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Hard lessons for small businesses

Hard lessons for small businesses

Jason Titman
Jason Titman

Starting a business is fraught with pitfalls and it can be a steep learning curve. It is important to embrace difficulties and mistakes as learning opportunities, as well as understand how important it is to take the rough times with the good times. Below are some of the most vital lessons new businesses will need to learn to grow and succeed.

Build and maintain relationships

Regardless of how impressive your resume, how honed your skills, or how great your ability, without successful self-promotion your business won’t get off the ground. Whether you are opening an online store or becoming a freelancer, if you don’t have a launchpad of key influencers to assist you to reach your audience in those first vital months, your business will struggle to gain a foothold and flourish. Business relationships can be found in a variety of places, from industry networking events to social media, to unrelated parties and gatherings, friends of friends and family, and anywhere you can hand out a business card.

Once you have established a relationship, you need to work at maintaining it. The key is balancing your demands with what you can offer them. On Twitter, to engage with key influencers, you need to create momentum and not just launch into favour-asking mode. Ask questions, favourite and retweet their tweets, and respond without always expecting a direct response in turn. These small steps start to build a relationship that will increase the likelihood that they will share or link to your content, or tell their audience about your new business. They will do so as you aren’t just another complete stranger demanding their time and help. The same is true of all business relationships; you shouldn’t only make contact when you want something. Instead, offer assistance and resources without expectation of a reward in return.

Learn to trust and delegate

It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. Or it won’t get done the way you would like. New business owners become used to doing things themselves. In the early stages, they are learning every facet of their business and how to keep it on course. But after a certain amount of growth it becomes too much for one person to stay across and you will need specialists for particular areas. It is vital that you learn to trust your employees and communicate clearly with them. After all, you have hired them for their expertise and you are paying them to help your business succeed.

If you attempt to do everything yourself, things will start to fall through the cracks. The quality of the work will begin to decline, your customers will notice a dip in results, and your business will suffer. Delegating doesn’t mean relinquishing control, it is quite the opposite. Bringing in experts to take on the work enables you to grow your business faster and more efficiently. Trained and qualified people will take on the tasks you had to teach yourself in the beginning. Trusting new people with something you are emotionally connected to is difficult, but unless you want your business to remain small and manageable for one person, it is a vital step in the maturing process of your company.

Listen to customer feedback

It can be easy to fall into the trap of being defensive whenever a client or customer has something negative to say about your product or service. Yet, these comments are valuable for learning how to improve and meet the needs of your audience. Few companies have the kind of cachet that Apple has. Telling customers what they need rather than listening to them can be a slippery slope that will send them straight to your competitors.

As the creator, you won’t have much objectivity about the shortcomings of your product. Your friends and family will be emotionally invested in your success and their supportive comments will have little value when finding where you should make improvements. Customer feedback is the most valuable source of information. While it can be a bitter pill to swallow, and not always presented in the most diplomatic way possible, even the most seemingly unreasonable complaint can be valuable. The chances are, if one person finds a fault, others will have too.

Be gracious, even in defeat

Leaving a positive impression, even with people who choose to use a competitor’s service or dislike your product is important. Professionalism and respect will take you further than being brutal when dealing with a client you feel has let you down. The business world runs on networking and connections and a bad reputation is hard to shake. By taking the time to thank a potential client for the opportunity to pitch to them, and even congratulating the competitor who secured their business, you show a level of class and sophistication that will make you memorable and talked about for the right reasons.

Be passionate about your work

Your passion for what you do needs to shine in every piece of work you produce. Businesses who are recruiting often place passion above expertise; the mechanics of the tasks can be taught on the job, but instilling a desire to work in a particular industry or on certain projects is harder to achieve. The same applies for running your own business and attracting and retaining customers and feeling satisfied in your work. The attention-to-detail and ambition that passion creates will benefit the quality of your products, the standard of your service, and your brand’s image and reputation.

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