If you’re launching a small business, you might be tempted to forego in-depth planning and jump right in. Entrepreneurs already running a business may not have established systems to keep up with growth. No matter where you are in your business journey, there are steps you can take to get more organized and efficient. Here are 20 tips to help you get on track and ready to succeed -- 15 tips that apply to any business, and five more especially for online and ecommerce enterprises.
15 tips on how to run a business (additional tips for online business later)
1. Find Your Passion
Whether your company is brand new or has existed for years, you’ll find yourself to be more motivated if you genuinely enjoy what you do. If a certain type of product or service improves your life or brings you immense happiness, try offering it to your customer base. Or if the concept of interacting directly with customers and making them happy itself brightens your day, be sure to focus more on consulting and services than products.
2. Draft a Killer Business Plan
You might think that a business plan is something you only need when looking for potential investors. However, every successful small business requires a road map to move forward and ultimately succeed. While every business plan is unique, most follow the same outline. Elements include an executive summary, marketing and sales plans and financial projections. The SmartBiz Small Business Blog has an article to help you craft the perfect plan: How to Write a Business Plan for Your Small Business (Without Going to Business School). Even if you didn’t prepare a business plan before you launched, you should always put one in place to reference as you expand.
3. Identify Your Customers Base
Who do you want to see logging onto your website or walking in the door? Every business owner should have a strong grasp of their target audience. Are you selling to men or women, parents, millennials or retired professionals? Include an outline of your audience in your business plan and how you intend to reach them.
4. Keep Track of Your Finances
Have you heard of the term “shoebox accounting”? It’s forgoing processes and systems and tossing everything together to sort out later. Of course, this can spell disaster for a small business. Staying organized can be doable if you follow these simple steps suggested by Quickbooks:
- Open a business bank account to keep all your business income and expenses separate from your personal ones.
- Choose an accounting method. Most small businesses use the cash accounting method, which records income when it’s received and expenses when you make the payment.
- Consider using cloud-based accounting software. This technology offers cheap, fast, portable and safe operations for all kinds of commercial set-ups. Learn why using the cloud is the best bet for small businesses here: Why Small Businesses Should Invest in Cloud Technology.
- When tracking your business expenses, keep the receipts for any business-related purchases you make. To make the process simple, consider using the same credit or debit card to make business-related purchases.
- Understand which expenses are tax deductible. You might consult with your accountant for a complete list of tax deductible business expenses.
5. Project Growth
Forecasting growth during the startup stage has been described as “more an art than a science”. You might think growth forecasting is too time consuming but it’s a vital step when starting a small business. Entrepreneur has a detailed article outlining how to forecast revenue and growth here.
6. Manage Your Credit Scores
Both personal and business credit scores are important when running a business. Good credit scores help you qualify for trade credit, loans, favorable insurance rates and more. The SmartBiz Small Business Resource Center has numerous articles about managing both personal and business credit scores. Start with these three articles to understand why good scores are important when running a small business and how you can improve yours.
- Your Personal Credit Score: What It Is, Why It’s Important
- Do You Know Your SBSS FICO Business Credit Score?
- How Small Business Owners Can Improve Their Credit Scores
7. Secure a Loan or Other Investment
The word “debt” is usually seen as a negative. However, securing low-cost debt for a small business helps improve your bottom line in numerous ways. Increasing inventory, paying off high interest debt or purchasing equipment are just a few reasons outside funds are good for business. Review this blog post to learn why low-cost long-term debt is good for business: The Benefits of Long-Term Debt for Your Small Business.
If you’ve been in business for two or more years and have good credit, an SBA loan is your best bet to fuel growth. SBA loans have low rates, long terms and very low monthly payments. SmartBiz Loans, the #1 SBA loan marketplace, has streamlined the SBA loan process. Learn more about our process and products here.
8. Manage Inventory Efficiently
Effective inventory management is key to understand what you have, where it is, and when products are going in and out. Having a handle on your inventory can help lower costs, speed up fulfillment and even prevent fraud.
9. Hire Qualified Employees
Do you need employees to help run your small business? There's a big difference between a skilled worker who's suited to their job and an employee who falls short. Once you’ve determined your staffing needs, it’s time to find the right fit for each position. Our post has information to help guide your search: 5 Hiring Tips for Every Small Business. If you’re not sure whether to hire an in-house employee or an outside professional, check out this post: Hiring Help: Do You Need an Employee or Independent Contractor? You’ll learn the pros and cons of each and what tasks can be successfully managed by an independent contractor. Once you have the right people in place, learning to delegate is key. Make sure your employees are properly trained and let them take on tasks so you can concentrate on the big picture.
