Success means different things to different people.
For some of us, it means being able to contribute to the household budget while for others it’s about financial security or the freedom to work with people that we don’t want to throttle the life out of.
Regardless of what it looks like to you, here are my 5 common-sense tips to get you on your way.
1. Know your strengths
If you lined up ten graphic designers with the same training, you’d find ten different combinations of skill and personality.
The same is true in any profession because your unique qualities and life experiences shape the way you do business and appeal to different buyers.
Some people are outgoing and ambitious, whereas others may be more creative or introverted. When you shape your businesses around your strengths, not only are you likely to be happier, but the likelihood of success is considerably higher.
This need not limit your ambitions, but it’ll affect how your processes work. Hate talking to people? Encourage email communication or online chat. Get bored working on your own in your home office? Find a co-working space that suits your needs.
2. Define your niche
A business can’t be all things to all people. Many have failed trying to make it so.
Having a niche market can mean offering a range of services or products to one specific industry, type of buyer or range of buyers within a specific area.
Even a huge business like K-Mart, which might look like it has a target market of everyone aged 2-100, actually has a clearly defined niche: people living within a certain geographic area, that want to buy moderately-priced, moderate quality stuff.
Consider the traits that your best customers have in common. Who are they? Why are they buying the thing you sell, and why do they buy it from you instead of someone else? Don’t know the answer to that question? Ask them.
Having a niche goes against what many people would consider logical thinking, which is ‘sell as many/much as you can, to anyone who will give you money for it’. But that approach means you’re always going to be working on the ‘sell’, often to people who’ll never value what you offer.
If you’ve targeted your business properly, ideal buyers will read the headline on your website or brochure and know straight away that they’ve come to the right place. You won’t have to work nearly as hard to close them because they already want what you’re offering.
The best thing about having a clear niche? You get to do your best work, for people who really appreciate it and are happy to pay your prices.
3. Set ambitious goals
Don’t be afraid to set big goals because you’re worried that you won’t achieve them. I’d rather fall a bit short of an ambitious goal, than hit a truly mediocre one, or worse still, not set any goals at all.
Goals are not just about numbers and sales. They can be about the improvement or evolution of your business, your products or yourself.
Whatever they are, set goals that are specific, measurable and stretch you a bit more than you feel comfortable with. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve just by making a commitment to try.
I write my goals down, because it makes me feel more accountable. You can go low-tech with a pen and paper, but I like to know I can refer to them anytime from my phone or computer (and I don’t need to worry about losing the piece of paper).
Trello is my favourite online tool for this because it’s free to use and simple to set up with virtual boards, checklists and all sorts of other sexy things.
I don’t look at my goals all the time, but I do go in and review them halfway through the year, and then again at the end. This is especially helpful to see if I’m on track with my financial goals. To make reviewing them easy, I print a month-by-month profit and loss report from my invoicing program, (I use QuickBooks) and compare it to what I hoped I’d do.
4. Track your numbers
Following on from the previous point, the only way to effectively measure the performance of your business and assess whether it’s a more viable option than getting a real job, is to keep accurate records.
This is something that puts a lot of people off if they don’t know much about accounting. Don’t be frightened! My advice is to find a simple online invoicing application and use it to create your invoices, record your expenses and reconcile your bank statements to make sure you haven’t left anything out.
I often recommend QuickBooks to sole traders and small businesses because it’s easy to use, cost-effective to maintain and can be used from your phone or laptop.
It also means that at the end of the year when it’s time to do a tax return, you’re not having to pay an accountant to do simple data entry. Everything is right there in one easy-to-navigate place, and you have financial information available to you throughout the year.
5. Make room for growth
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activity of keeping money coming in and clients happy, but all successful businesses need to evolve if they want to stay relevant and viable.
That old chestnut, working ‘on’ your business, not just ‘in’ your business, is a cliché for good reason.
Do you have someone who keeps you accountable for the plans and decisions you make to grow or improve your business?
If you’re in the financial position to pay a business coach to keep you on track this can be helpful, but for many small business owners, it’s out of the budget.
If it’s out of yours, why not look for a like-minded business owner in a related industry, and team up as accountability partners?
A different perspective can be valuable, and sometimes those in other industries see your business with more objective vision than you’re capable of. If you’re a plumber you could look for an electrician. If you’re a copywriter, you could look for a graphic designer. This type of arrangement can have the added benefit of leading to informal client referrals too.
I’ve been lucky enough to find an accountability partner for my business. Our services are similar enough that we understand each other’s business, but different enough that we’re not in direct competition. We meet once a month to talk about what goals we’re working towards, and ask each other for input on issues we’re not sure how to tackle.
Since we started meeting, I’ve given more thought to the direction I want my business to take and what I need to do to get there. I’ve implemented initiatives that had been floating around in my head for ages, and am working towards several more big goals for next year.
This list is by no means exhaustive and I don’t profess to have all the answers, but if you’re feeling as though life is passing you by, why not try a couple of these tips as you head into 2018?
Hyperventilating at the thought of going it alone?
My small business consulting services have helped sole traders from around Australia assess their businesses objectively, and work out how to play to their strengths.
Would you like to know more about how I can help you start or grow your beautiful little business, into the empire it deserves to be?