Many small business owners fall into business by following a passion. Maybe they have lost their job for some reason or feel that their employer isn’t doing a good job and they could do it better themselves. Whatever the reason, starting your own business is something a lot of people aspire to but not many actually do.
Having made the decision to “go it alone”, how much planning and preparation goes into the business before it’s launched? Having a range of products or services is what most people focus on but what about the strategy and goals for the business? How many business owners have a vision of where they would like to be in say five years time? How many actually sit down and write down their goals and break them down even further into tasks which need to be completed on a day by day or week by week basis?
I meet a variety of small business owners on a regular basis through networking events and most of them are so focussed on the sales element of their business that they haven’t given a thought to the strategy and support areas of their business.
Having a Vision
Would you go to railway station and ask for a ticket without knowing your destination? Of course you wouldn’t so why do so many people go into business without knowing what they want out of it at the end of the day. Having a strategy is like having a road map to plan your journey from where you are now to where you want to be in a set period of time. It’s worth taking the time to sit down and write down exactly what it is you want from your business. That could be a monthly income or a lifestyle – your business is the vehicle to achieving whatever it is you want.
For some it might be building a business which they can sell in five or 10 years time. Whatever your ultimate vision is, that is what you will be working towards. Having a vision also allows you to view every opportunity and ask yourself “is this taking me closer to my vision or away from it?” If the answer is “away” then that opportunity isn’t right for you. It is okay to say “no”. Not every opportunity will be right for you but as you become more successful, more opportunities will come your way.
Once you have your vision you can start to set goals. Some might be small, quick wins which is enormously satisfying; others will be much bigger goals which will take to closer to your vision. The bigger goals can be quite daunting so the best way to deal with them is to break them down into smaller, more achievable – and less daunting – goals. The more you can break a goal down into smaller parts, the easier it will be for you to achieve it. If you long term vision is based on a five year plan, then break things down into what you want to achieve in the first year, the second year and so on until you reach your ultimate goal in year five.
Once you have a goal for the next 12 months, you can break it down even further so that you know what you have to achieve each month and even each week. Some of your goals might take you three months but there should be stepping stones on the way every month which take you closer to where you want to be.
Plan of Action
Having completed the exercise above, you now have a plan of action to work towards. Being able to tick things off is something we all love to do. There is nothing more satisfying than ticking off tasks or putting a line through them when they are completed. It gives us a great sense of achievement and satisfaction to see that list slowly going down and things starting to happen.
Depending on your business, progress might be slow but at least you know you are moving in the right direction. Slow progress is better than none at all!
One of the problems which many small business owners face is that there is no accountability other than to themselves. How easy is it to put things off until later, or tomorrow, or next week? We all have tasks which we don’t really want to do and put them on the “too difficult” pile. Often those tasks aren’t as bad as we think but we find every excuse we can not to do them.
Having an accountability partner really focuses your mind and makes you do those difficult tasks. If you haven’t done what you said you would do, then you are accountable to someone else. No-one likes to be named and shamed so we tend to just do the task so that we don’t have to explain ourselves. This works brilliantly for me and really makes me push ahead with my business, often out of my comfort zone, and achieve things which I never imagined would be possible.
An accountability partner could be another business owner at a similar stage to you who also wants to move their business forward. By having regular meetings you have the opportunity to discuss ideas, ask for advice or an opinion on something and also keep each other motivated to get on and do things in your business which you might not do on your own. Its great knowing you have the support there when you need it; there is nothing more lonely and isolating than being in business on your own.
Strategy and Planning
Many sole traders and small business owns focus all their time and effort on selling their products or services. Very few spend time on the strategy and lead generation area of their business but this is where the money is. Obviously at the beginning it’s important to have money coming into the business but it’s equally important to plan ahead, go out networking and look for joint ventures which will all help increase your business and your cash flow.
Networking might sound a waste of time and money but building relationships with other business owners can pay for itself time and time again. It is not a quick fix and takes time but everyone has a circle of influence of about 250 people. Not everyone in the room will want your product or service but what about all the people they know? Getting to know people, taking time to have a coffee and a conversation will result in so many opportunities for you. Pushing a business card at everyone you meet is not really the way to build relationships; taking time to get find out about people and what their problems are is a much more effective way to produce the results you want.
If you are not spending time working on your business, then I hope this article has given you some idea of how it can help to achieve exactly what it is you want from your business.