There’s exciting news for those of us who love small businesses: the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) found that nearly 14 percent of working age Americans are now either starting or running new businesses. That’s a record high for this study since it first began 16 years ago.
Small Business Week runs the first week of May to promote and honor America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners. After all, small businesses are the engine of the U.S. economy. According to data from the SBA, roughly two-thirds of all new jobs in this country are thanks to small businesses. And while it’s important to formalize this recognition with an official week, it’s equally important that we support small businesses throughout the year.
As a serial entrepreneur and someone who has helped tens of thousands small businesses get off the ground, I’ve come to appreciate one thing about small business ownership: starting a business may be hard, but scaling that business up can be even harder. That’s why I’m sharing some of the key lessons I’ve learned on how to grow your business and take it to the next level.
How To Grow Your Business
1. Focus On Your Brand, and More Branding
No matter how small your business may be, it has a brand. You may not have a marketing department or outside branding agency, but your business certainly has a brand. This is the emotional attachment that connects your customers to your product, service, and company. And it’s this emotional attachment that keeps your customers coming back more than pricing or any other strategy.
How do you want people to feel when they think about your company and product/service? How is your company inspiring its customers or creating other positive memories? Think deeply about these questions. Then, make sure that every aspect of your company — from your website to products, advertising, and employee policies — reinforces the brand image you want to portray.
2. Dedicate Blocks of Time to Work on the Business
There is a great article on Small Biz Trends offering solid tips on “How to Work ON Your Business, Not IN it“. When you’re running a business, you can keep yourself busy every second of the day. But busyness doesn’t necessarily equal success: in other words, just because you’re working around the clock doesn’t mean you’re driving your business forward.
If you are constantly focused on the day-to-day tasks and reacting to every request, email, or issue, it means that no one is actually working on building out the business for the long term. That makes it very hard to grow from where your business is right now. Set aside time in your schedule to work on getting new business and your company’s long-term strategy. Some choose to work only on new business deals every morning until 11 am; others schedule Friday afternoons or Monday mornings. Pick whatever time works for your schedule and stay disciplined: focusing on the future is the only way you can grow.
3. Surround Yourself with Great People
Small business owners are used to wearing all (or at least most) of the hats in their business. However, a successful company requires a team, not just one person. With only one person responsible for each decision or activity, there’s only so far your business can scale. Consider some of the tasks you could hand over to contractors, employees, interns, and even family members. Try delegating some of your major pain points first; this will free up your time to focus on the important stuff.
One word of advice. When small businesses start growing, owners often feel compelled to bring on a senior employee from a big company with an impressive resume. While this specific expertise can help in some cases, you should be hiring for smarts, work ethic, and culture-fit with your business rather than fancy words on a resume.
4. Invest in Your Legal Foundation
If you started a business without a clear growth strategy in mind, you may not have been thinking about a legal business structure. If you didn’t designate a structure, then by default, you’re operating as a sole proprietor (one owner) or general partnership (more than one owner). As you start growing, or are thinking about growing, it’s time to formalize your business structure — either by becoming a corporation or LLC (Limited Liability Company).
While there are several benefits to the corporation and LLC, the main advantage is that these structures help protect your personal assets. This means that if something should happen in your business (e.g. it gets sued or can’t pay its debts), then your personal assets can be protected and the responsibility falls on the shoulder of your business as its own entity.
5. Invest in Your Health and Sanity
A study from Bank of America found that managing a small business is twice as stressful as maintaining a healthy relationship with a spouse or partner and three times as stressful as raising children. Furthermore, small business owners routinely skip free time, exercise, and other personal priorities in order to focus on the business.
I can’t stress enough the importance of taking care of yourself, while you’re taking care of your business. After a few debilitating panic attacks brought on by business stress, I’ve learned to make my well being priority number one. When I’m feeling stuck or down, I get to the gym. Exercising and listening to music are my reset buttons. Find what feeds your soul and schedule it into your calendar just like an important client meeting. Because running a business is an ultra-distance marathon, and you need to have fuel in your tank to keep going.
Kudos to those of you who are traveling the exciting road of entrepreneurship. I know how hard the journey can be, but the challenges are so worth it!
Do you have any great tips to share on how to grow your business?
Watering Can Photo via Shutterstock