I was, 18 and clueless about all the career choices available. My school didnít have a career counseling program and all I knew was that I didnít want to spend my life in fast food or retail. My parents just wanted me to be employable and, most of all, grown and able to make it on my own. I didnít want to go into debt for college and the only scholarship I got was one to a technical school. That was my ticket to independence and a good job. It was a generous full scholarship so off I went to pursue my associate degree. And the bonus ó there were two male students to every female student on campus, and my major only had five women total. What more could a single girl ask for?
I finished my associate degree and got my first full-time job. I hadnít been in the corporate world long before I realized that the jobs I thought were interesting required a bachelor degree. By then, I had a family so I went back to school part-time. When I got close to completing my bachelor degree, my family relocated to Northwest Arkansas and many credit hours didnít transfer. Discouraged but determined, I finally completed my bachelorís degree in just 10 short years.
Juggling school, family, and career was tough. Choosing to return to college as an adult was a daunting task but education is by far the best way to improve potential. Through it all, I learned that succeeding in school was as easy as following these five steps:
Thatís it. Those five. In that order. It didnít matter how intelligent you were, if you could manage the first four, you were pretty much on the downhill slide to successfully accomplishing number five. Life has shown me that you can take these five steps and apply them to anything and yield success ó marriage, dog training, home-improvement projects, and more.
Letís take those five steps and apply them to running a business. Running a successful small business is really as easy as following these five steps. Failing at running a small business is as easy as eliminating one or more of these steps.
Step #1. Show up everyday. In the big scheme of things showing up everyday is half the battle. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. One of my fatherís favorite sayings was, ďIf youíre self-employed and you donít have a plan for the day when you get up in the morning, youíre really unemployed.Ē If you apply this step to marketing your company, think of your marketing strategy as ďhow you plan to show up in your customerís mind every day.Ē
Step #2. Pay attention. This requires a desire to become a student of your business and the ability to ask questions. Most answers donít require explanation. What do your customers really want from your product or service? What do they consider extraordinary customer service? What other products do they purchase that you could sell them? What are your competitors doing to market their products? What do they charge for their services? What is their competitive advantage and what is yours?
Step #3. Do all your assignments and turn them in on time. Take care to understand your customersí preferences, instructions, and expectations. Make sure you and your customer agree on a timeline and that you keep your customer posted on your progress. To apply this strategy, set achievable goals that have timelines and then go after them. Seeking big challenges? Take your achievable goals and multiply them by two. You donít achieve goals you donít set. If you set a 200% goal and you only reach 150%, thatís still 50% more than you thought you could do. Besides, achievable goals are for sissies.
Step #4. If you need help, get it. Entrepreneurs are often do-it-yourselfers. The business world is a complex place and solid advice can mean the difference between success and failure. Every business owner needs a CPA and business attorney they trust. Growing up, I learned that that the most important employee in a company was the bookkeeper. While my dad was a skilled technician, if it had been up to him to handle billing, paychecks, banking, and taxes, he would have been in business 30 days instead of 30 years. My mom was the company office manager and bookkeeper. She made sure the employees were paid on time, the phone was always answered, and my dad was where he was scheduled to be. She was on a first-name basis with local banks so if she had a check from a customer who didnít have enough money in the bank account, the bank called her as soon as the check was good. She built and protected their credit record so any loan was just a phone call away. If you run a small business and canít perform bookkeeping responsibilities proficiently, budget for and hire a bookkeeping company. Youíll find it is money well spent.
Business consultants are a great source of targeted advice. Most consultants have a particular focus. A marketing consultant determines the most effective way to promote your business. A human resources consultant understands employment laws, crafting personnel policies, and making smart hiring decisions. A training consultant offers methods for creating a capable, knowledgeable workforce. A strategy consultant focuses on helping organizations work through issues that are hampering their progress, devise strategies that clarify their direction, and set them on a course for success.
Sometimes small businesses canít afford consulting services because there are so many other expenses, not the least of which is their own paycheck. Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE) is a non-profit organization funded by the Small Business Administration that provides free small business counseling. They provide one-on-one, e-mail, telephone, and panel counseling. The national SCORE website is www.SCORE.org.
Continuing to upgrade your skills is crucial to long-term success. Business owners need to search out training that improves not only their employeesí capabilities, but their own. Your ability to provide your customers with the best products and services is directly connected to how well you and your workforce are trained. Even champion professional golfer Tiger Woods continues to take lessons. Getting the right training will give you a competitive edge.
Step #5. Prepare for your tests and give them your best shot. Every single customer transaction is a test of your ability to provide your customer with products and services coupled with the customer service and value they expect. If they are completely satisfied and they return, you passed the test. Everyone makes a mistake occasionally. In the unfortunate event that you fail the test, relax. You can still save your grade by following up after the sale, asking them how you did, and correcting the problem as soon as possible.
Carrie Perrien Smith is the owner of Soar with Eagles (www.soarhigher.com), a performance consulting company located in Rogers, Arkansas. She also is a professional speaker who focuses on topics that equip entrepreneurs with skills and ideas that will impact their bottom line.
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