As we move into 2020, more than the numbers on the calendar are changing. Technology, communications, media, weather — even the way we work and earn our livings — aren’t what they used to be. In our prime years, fewer and fewer of us find ourselves still working flat out in the full-time positions that were the norm earlier in our careers. Nor are we ready to retire to full-time idleness. A happy compromise that many of us (including me) choose is to become a small business owner.
How to succeed when you work for Me Inc. is different from what’s needed when you work for someone else. Since many of us never expected to be out on our own (I certainly didn’t), we hadn’t learned and weren’t taught what to do. I had to learn as I went along. But I have been running my own little business for over 25 years now, still going strong.
If you are still fairly new at your own enterprise, here are three goals to take with you that will help your company advance. For simplicity, I’m using the words company and business to refer to anything you do on your own behalf, such as consulting, contracting, etc.
Court Your Customers
We’re all in business to make money. We may want to help our grandkids. We may want to use that money for social causes. Or, we may just want to be able to enjoy lavish holidays ourselves. However, we can’t do any of that unless we have money coming in, and that money comes from customers. Any business, however small, that doesn’t concentrate on customers won’t last long.
If you’re in a retail business, it’s obvious who your customers are. You know that if you don’t provide your clients with what they want, when and where they want them, you’ll lose their business. If you’re a consultant or contractor, your customers will likely be other businesses that will be even more vigilant about you meeting their needs at a competitive and cost-effective price.
The customer is always right. If you make the effort to find customers, learn what they want and provide it, they will keep the cash flowing into your business.
Control Your Costs
Once you’re keeping customers happy and have the dollars flowing in, the next step is to make sure that not too much of it is flowing out. Be very careful about spending on anything that doesn’t directly serve your customers and/or the good or service you’re offering them. It’s especially important to watch out for ongoing overhead expenses like rent and salaries.
Many tech and consulting businesses need little in the way of overhead and capital. Often, one can operate from a home office or even a car with not much more equipment than a tablet or a phone. Staff expenses need not always be ongoing. With more and more good people in the gig economy, you can contract for human resources as needed.
Count on Courtesy
If you’ve ever taken business training, you were almost certainly taught about focusing on customers and controlling your costs. Courtesy probably wasn’t even mentioned, yet it’s a major determinant of success and even survival as a small business owner. I’m using the word courtesy for the broad range of people skills — what has been called emotional intelligence.
You want your customers, your colleagues and suppliers to look forward to working with you. A major component in choosing who to buy from, sell to or contract with is whether you enjoy dealing with that person.
You don’t have to be a pushover. And you certainly don’t have to give away the store in order to be a friendly, cheerful, considerate person whose ideas are listened to and whose visits are welcomed. But having these traits helps make business a pleasure for all concerned.
Resolve to court your customers, control your costs and become known for your courtesy and friendly disposition. Then, may 2020 bring you much success and prosperity as a small business owner.