Anyone who’s tried to start a small business knows how much entrepreneurs need to keep strong. When you have many things competing for your attention at once, it’s all you can do to figure out which need to be addressed immediately and which can wait for a slightly less hectic time. (If such a time ever comes.)
Through trial and error, you’ve also probably learned where your company excels, where it can do better, and what it needs to get done to increase its chances of crossing the startup death zone and emerging as a viable concern for years to come.
Whole volumes have been written on this topic, and you should read them. But if you have just a few minutes to learn what successful entrepreneurs can do for their businesses — and their livelihoods — you can start by reading the next seven paragraphs.
- Invest in Quality
—in all its forms.
Quality matters at every level of your organization. Without a great product, even the best marketing and salesmanship can’t convince new customers to come on board. And without great people, it’s hard to create quality products — or address the unforeseeable challenges that will inevitably arise down the road.
Quality is expensive, to be sure. But, as the old saying goes, you have to spend money to make money.
- Streamline and Scale Processes
Quality only goes so far. In a growing organization, scalable processes are essential. Every single one of your employees needs to know who they report to, and when; how to respond to common and not-so-common eventualities; and when and how they’re to be held accountable for their work. Tight, properly executed processes are terrific insulators against risk and uncertainty.
“Effective internal processes strengthen the chain of command and insulate against external threats,” says George Otte, a Miami-based entrepreneur with more than a decade of experience in the computer repair business and other consumer-facing industries. “For instance, many companies may lack standardized digital security processes. That shortcoming exposes them to a variety of risks and may hamper their growth over the long term.”
- Determine Optimal Sales Models
In this excellent article about international business expansion, Forbes highlights the importance of fitting your company’s sales model to on-the-ground realities.
But you don’t have to do business in multiple countries — or even multiple states — to benefit from a careful analysis of your company’s sales strategy. You simply need to determine the sales tactics that resonate most with your prospects and returning customers without disrupting other aspects of your business model.
- Cut Costs, But Not to the Bone
Effective businesses are efficient with their money, even after reaching the breakeven point. No matter how confident you feel in your company’s sustainability, never stop looking for ways to cut costs in non-core areas. But don’t violate rule #1, either: the moment you cease investing in quality is the moment you cede control of your company’s future.
- Keep Tabs on the Competition
Make sure you know exactly what your competitors are up to, and why, without violating the norms or laws governing your industry. Network with your peers in other organizations’ decision-making structures, attend trade shows to understand the technological and strategic curve, and sample publicly available products or services for inspiration and insight. It’s great to keep your head down and focus on what you can control — but not so far down that you miss what’s happening right under your nose.
How many of these steps is your small business taking? And how many more will it take this year?