Guiding Principles for Entrepreneurs: Think Like an Owner

I just got off the phone with a client – and in this case, a family member. She’s being pulled in so many different directions. Her partner wants to do things one way, her intuition tells her something else. She is frustrated and confused. She originally called me about a month ago to help her with some digital marketing – something she admits she knows nothing about. They hired my company to work with them to help get things “unstuck” and get her business started on the right foot when it opens in 8 months.

Our first task was to help them get their website finished – after 6 months waiting for a “Friend” to help her get it completed, only to wait and wait and wait, because, quite frankly, friends get busy with their own stuff and hardly ever do favors the way a client really needs them to be handled – like it’s a job. She called me because she was  frustrated that she’d already wasted so much time, and money, and still didn’t have a finished product. Within a couple of days, we had her site live and could begin to focus on tweaking the content, and preparing to look at establishing the marketing systems she’d need to begin building for lead generation.

On this most recent call, we talked about her frustrations: “Should I choose this tool or that tool to manage my business? If I put all my eggs in one basket with a 3rd party tool, what will I do if it doesn’t work? I need a way to take payments, send contracts, manage leads, handle inquiries – and I am still 8 months away from opening! I don’t know what to do, but I want to make sure I do the right things now, so I don’t run into problems later, when I actually have clients to think about!”

Here’s a simple description of her biggest challenge – everyone is trying to sell her something, but no one is listening to her – or thinking about her long term needs. Everything is a “quick fix” to help her resolve this issue, so she can  jump into the next hurdle. She listens to one person and they tell her one thing, and another person tells her something else.  Because they want them to pick their solution.

As a marketing expert, having been in the trenches with small local businesses for over 10 years, with a Masters Degree in Internet Marketing to boot, I get frustrated too when I have these conversations. I constantly try to advise my clients that there is no easy button – the best way is to climb the steep hill now, and focus on building your brand as an ASSET and make decisions that will support your long-term business growth, and that might not be the easy choice. Many so-called experts might argue and suggest a different approach, but in the end, I haven’t seen any better approach than the regular advice I try to give (when the clients will listen):  build and own your own assets, and seek counsel early to avoid costly mistakes later.

 While I am far from an expert in everything, over the last 10 years, I have worked with and spoken to thousands of entrepreneurs at various stages of their business growth and I believe it’s time for me to share some of the best practices and guiding principles from these years in “the trenches.”

I hope something here will help you, whether you’re just starting out, or even if you’ve been poking at your business for a while!  

  1. Successful small business owners know who owns their company assets. If this is something they have delegated to another team member or department, they know who has the information and can get to it quickly. If they are the responsible member of the team, they know where things like the company domain is registered, have access to the account and ensure that the renewal of domain and hosting is handled each year, so that these assets do not somehow expire without their knowledge. Note: Hosting and Domain registration are not the same thing and are often handled by two different providers. However, no business should ever enter into any agreement with a vendor that will own their domain in a vendor-owned account. I haven’t found any good reason for this – ever! 
  2. Successful small business owners look for ways to keep costs low, but also recognize the importance of owning their data, as well as the system that will be responsible for generating leads, and assisting with long-term business growth and they realize this is not a place to cut corners, or try to get by “on the cheap.” They know what Sales Funnels are and they expect their team to have an understanding as well. They can identify where leads are coming from, and if their advertising strategy is working, or not (and what to do – or who to ask – to fix it).  They understand the importance of investing in Lead Generation, whether that is digital, print, television, radio, or other methods, and they can identify the Return on their Investment by looking at things like Cost per Acquisition and the Lifetime Value of a Client. Simply put, they invest money intelligently, and then, they measure how much business that investment generated for them.
  3. Successful small business owners make decisions that will allow them to grow – long-term, not just today. They look for solutions that will grow with them and will not force them to stay stuck with one tool or system for longer than it will serve them. They see the big picture and want to avoid putting all of their assets into one proverbial basket, so that they can avoid having have to rebuild their systems from scratch – usually a very costly endeavor – once they get the business off the ground. They thoughtfully consider ways to build the business’s foundation right from the beginning, so that it will give them maximum opportunity for growth in their market in the future.
  4. Successful small business owners know who their audience is, and they realize that “everyone” is not their audience. They do the sometimes difficult work of becoming very clear on who they are in business to serve – not just demographics and industry data, but what they believe, how they live and what is most important to them, and how they make decisions. They recognize that finding this clarity is an ongoing task, and as their business grows, they continue to reassess their Target Audience, to make sure their services and products remain in line with the needs and wants of their customers – as well as the mission and vision and culture of their company.
  5. Successful small businesses owners know who their competitors are, but they see competition as something essential and healthy for their business’s growth – and not as a threat to their success. They don’t focus their energy or resources on trying to beat their competition, but instead focus on creating the best product/service possible for the customers they seek to serve. They are also known to build relationships with these competitors, because they understand that a healthy marketplace needs options in order for small businesses to thrive. The allow the success of competitors to drive them to improve themselves, instead of looking for ways to “beat” them, or steal their customers.
  6. Successful small businesses owners seek advice from experts prior to jumping into contracts and agreements with vendors. They realize that they do not know everything and are not embarrassed to seek counsel prior to making investments that will impact their business’s bottom line.
  7. Successful small business owners realize that they must trust those they hire to get the job done and they allow those members of the team – whether this is their staff or vendor partners to do their jobs, and hold them accountable for the jobs that they are paid to do.. They realize that micromanaging projects is not an efficient way to build their business, and therefore they maintain healthy relationships with those responsible for assisting them with their business growth.
  8. Successful small business owners build relationships with other local businesses because they value and understand the economic impact of the local business community. They find value beyond “quid pro quo” and realize that healthy business growth depends on more than just healthy relationships with their staff and customers. It also relies on a healthy local economy, which often includes placing priority on Local Procurement for business operations.

My hope is that every entrepreneur who wants to grow a successful business will someday begin to think and act like owners and make decisions with the mindset of someone who plans to be around for a very long time.

Have something to add to the conversation? Please share in the comments!

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