3 Lessons from a Small Business Owner


Guest columnist Betty Shotton shares her tips to keep your enthusiasm high, your company on track, and mediocre performance a thing of the past.

For entrepreneurs, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as the early stages of a start-up. Who needs caffeine when you have the rush of new ideas, a product made real, and paying customers?

But what happens when the honeymoon is over and your nascent enthusiasm comes face to face with the harsh realities of today’s business and economic climate?

Running your own business is not for the faint of heart. Here are three practical tips to keep your enthusiasm high, your company on track, and mediocre performance a thing of the past:

Lesson No. 1: Remember why you did it in the first place.

Stay in touch with the passion and excitement that inspired you to start or buy a business. It is easy to get weighed down by financial pressures while attending to endless details and decisions. Once vibrant and energetic business owners often become stressed, worried and worn out.

If that describes you, stop, and take a step back. Allow yourself the breathing room to remember, re-connect, and renew your commitment to the business.

Reclaim your passion and keep it alive. Post your vision and values where all can see them. Write out your commitment to the endeavor and tape it to your laptop. Recognize the signs of burn out and take responsibility for your attitude and energy. Remember and recommit to why you decided to have your own business in the first place.

Lesson No. 2: Build and maintain a solid foundation.

A sound business is built on more than good ideas and products; it also includes the basics of business 101: accounting, reporting, feedback, and forecasts. Successful owners, no matter the size or nature of their business, are those that combine the art of innovation with the science and structure of business.

Create and update one and five year forecasts. Set up reports to integrate those numbers into operations. Monthly budget reports with forecasts, actual and variances are a must. Track income, expenses, sales, customer behavior, and patterns. Use surveys, performance management tools, and competitive data.

Without these structures in place, small business owners can mistakenly become dependent on daily cash receipts. But having money in your pocket does not mean things are OK, and running a business with a short term, day-to-day focus is a recipe for anxiety.

Accounting, budgets, forecasts, and metrics are the building blocks of business. Understand these disciplines and use them to maintain the structural foundation of your company and lessen the day-to-day worries.

Lesson No. 3: Do not compromise on personnel.

Develop a team that is 100 percent committed to the goals of your business. All too often, small business owners are “too nice” to fire someone or are willing to accept poor performance due to a perception that this is as good as they can get.

Our country is suffering from high unemployment. On the positive side, there is a wide open market filled with able people who would happily join you in creating something new, grateful for the challenge and the opportunity to work. Don’t waste time and energy trying to coax a reluctant employee to do their best. Small businesses don’t have that luxury. One bad employee can bring down a team and divert the energy needed to grow and prosper.

For most small business owners, this is a time of unprecedented challenge on many fronts: financial, political, and technological. It is also a time of opportunity for those willing to embrace it. You are small, swift, nimble, and flexible, and therefore, at an advantage. You can make smart moves that the big guys are unable to execute. It is easier to turn a speedboat than an oil tanker!

So when besieged with grim news, reconnect with your passion and purpose; hold on to the honeymoon mindset. Stay focused on the integrity of your systems and reporting structures. Create a team of people who are committed to exceptional performance and to the goals of the company. As you move forward and enter unchartered territory and the uncertainties of tomorrow, don’t forget to enjoy the ride.

Entrepreneur Betty Shotton has founded and led six companies, including ResortQuest International, a part of Wyndham Worldwide. Her book LIFTOFF LEADERSHIP: 10 Principles for Exceptional Leadership was released in October 2011.

email: patricia.orsini@nbcuni.com