Small Business Advice

If you have your own business, you'll need small business advice from time to time to help with the challenges that will undoubtedly appear. This is the focus of what I'm offering here. The idea is to use this page as a "springboard" to launch discussion on a range of topics that offer small business ideas, suggestions, recommendations and insights for problem solving.

I've organized the advice by general topics, and I'll add more detailed topics over time. There are endless topics to address.

In addition, there are many different ways to handle challenging matters in your business that you encounter. No matter how you might handle the challenges, I suggest the best way to find out where the problem lies is to just look up.

My hope is that you can take away a concept, a vision, an insight, or an idea of some sort that you can adapt to your business and your unique situation. I'll provide an introduction to the small business advice as bullet items below, and then offer more detailed discussion in the linked text that appears in each of the bullet items.

Small Business Advice - Communications

Communications with your customers is key to building and retaining relationships that work.

  • Stay in contact. You don't want to be a pest, but you want to show interest in building a personal business relationship and staying in touch with your customers.

  • Keep informed about events that affect your customer. It shows interest and engagement, and helps build stronger ties between those who provide goods and services and those who are in need of them.

  • Use the business communications methods that are preferred by your customers and appropriate for the task at hand. Some things need to be in writing, some just need a quick E-mail note, others need to be discussed on the phone, and still others require a face-to-face interaction.

  • Make best use of networking opportunities, like conferences, trade shows and similar events to build relationships that are key to your success.

Small Business Advice - Deliverables

What you provide your customers defines who you are to prospective customers and your competition.

  • Provide your best contract deliverable and always offer to improve what you've provided. Good work begets more work.

  • Deliver what you promise. We all tend to please people by telling them what they want to hear, but making a commitment that you don't keep will only lead to a customer that loses confidence in you.

  • Never copy what you did before unless doing "cookie cutter" work is what you do for a living. No customer likes the idea that they paid for the "learning curve" while others are benefiting from that costly developmental process.

  • Look at the work you do. If it doesn't qualify as work done well enough to satisfy you, then it isn't good enough for your customers or others that might view your work products.

  • Never send a draft, unless you clearly and painfully mark it as such. This is important small business advice based on years of practice and a couple of bad experiences. A draft, unless clearly marked as such, will be presented to someone, somewhere, as your best effort.

Small Business Advice - Project Management

If you're hired to run a project for your customer, then you need to run it well because they're counting on you to shoulder that management burden. Here are key points to keep in mind.

  • Managing expectations is a key to project management. Disappointments will happen, but they're difficult to accept if your customer is "blind sided" by them.

  • If you encounter problems during a project, determine possible solutions and propose them during project review meetings. Your job as a project manager is to solve problems, not present problems for the customer to solve.

  • Hang out with your team when they have to work late, even if you're not actively contributing to the results. No one likes to be deserted, so if you're a project lead and your team needs to burn the midnight oil, hang in there with them.

  • For tight time line projects, work backwards from the drop dead point to help sequence activities. This will help you be more successful at meeting deadlines.

Small Business Advice - Operations and Financial Management

Your customers may encounter bad service, inconvenience, low quality deliverables and other unfortunate experiences mainly because:

  • Those who own and operate the company don't use their own services or purchase their own products, so they rarely see what it is their customers are seeing.
  • Employees aren't impassioned about their work, they only see it as a way of getting a paycheck, and customers sense this.
  • Small businesses that experience seasonal cash flow fluctuations should consider inventory financing. Such asset-based financing options can free up cash that would otherwise be tied up in inventory or equipment.

Company funding can come from a variety of sources. Each one has its pros and cons. Most business owners will find that tax calculators are essential since many different financial scenarios can factor into a business venture. Consider the following when trying to infuse more cash into your business activities or expand your business venture:

  • Self funding helps you keep your eye on the ball because it's your money at risk.
  • A cash advance can be useful for a short term need that is urgent. They are easy to get.
  • Having a line of credit is useful as a standby source of funding.
  • Discussions with lenders and investors should reveal plans to expand based on success, so you can seek funding for expansion when things fall into place and you can demonstrate financial success based on the initial loan.
  • Try a cooperative or ownership plan with employees that makes them have skin in the game. This can be a way to fund business expansion as well as provide incentives for business success.

Small Business Advice - Proposals

Proposals offer your customers something that they can approve for contract issuance. Make a good proposal, and you're much more likely to get approval.

