For more than a decade, I’ve worked with thousands of small business owners who, despite all their passion and long hours and great ideas, find themselves stuck in terms of their ability to grow. While every business owner's needs are different, I’ve come to learn that there are some basic keys to unlocking the doors that can keep you penned in.
To grow your business sustainably and increase revenues and profits you need to have a plan and focus your energy on implementing it effectively and on a clear timeline. Splitting that focus on three different “options” is like trying to be in three places at once: you’ll end up exhausted and with less quality, more confusion, and very limited growth. Commit to a plan and keep your vision clear and at the forefront.
With that, you need to know your financials inside and out and have solid financial goals. If you’re going to grow your business sustainably, you need to understand how your business is spending money. Know where every dollar goes, right down to the last penny. You need to fully know what you need to achieve each quarter. Vague goals yield vague results. Know how to read profit and loss statements; don’t depend on someone else to do “interpret” it for you. It’s your business and you should know it better than anyone else!
At the same time, just because it’s your company does not mean you have to do everything yourself. In order to grow your company you need to be out there selling it. It’s called working on your business, instead of in your business. So if your business is making cakes, you won’t get far growing your business if you spend all of your time preparing batters and frosting. Your role as CEO is knowing how to hire the right people to help you make money.
Write down the things you don’t like to do, don't know how to do, and where you lack skills. Be honest! For these things it’s perfectly OK — and more efficient — to have someone else handle them. Then, think about what other areas of your business need to be addressed. Is it an assistant to deal with the manufacturer when you have a big order? What about a bookkeeper to take charge of getting your invoices out on time?
If you’re serious about growth, you also need to also get involved with the greater community. There are also a lot of great resources and communities out there that provide opportunities to connect with other small business owners. These groups provide important places to be heard, find encouragement and support. They can also lead you to new customers and contracts, as well as opportunities to partner and collaborate. Consider attending at least one conference per quarter. They don’t have to break your bank. Think of it as an investment. If carefully chosen and carefully planned, you can earn the money back in terms of vital new contacts, new ideas and keeping up with your industry.
Finally, don’t fear failure. In facing challenges, I find it helpful to ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Once I face that possibility and the consequences that go with it, some of that fear subsides because I know I can handle it. Being in business isn’t all about wins, it’s about learning from your failures in order to move forward.
Nell Merlino is founder, president and CEO of Count Me In for Women's Economic Independence, a not-for-profit provider of resources for women to grow their micro-businesses.
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