.