  • Be clear and paint a vision of the finished project. A proposal should "sing" such that it's clear what the customer will get.

  • Keep the detail consistent with customer expectations. For larger customers where a contract will be issued, the proposal should be formal. For others, a single page or two describing the work will be sufficient.

  • Propose options. The more options you offer, the more likely that something you offer will be accepted, or you'll be asked to submit a modified proposal.

  • Proposals are simply a formalization of what has already been sold. Cold proposals aren't worthwhile sending to a customer. The best approach is to "sell" the program of services and then write a proposal as a formal documentation of what is being offered.

Small Business Advice - Recruiting and Staff Management

My experience tells me the following is sound advice regarding recruiting for your small business.

  • Employees will always be your most valuable resource. They need to be carefully selected, maintained, and made good use of.

  • Promote those that are already serving at the level to which you promote them.

  • Recruit, even when you have no position openings. There is nothing that says an interviewee can't make his/her own position in the company.

  • Pay employees fairly. You can't bring in a new employee at a pay rate that is very dissimilar to others with the same responsibilities. Remember, at some point, everyone finds out what everyone else is paid.

  • Provide reasonable challenges. Getting bored is a sure way to have top performers seek challenges elsewhere with your competitors.

  • Get rid of trouble makers quickly. Bad apples can spoil the whole bunch, so when you find one that's focused on spreading hate and discontent, it's time to show them the door.

  • Promote and praise in public. Recognition is a key to employee satisfaction. Pay them more, give them bonuses, give them paid time off, but don't neglect to recognize them for outstanding performance.

Small Business Advice - Sales, Marketing and Business Development

It's important to keep your presence in the marketplace, develop new and expanded business opportunities, and be a good competitor.

  • Perhaps the best small business advice is contained in this small business marketing tip - everybody in the company should be involved in making sales and drumming up new business. With rare exception, everybody markets! Small businesses can ill afford to have a separate marketing department or individual.

  • You have to keep your name out there, or you're really not out there in the marketplace. Sometimes, just a small ad keeps your name among the players. Recognition of your logo, your slogan or your company name is sometimes enough to get you an audience.

  • It's much easier to sell established products and services to existing customers. This is the best way to make easy sales. Selling established products and services to new customers can make for challenging sales, and your new products and services will be hard sales when it comes to new customers.

  • "Face time" with your customer will be limited, so make the most of it. Imagine that you only have so much. If you minimize your face time, you'll be welcome back with more interactions. If you maximize your face time, then expect to be less welcome to frequent interactions with your customer. Use face time wisely.

  • Give it away! If you're in the consulting business, sometimes giving your prospective customers some free advice is well worth it. If it's easy to answer, you're not going to make a job out of it anyway, so just help your future customer, and they'll see that you are a resource to turn to. When they really have a big problem to solve, then there is your opportunity to make a paying job of solving it.

  • Differentiate yourself. Anyone can engage in "me too" marketing, but who really cares. What you want is an edge - something that distinguishes your products and services from those of your competitors.

  • Team with others that aren't your competition. There is plenty of work out there for everyone, and building a team is a good way to offer "one stop shopping" to your customers, and take advantage of unique services offered by others.

  • Make use of project review meetings and routine customer interactions to identify and propose new products, services or opportunities for "up-selling" to gain more revenue from incremental investments of time.

Small Business Advice - Travel

Travel can be expensive, so you need to find a way to defray the costs of travel if you can.

  • Have your customer pay for your travel. If you're on a job away from your offices, try to find opportunities to expand your presence there by seeing prospective clients. Your travel is already paid for, so you might as well make good use of it.

  • Determine if travel is really necessary. Perhaps a phone call can address an issue and the cost of travel, in both time and money, can be avoided.

  • Find alternatives to travel. With E-mail, video conferencing, teleconferencing, and the ability to send photos, video and audio, the need to travel can be reduced if suitable alternatives are available.

Small business advice isn't just for small businesses. It can apply equally well to home based businesses and larger enterprises. If the shoe fits, wear it.

Stay tuned for more small business advice as there is a never ending supply of ideas for making your business better, more efficient and more satisfying for you and your customers. And, that's one of the best small business ideas I can offer.

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The only business you'll really ever be part of is your own.

Wondering about what to do with your savings so inflation doesn't eat it up? Start your own enterprise. It's a good way to invest your capital and make it work for you. Who will be better at keeping an eye on your investment than you?