When starting and running a small business, we often learn as we go. However, some pitfalls in business can be avoided -- saving time and money. (I personally don't know any small business owner who wouldn't benefit from more time or money!) Business owners need to learn to delegate tasks, carefully plan, create a measurable marketing strategy, develop a sales flow process, and build an online reputation that pulls people in; and all while making sure they have their finances in order. Here are the top pitfalls for small business owners.
1. Not delegating: Do not spend your time doing $10-an-hour work. You are doing at least 12 jobs at times, and it's easy to get spread too thin. As soon as you can, at least bring on some virtual employees so that you can focus on what you do best, which had better be selling. Document your processes in your small business, so that you can teach your signature way of doing things. Hire smart people and empower them to solved problems without your direct involvement. Keep an open line of communication with them, so even if they make a mistake you use it as a learning opportunity and keep it moving.
2. Not having a niche: If everyone can use your product or service, no one will. It's easy to get all over the map with your marketing when you are starting out in business. You must focus on a specific niche customer. You have limited time and limited resources, stay focused on doing your one thing and doing it better than anyone else, and the world will beat a path to your door. Don't be afraid about the business you think you are going to lose by being a specialist, stay focused.
3. Coming across as desperate: When you put all your skin in the game, (meaning all your personal money) you can start to feel the burn as months go by and you're not closing enough business. Just like you can borrow money when you don't need it, you can never let anyone see you sweat. As bad as you need a check, you can never act like you need one. If you sell too hard to new clients, it can come across as desperate. Focus on building long term relationships with clients, which will turn them into advocates, which is far better to sustain your small business long term.
4. Not Knowing Your Numbers: Profit is how we keep score in business. You must know all of your costs in your business, including your monthly burn rate, or how much money it costs you to run your business each month. You must have regular accounting processes so that you have updated financial statements. You should be using accounting software. If you make business decisions based on up to date financial information, you won't have too many expensive surprises.
5. Not managing your online brand: You can't sell anything with a bad website. Create a regular blog; position yourself and your business as a credible source of information to your target audience. At least once a year, you should give your website a facelift. Especially, make sure your shopping cart is easy to use. You never want to aggravate a paying customer. You also should have Google alerts on your personal name as well as your business names. Retailers should not suffer a black eye on a review site. You should respond to the good and bad reviews about your business online. Social media is the most cost effective way to engage with prospects online, make sure your business is actively engaged on at least one social media site. Post to your social media accounts every day.
What pitfalls have you learned to sidestep in your business?
Melinda F. Emerson, SmallBizLady is America's #1 small business expert. She is an author, speaker and small business coach whose areas of expertise include small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. She writes a weekly column for the New York Times, publishes a resource blog, www.succeedasyourownboss.com which is syndicated through the Huffington Post. She also hosts a weekly talk show on Twitter called #SmallBizChat for small business owners. As a brand, she reaches 1.5 million entrepreneurs a week on the internet. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda develops audio, video and written content to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. Forbes Magazine named Melinda Emerson one of the #1 Woman for Entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. Melinda has been featured on MSNBC, Fox News, NBC Nightly News, and in Fortune, The Washington Post, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Black Enterprise. She is the bestselling author of "Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works," and the ebook How to Become a Social Media Ninja; 101 Ways to Dominate Your Competition Online.