Owning your own business is many things. It’s frustrating, exciting, difficult, humbling, exasperating, overwhelming, and amazing. It is all of these things all at the same time. We’ve only been business owners for about 4 years but we have learned so much in just that short time. There are a few things I wished someone would have told us but like many things, experience is the best way to learn. In hopes of helping out other aspiring business owners, here are a few of my tips for surviving in the world of small business.
Don’t undervalue yourself (or over value yourself)
There is a common thought that if you are new, you should charge less to attract customers. You also may charge less because you don’t think you can charge more than someone who has been in business and has a lot more experience. Depending on your business, that is accurate to some degree but in other cases, not so much. In the service industry your price reflects quality and customers are most often willing to pay more for what they think will be a better service. If you are selling goods this doesn’t necessarily apply but people aren’t as interested in getting a deal when it comes to a service, they are interested in getting a high-quality service and they’ll pay for that. There will always be someone who charges more than you and always someone who charges less which means your price should reflect only one thing – your value. Experience, education, equipment and things like that all come in to play but so do the elements that make you, you. Your interactions with customers, your availability, your unique approach to whatever the service is etc. Research fair pricing, you want to be fair and in the ballpark of what is expected. But you also need to take into account what you actually do. Everything you do related to your business needs to be accounted for or else you are essentially working for free. Working for free leads to burn out and frustration really quickly. Don’t under estimate the value you bring to your customer.
Of course you don’t want to overcharge either. You can’t buy a nice camera and start charging professional prices even if you do take great photos. But you shouldn’t sell yourself short either. It’s a balance and the trick is finding it.
Get an accountant
Math. It hurts my brain just thinking about it. An accountant will be one of your most valuable assets. Not only do they take a huge burden off of you but they also are in the know on various ways you can save money or do things differently so that you can make more money/pay less taxes. Even if you think you can’t afford it, get one. Best money I ever spent.
Learn to say “No”
I’m not good at saying no in general. But in business it is essential. You can’t advertise in every publication or donate to every good cause. You can’t work 24 hours a day or be open 7 days a week. I suppose you could but eventually you’d find yourself in a bind. Set limits and stick to them.
A business is an education
You most definitely will learn as you go. Be prepared to make mistakes and be prepared to embrace them, learn from them and move on. Talk to other business owners, learn as much as you can from other people on what worked for them and what didn’t. It may not all apply to your business but the more you can learn the better. Don’t be too hard on yourself. This isn’t easy. Any business owner will tell you that they are still learning things even after decades of being in business. Things change and evolve, business is a constant process of learning and growing. Make that your expectation and you won’t be as disappointed when things don’t go as planned.
Keep your overhead low
It’s tempting to have a fancy office, nice equipment, the best technology, etc. but it may not be worth it. If something doesn’t actually make you money, you don’t need it. Start small and work your way up. In most small businesses, if you aren’t working, you aren’t making money. So there is no point in having an office full of nice things sitting there, costing you money that could be going straight into your pocket. People aren’t hiring you because you have a fancy business card or the best printer ever, keep reminding yourself of that. With that being said some overhead is essential to making your business work and to maintaining your sanity. Don’t bury yourself in work because you are afraid to hire help for a few hours a week. When it comes to supplies, a basic computer will do the job as well as a fancy one. Association fees, memberships and various other things add up. Remember that anything you are paying for isn’t going into your paycheck.
Don’t compare yourself to other business owners
A few points up I suggested talking to others, learning as much as you could from how other people do things. I stand by that, but the tricky part is learning not to compare what they are doing and typically their success with yours. Someone in the same business as you may seem to be way more profitable or much busier but the truth is you rarely know the whole story. People come to you because of you and trying to be someone else isn’t going to get you their success, it is going to hinder yours. People find success in different ways and at different rates. Should you learn from others and tweak your process or improve if necessary? Sure. Just don’t get caught in a trap of thinking that what you are doing must be wrong just because someone is seemingly more successful than you are.
No one tells you what to do
Self motivation is tricky. The lack of it is the reason I generally only make it to the gym 3 days a week instead of the 5 I commit to every Sunday. Or the fact that I only stay 30 minutes when I continually tell myself my goal is an hour. This is the biggest blessing and curse of business ownership. People that work for others think it is glorious that you don’t have to answer to anyone, that you don’t necessarily need to meet deadlines and that you can just come and go as you please. “Just take the day off” they think… it’s not that simple. A successful business runs only if you run it properly which means you have to keep yourself in check. You have to make the phone calls, place the ads, pay the bills, work overtime, even when you don’t want to and even when you know no one is going to fire you or get mad at you if you don’t. You need to be organized. You need to be able to get things done without being told. Without that, you only hurt yourself.
Not everyone will like you
This is a hard one. It is in our human nature to want to be accepted, to be liked. In the world of business, this is a huge check in humility. Not everyone is going to like your service, your product, what you offer and that is okay. You don’t like everyone either so what do you expect? Do the best you can and don’t worry about the rest. Don’t invest time in trying to convince people that you are better than they think you are, invest your time in keeping the people happy that already know you are great. There are going to be some people who absolutely love you, that refer anyone and everyone to you and think you are a gift from God. Put your energy into those people and don’t let the people who don’t suck any of that away. We don’t live in a game of Monopoly. There are several options for a reason. Don’t take anything personally, just stay the course.
Find an outlet
It’s going to be stressful. There are no paid holidays, no paid vacations, no paid sick days. There won’t be two weeks every year sitting in a bank just waiting to be used up for some vacation, exotic or otherwise. In the beginning especially, it is going to be non-stop. Make time for you and spend your free time doing something you love with no business talk in the mix. If you work with your spouse this is even more crucial. It is so easy to want to talk business constantly. Turn it off and do something else, if only for a few hours each day.
Remember why you started in the first place
Most people who start their own businesses do it because they love what they do. They want to work for themselves. It’s so easy when you love your job and when any ounce of effort you put in benefits you and only you (not some corporation), to want to spend every waking moment working. In some cases you have to spend every waking moment working just to keep the doors open, but like any job you are working to support your life so don’t forget to live it. It’s easy to feel an obligation to your customers and to some degree you should, but make time for you, time for your family. Don’t feel guilty about taking time off, people will survive without you. You’ll be more valuable to your clients when you are rested than when you are over-worked and in need of some time off. The clients you truly want will understand that. Those that don’t can go somewhere else.
Help others when you can
Having your own business is a huge blessing (even if it sometimes feels like a curse) that not everyone has the opportunity or the ability to do. Pay it forward by helping other business owners who are starting up, volunteer your time and donate to worthy causes. One of the best things about being a business owner is having the ability to decide how you want to run your company and how you want to manage your funds. Dedicate a portion of your earnings to charity, sponsor little league teams, give that high school student an after school job. When the stress of being a business owner starts to wear on you, you’ll be able to look at what good you’ve been able to do and that will remind you that it is all worth it.