I’ve been in business for myself a few months now and this past week I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a small business owner. I am learning things I never even thought about a few months ago. I want to share a few things I’ve learned in my very young business adventure, in hopes of helping others out there who are brand new – or those who have been in business a while and still need a little help.
- I am my brand. I live in a smallish city and I go to every networking event and gathering I am invited to. When I am out and about I never know when I might run into my next customer, strategic partner or referral source. I need to be kind and helpful to everyone I meet. I never know if that guy I gave the finger to on the freeway for cutting me off or lady I cussed at in the store for cutting in line (not that I would every do any of these things, nope, not me!) will show up at the next chamber mixer or networking event. Or worse, she may be a small business owner in need of marketing help. Not a good image to leave them with. We are our brands, like or not, we have to think before we act and speak; in every situation now.
- Yes, appearances matter. If I want to be successful I need to look successful. The days of throwing on the old tattered jeans and oversized shirt with spaghetti sauce stains to run to the grocery store are O-V-E-R. I am a business owner, an entrepreneur, a brand. I never know who I might run into or who I might meet, and the fact is people judge on appearances. I’m sorry, but no one is going to believe I can help them grow their business if I can’t even get the spinach out of my teeth or put on a clean shirt! Dress the part – always, no excuses. If we want people to believe we can bring them success, health, and/or happiness we need to be the picture of success, health, and/or happiness.
- It might be my personal cell phone: but it’s not personal. I just read a post by Chris Brogan, “My First Year in Business” at http://bit.ly/4L82Y3 and he talks about how his first year he used his personal cell phone as his business phone. Glad to hear I’m not the only one. So what does that have to do with anything? Well, that means I can no longer answer my phone, “hey, yo what’s up?” That means that each and every time I answer my phone I need to speak clearly and succinctly. I need to identify myself and my company. I have to demonstrate that I am a professional services company and not some college kid who just rolled out of bed and decided this might be a fun thing to do today. The same goes for my outgoing greeting: clear, succinct, and upbeat, identifying my company and myself. Using my personal cell phone as my business phone also means I need to be kind and polite to every person who calls me – yes even sales people and telemarketers! You never know who the person on the other end knows or influences. (They may even be a Tweeter!).
- Don’t be a flake. All it takes is one unreturned phone call and the whole city thinks you are a flake who doesn’t return phone calls. I was at a Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce mixer recently, talking to another local small business owner. This person said, “Yeah, ABC Company was the first person I called to get help, but they never called me back.” What’s going on in my mind? “Note to self: always return phone calls, whether you think it’s a viable opportunity or not!” What happened here? Well, “ABC Company” lost much more than a sale. They lost trust and reliability – not only with that one person – but with everyone they tell that story to. The success train has no room for flakes. As small business owners we need to return every phone call and email promptly – NO MATTER WHAT.
- There are only 24 hours in a day, deal with it. This is a tough one for me. It’s Saturday morning, and I took a break from writing this post to do a little long overdue laundry and house-cleaning. As I folded my clothes and did my dishes I found myself feeling guilty for not working. My mind telling me, “Hey, you only have a few clients you know, your workshop isn’t filled, your blog isn’t done, why aren’t you working?” I have been working non-stop for months and up until a few weeks ago only took a break when my mind and body completely shut down; screaming at me, “It’s time to rest!”. Starting a business is a lot of work and there is always stuff to do. But I am finding that I need to find balance. That means saying “no” sometimes. No I can’t join another networking group. No, I can’t meet you today, how about tomorrow. No, I can’t call you right back, I will call you back later. It also means telling my workaholic self no. No, you can’t spend every waking hour on the computer. No you can’t keep ignoring that pile of laundry and stack of dishes… and your husband! There are only 24 hours in a day – and I can’t spend them all on work. I am slowly learning that it’s ok to do my laundry once in a while (so I can have clean shirts to wear out of the house! ). It’s ok to go out for an evening with my husband. I can live without my laptop for a few hours! Work will always be there and there will always be more of it.
I’d love to hear from you now. What lessons have you learned and what personal challenges have you overcome in your quest to build a successful business? Please click here to leave your comments.