Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Keeping a Small Business Afloat 25 Years II

Keeping a Small Business Afloat for 25 Years – Part II

Today, I would like to focus on some specific and hopefully helpful ideas to help you keep your businesses afloat for 25 years or more.

1. Stay on top of what is going on in your industry, and incorporate new ideas that you find useful.

I am in a high tech business, and as such, it is absolutely essential that I keep up to date with the latest technological advances, and make a determination as to how these advances can benefit my customers. I work very hard to keep myself informed about new and cheaper computer and printer hardware, new web design ideas and methodologies, and most importantly, advances in computer security.

There are a number of reasons why this approach is essential. First, it provides a valuable service to my customers. If I am up to date on what is relevant to their computer installations, then I am a resource that they can turn to at any time for advice, making me a valuable asset to their business success. Secondly, it provides me an avenue to stay sharp and fresh. Any business can become stale. One of the greatest enemies to the life of a business is the idea that “That’s the way we’ve always done it!” You can easily become stuck, stale and irrelevant to your customers.

2.Pay close attention to what your customers tell you. Listen, listen and then listen some more.

It is common for business owners to presume that they know what is best for their customers. Many large corporations have developed very bad reputations with respect to customer service because they no longer listen. They operate in a vacuum without any firsthand knowledge of what their customers need, want or value. Unfortunately many small businesses fall into the same trap.

Not everything a customer will tell you is something you want to hear. However, these are the most important things out there for you to hear, especially if you hear the same thing from more than one customer. You have to know what they need, what you are doing right, and most importantly, what you are doing wrong, if you want to be the one to meet their needs. And it does not matter what your industry is. Listen, and pay attention!

3.Pay very close attention to your expenses and income. Understand where your revenue is coming from and where it is going.

This is a very crucial aspect of small business ownership. You HAVE TO MANAGE IT, even if it is a one person business, like mine. At the beginning of each year, I create a revenue budget and an expense budget. These are not just spreadsheets that end up collecting dust in some abandoned corner of my hard drive. I compare my actual results to my budgets for both income and expenses every month. If you do not know where your revenue is going to come from, then how can you plan how to market your product or service?

And if you don’t maintain an iron grip on your overhead, it can get away from you faster than you could ever imagine.

Along these lines, as you grow it is essential to put controls in place so that you can continue to understand the financial aspects of your business. Here your greatest ally is a CPA who understands small business. The value of a CPA to your business cannot be overstated.
4.Stay enthusiastic.

Several times over the last 25 years I have fallen into periods of “burnout.” These happen to all small business owners, sometimes as a result of stress, or even boredom. I have been lucky enough to use these as an opportunity to take a hard look at what I was doing. Your customers will respond way better to someone who sounds glad that they have called. Everyone has days when they are cranky, but if your burnout, and associated crankiness last for any length of time, your customers will hear it, and many will be turned off by it.

Make absolutely sure that you maintain outside interests. Running a small business can be an intense and extremely demanding task. It is absolutely essential that you take care of yourself by getting adequate rest, having outside interests, spending time with family and friends. Have a life outside your business. It will keep you fresh.

These are but a few of the many things we can do to keep our small businesses and ourselves afloat.

Matt Cantillon


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About Me

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Ann Arbor, MI, United States
I am a software developer. I have been in that business for over 4 decades. I am also recently widowed, having lost the love of my life to ovarian cancer.