Small Business Lessons
American Express asked me to write about my experience as a small business owner. A few things I’ve learned over the years:
Know when to celebrate. Your dreams for yourself and your business will evolve as you learn more about what you’re doing, so remember to give yourself credit along the way. Set goals up front, so you know when you’ve reached a measure of success. I use my Life List for this (note to self, include more of my business goals on my Life List), but annual business plans are also helpful, as are contracts with clients that outline not only the scope of work, but what you hope to accomplish together.
Good enough is sometimes good enough. I tend to agonize over the “best way to approach something. Being meticulous is fine, but being a perfectionist is a handicap. If you have a great opportunity or idea, take immediate action rather than wringing your hands over the best approach.
Get an elevator pitch. When I first started blogging professionally, I was also writing a book, copywriting, editing, and doing some freelance writing to pay the bills. If someone asked me what I did for a living, I practically froze. The answer was different every time. Stammering about my job made me seem unprofessional at best, and unemployed at worst. When people ask what you do, have a succinct, interesting answer at ready. If you don’t think what you do is all that interesting, ask an eloquent friend for help. And then consider changing careers.
If you hate it, avoid it. This is true of every aspect of your business. When it comes to discrete tasks like bookkeeping, pay someone who loves it, and they’ll do it faster and better than you will. If you’re building a portfolio, accepting projects you find unappealing will only attract more of the same. If you bend over backward for a difficult client, you’re guaranteeing repeat business from them, plus word-of-mouth recommendations to all of their equally difficult friends! Hooray.
Be generous with your knowledge. Sharing what you know is my preferred marketing tactic. It generates goodwill in your professional community, helps establish you as a leader, and attracts talented peers who can help you make cool stuff.
In negotiations, be as quiet as you can. If you’ve ever met me, you know how hard this is for me. I’ve rarely met a silence I didn’t want to fill, but I never resist the impulse so strongly as when I’m on a sales call. Don’t interrupt, don’t finish anyone’s sentences, pause before you respond. People want to tell you what they need. Let them.
Work with good people. This goes for clients and partners. Working with people you enjoy makes your business stronger and your life better. Choose well.
What’s the best business advice you’ve heard recently? Let us know in comments.
Thanks to to American Express OPEN for sponsoring this post as part of their Big Break for Small Business program. If you have a small business, visit their page on FaceBook to enter for a chance to win $20,000 to grow your business.