1. Do What You LOVE: If you've chosen your business because you read that this niche was the next hot one, or because your favorite uncle (or your best friend) thinks you'd be well-suited for this business, you may as well pack up now and save yourself some time and money. If you don't love what you do, it will show...potential customers will know it and will go elsewhere. Is it possible to be successful anyway? Sure -- but it won't be easy and it won't be fun...and isn't that why you want to be in business for yourself anyway?
Instead, choose what you love. You'll know what that is when you find yourself being incredibly productive, forgetting the time passing by, and not being able to wait to get up in the morning to do more! At Solo-E we call that being juiced...but whether you call it being in the flow, or the zone, or whatever, FIND IT!
2. WRITE DOWN Your Business Plan: As a small or solo business owner, you still need a business plan. Even if you aren't getting a loan! Would you invest thousands of dollars of your own money buying stock in a company that didn't have a written prospectus? (I hope not!) Then why would you spend thousands of dollars AND hours of your precious time on a business that doesn't have a written plan?
Write your plan, get it critiqued by professionals, and most important, BE READY TO CHANGE IT. This may seem counterintuitive...why bother writing it down if it's just going to change? Because writing it down makes it more clear...and helps you get to the next stage of learning and planning and revising. It's critical--67% of businesses that failed had no written business plan. Want to play the odds?
3. Multiply Your Expected Startup Costs by Two--or Maybe Three: When I started my business, an honors MBA grad with 15 years of solid business experience behind me, I figured I was smart enough to estimate my startup costs accurately. I knew all the things I needed and made conservative estimates and I was still WRONG! That's right, I was still off by a factor of almost three. Don't make this mistake! One of the biggest reasons small businesses fail is because of lack of capital. Give yourself the best possible start by saving or acquiring sufficient startup funds NOW. Before you start!
4. Make Your Market Niche as Small as Possible: Again, this is counterintuitive--shouldn't you try to appeal to as many people as possible? The paradox is that the more you try to appeal to EVERYONE, the less you will appeal to ANYONE. Let's say you are selling your house...would you rather list it with the agent who operates in 14 counties, sells both commercial and residential real estate, and sells everything from cottages to estates? Or would you pick the agent who specializes in your community, selling only houses in a well-defined price range that she knows extremely well? Ruthlessly define your niche, make it as small as possible, and stay true to it. You'll thank me later!
5. Do Marketing Your Way: The temptation is to choose all the marketing methods that the competition uses. To stay with tried-and-true marketing channels. To place advertisements that you know nothing about creating, or make cold calls that give you heartburn. Why? Because (all together now) "that's how it's always been done."
It's difficult to stand out among your competitors when you are doing the same kind of marketing! So instead, look to your strengths. What do you like to do? What are you good at? Then choose three marketing methods that play to those strengths. If you need ideas, check out 136 Ways to Market Your Solo Business, another article at www.Solo-E.com.
6. Remember the Most Important Ingredient in Your Business--YOU: Business-owner: know thyself. Spend some time learning about who you are and how you are unique. Then let that uniqueness shine through in your marketing, in how you run your business, in everything you do. Don't hide your quirks--celebrate them!
Customers go to small and solo businesses primarily because they are looking for a personalized experience. They want a relationship with you as the owner of your business. If you try to come off as who you think they want, they'll smell right through that and not come back. Be who you are, and trust that who YOU are is going to be attractive to the right people.
7. Build Your Business by Building Relationships: Being a small or solo business owner isn't about sitting in the corner alone. Actually it can be--and that isolation is what drives many out of business and back into a "job". Build relationships to survive! Start with your colleagues--others you know who are at the same stage of business as you, or are farther along and willing to mentor you.
Next, build relationships with potential customers. Ask them what they want! Then create products and services based on their input and come back and show them what you have done. Get feedback, tweak, and maybe make your first sale. Stay in touch with your customers even after they leave you.
Last but not least, build relationships with your competitors. You might be able to do this right at the beginning, simply by asking them for their advice. Surprisingly, many ARE willing to share their secrets if you just ask. Later on, build cross-referral relationships, co-marketing alliances, and other relationships that are win-win for you, your competitors, and your customers.
8. Don't Accept a Customer Just For the Money: This is probably the hardest advice for new business owners to apply. Especially when there is a job, a project, a potential client, just outside your niche, that could keep your business solvent for the next six months. Don't do it! Taking on a client outside your niche inevitably results in frustration for you, dissatisfaction on the part of the client, and in the end, usually costs you more than you make. Ask any successful business owner and they'll tell you this is true!
9.. Don't Do Everything Yourself: It's so tempting to fall into the self-deception that "it's cheaper for me to do it myself." IT"S NOT! If you aren't good at something, for instance bookkeeping, it will probably take you 2-3 times as long--time you could be spending doing things that are essential for you to be doing personally, like writing your business plan or deciding your marketing strategy. Put sufficient capital into your business upfront so you CAN hire help right from the start. Your business will get off to a quicker start because you aren't distracted by time-consuming tasks that drain your energy.
10. Assemble Your Support Team: Start with the people who will help you do the things you aren't good at. Some examples: bookkeeper, marketing writer, web designer. Then add the people who give you professional business advice: a lawyer, an accountant, a business coach. Finally, include the people who support you personally: your family, friends, and colleagues.
Don't forget to be part of other's support teams, too. Share your expertise at Solo-E, start a networking group where business owners support each other, share a referral with a colleague. Solo Entrepreneurs supporting other Solo Entrepreneurs is what will make us all successful!
Copyright 2004, Terri Zwierzynski, Accel Innovation, Inc.
Terri Zwierzynski is a coach to small business owners and Solo Entrepreneurs. She is also the CEI (Conductor of Extraordinary Ideas) at Solo-E.com and the author of 136 Ways To Market Your Small Business. Terri is an MBA honors graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill. Terri has been coaching for over 10 years in a variety of settings, including 6 years as a senior-level coach and consultant for a Fortune 500 company. She opened her private coaching practice in 2001. You can reach Terri at http://www.TerriZ.com.
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