10. Know Your Audience
Before you spend any money on your business, you should know to whom you intend to sell your products or services. If your business model involves products or services with no audience, then you might struggle to make enough sales to keep your company afloat – certainly the opposite of business success.
11. Analyze Your Competition
For your small business to be successful, you’ll need to know what separates it from other companies. The best way to figure out what distinguishes you is to look directly at your competitors.
Continuous, meaningful competitor analysis can regularly show you how your competitors are succeeding and how you can follow in their footsteps. Likewise, it can show you where other companies are dropping the ball and how you can pick it up.
12. Provide Great Service
Providing a consumer need in and of itself doesn’t make for business success. How you provide those services is just as important for distinguishing your company. Train your team to always remain friendly and gracious with customers, respond to inquiries promptly, and grow from constructive criticism.
13. Don’t Neglect Work-Life Balance
For your small business to be successful, you’ll need to equally prioritize your business passions and your personal ones. You can experience burnout if you don’t take yourself off, and with it can come challenges in both your personal and professional life. Learn more about avoiding burnout and achieving a work-life balance via the SmartBiz Loans blog: 5 Ways to Avoid Business Burnout.
14. Build a Support Network
Small business owners like yourself shouldn’t do anything alone, and that philosophy means more than hiring employees to build a team. It also means building a support network of other business owners, your friends and family, and anybody else whom you can turn to for quality referrals and meaningful feedback when needed.
Alternatively, building a support network can mean seeking input from other businesspeople whom you don’t know – well, not yet. Your initial networking can turn into a meaningful long-term business relationship that brings about new successes for everyone involved.
15. Ask for Help
Don’t neglect the value of asking for help when you need it. For example, your local Small Business Administration (SBA) office might offer:
- Free small business advice, information and counseling.
- Small business training and free consultations through the network of Small Business Development Centers.
- For small business owners who fit the SBA definition of socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, help may be available through the Minority Enterprise Development Program.
- For women business owners, the SBA employs several Women's Business Ownership Representatives who can advise you.
Outside the SBA, you can obtain help via contractors or employees who can handle business tasks in which you aren’t as well-versed.
5 special tips on how to run a business online
An online business has its own unique set of challenges some other businesses may not have. If you operate mainly online, you should keep the following business tips in mind:
1. Organize Your Digital Assets
Just as you wouldn’t leave your file cabinet cluttered and messy, you shouldn’t leave your digital folders poorly sorted or unnavigable. Running a successful business means properly storing and organizing your important documents and files using folders, tags, and systematically named files.
2. Maintain Customer Records Safely
Not only do customer record breaches lessen trust in small businesses, but they can also lead to premature business closure. Such breaches are far from uncommon: Over seven in 10 cyberattacks target small businesses. Learn how to protect your company via the SmartBiz Loans blog Cybersecurity for Small Businesses.
3. Protect Your Brand’s Online Reputation
Any negative online information about your business makes running a successful business tougher. If anything, since 71% of purchases start with web searches, even small damage to your brand’s online reputation can hamper your sales.
4. Follow Website Best Practices
According to a Stanford University study, 75 percent of people determine whether a company is trustworthy based on how the company’s website looks. To design a customer-friendly website, you should make your website easily navigable, ensure your contact information is up to date, and embed a few videos. And while you’re at it, don’t forget about back-end tools such as analytics and SEO.
5. Invest in a Good Internet Connection
Nobody likes internet interruptions, especially when they happen in the midst of a giant project. To prevent your company from losing its connection as a huge deadline approaches, set up a strong internet connection from the get-go.
6. Manage Your Finances
Just as with a traditional business, you should keep close tabs on your online business’s cash flow and revenue. This way, you’re not surprised when it’s time to pay your online company’s bills or invest in new software and you don’t have as much money as expected. You should also have all your financial paperwork in order so that, when it’s time to file taxes or apply for loans, gathering all your documents and completing any additional required forms is a cakewalk.
These tips are only the starting point
Although the above tips on how to run your business are useful for companies of all types, they aren’t exhaustive. Don’t be afraid to ask other people what they think you should do, and never stop reading about best business practices. If you’re learning, you’re growing – and so too is your business.