A lot of lessons are learned the hard way. Especially when it comes to running and growing your small business. But what if you could fast forward over the mistakes and failures – and skip straight to the lesson learned? Well, that’s what we’re offering!
We asked thousands of small business leaders like you for the advice they wished someone had told them. And now, we’re passing some of the best answers along to you (you’re welcome).
🔥 Tip: Want to be featured in front of 120k+ fellow SMB leaders? Subscribe to our newsletter. That’s how we’ll let you know we’re looking for small businesses to spotlight – and how to be one of them!
1. Let your core values be your compass
Ever heard the saying, “stay true to who you are?” Well, the same goes for your small business! And “who you are” starts with your core values and ends with your business decisions.
So, Leilani Mustillo, co-founder and CEO of Animal HealthLink, gives one simple trick to make sure both ends always align. Set your core values as soon as possible (day 1 if you can). Then, “refer back to [those core values] before making big decisions moving forward.”
If the decision doesn’t align with one of your core values, it’s not the right choice for your business. Period. Setting this as a hard and fast rule will keep your decisions in check (and ethical) as your team grows and the decisions get more difficult.
2. Focus on possibilities – not probability
Growing a business feels like a numbers game. Especially when faced with the harsh reality that only 4% of small businesses succeed. But if you’re always looking at what might go wrong (that’s what the numbers tell you), you’ll never be able to see what could go right!
So, Jacqueline Wogan, Chief of Staff at VERVE Fitness, suggests knowing the probabilities – but focusing on the possibilities. That way, you’re not shooting your business in the foot just to avoid making a decision that might hurt.
For example, gyms worldwide closed last year. And there was a huge demand for at-home gym equipment. But the overseas supply chains that most fitness companies rely on couldn’t keep up.
So, while their competition stacked up backorders, VERVE Fitness got creative. They parted ways with the supply chains they’d been using and instead opted for locally made products. It was a huge risk in an already risky economy. But the decision gave VERVE Fitness a competitive edge because they were able to fulfill orders when their competition couldn’t.
3. Set small goals that get you to the big ones
Most small businesses set really big goals. But once you get going on those goals, they can feel like a mountain you weren’t prepared to climb.
That’s why Brent Clark at Loansteady, suggests setting the big goals first. Then, breaking them into smaller goals. That way, you have some quick wins along the way.
For example, if you want to redo your website, don’t try to tackle it all at once. Instead, focus on rebuilding one page at a time.
That way, you stop looking at the summit, which only leaves you fixating on how much you have left to go. And lets you focus on the path ahead – making achieving the big goal a lot more manageable.
4. Test everything (and we mean everything)
We think Crystal Abing, Copywriter at RentRedi, said it best. “You don’t know what you don’t know – so test EVERYTHING!”
Don’t get us wrong – you should have clear SOPs to ensure you get the same results every time. But only to act as your control for what you’re currently testing (and you should always be testing something).
Every time your team asks about why you don’t do something some other way, see if you’ve tried it before (this should be somewhere in your documentation). If you haven’t, A/B test it against your current process.
Worst case, it doesn’t work. At least, now you know. Best case, however, you just found a faster, more reliable, or cheaper way to get your desired results!
5. Capture every pattern
Similar to testing everything, you’re going to want to measure everything. But Erica Key, founder and Chief Learning Officer at Learning Seeds, warns not to just track metrics for the sake of having numbers. The goal is to “capture every pattern.”
Meaning, look for repetitions, such as which day people engage with your social media posts the most. That’s the day you’ll want to reserve for your big announcements.
But not all the patterns will be this straightforward. You’ll also have patterns where when you change one thing, a seemingly unrelated metric is affected. Pay attention to those too!
By capturing patterns, you can start to see concerns as they arise so you can react proactively – rather than waiting for them to become problems. But you can also lean into what works and make better-informed decisions.
Admittedly, tracking these metrics and identifying these patterns takes a lot of time and energy. So, Erica suggests hiring a leadership team that can capture these patterns for you – and uses the data to drive international, scalable growth.
🔥 Tip: Capturing patterns also means identifying which processes are consistently successful in your business. AKA it means finding the best way to do things! Once you identify those things, document them and store them in Trainual. That way, you can repeat and scale those processes so your business can continue to grow. Try for free.
6. Listen to your frontline employees
You’re not going to have all the answers. And as you focus on growing your business, chances are good you’ll feel pretty disconnected from the people your business serves. Meaning, you’ll have no idea how your decisions actually impact your customers.
That’s why Maggie Layfield, Vice President of Sales at NetSupport, suggests hearing what your frontline employees have to say. After all, they talk directly to your customers every day. So, they probably understand what your customers are going through and how they use your product.
So, hear out what your frontline employees have to say. And use their insights to inform your high-level decisions.
You can even run the decision by your frontline employees before rolling it out. Just to check that it’s what’s actually best for your customers. This way, you can give your customers what they actually need – not what you think they need.
7. Prioritize your team’s well being
We’ve said it before – but your team is the backbone of your business. And per Nance L Schick, founder and Chief Resolution Officer of Third Ear Conflict Resolution, “you have to put your (and your employees’) physical and mental health first.”
This might mean creating support groups to talk through what’s going on in their lives, rolling out flexible working hours, or adding a company-wide mental health day to the calendar. Totally depends on what you (and your team) need!
And while this might mean less is getting done in the short term. But it leads to a lot more getting done long term because your team is less likely to burn out. Meaning, they’re more engaged, more productive, and less likely to turnover!
8. Practice saying “no”
New opportunities will pop up every day. That could be promotional opportunities, new products or services, or even big partnerships. But sometimes, those opportunities have nothing to do with your company’s goals or vision. No matter how exciting or flashy they may be.
So, Mark Baker, Founder and President of Motivated Maids, suggests that you say “no” to everything that doesn’t align with where you want your business to go. Because, as Mark puts it, “saying ‘no’ [to those things] is really saying ‘yes’ to what you want.”
That way, everyone on your team puts 100% of their time and energy into your company’s vision. And you don’t get distracted or burnt out by an opportunity that doesn’t move the needle.
You can even take this one step further and get your team to do the same. Set 5 or so objectives that will get you one step closer to your company vision. Then, every time a new initiative comes up, ask how it relates to those 5 objectives. If it doesn’t, it’s time to rethink the initiative or scrap it altogether.
9. Check your systems
Not systemizing your business catches up to you eventually. Simply because without replicable systems in place, everyone on your team does things a little differently. And this can cause huge variations in your results and slow your growth.
So, Matt Granda, Managing Partner of Claggett & Sykes Law Firm, suggests systemizing your business early in the game. That way, everyone tackles tasks the same way, and you can guarantee results. But don’t just plan for where your business is now, “build [systems] for what you want your business to be.”
As a firm of trial lawyers, Claggett & Sykes has always had replicable systems in place for their clients. But they weren’t built with a global pandemic in mind.
So, when courts closed during the pandemic, the firm took it as an opportunity to rework their current systems and plan for when they’d be back in session. While operating remotely, the firm built systems that streamlined how they serve clients. And as a result, they doubled in size last year and set the foundation for exponential growth.
🔥 Tip: You don’t have to implement all these tips at once. But we 10 out of 10 recommend trying at least one. Because learning from the people who’ve “been-there, done-that” is the easiest way to fast-track your small business’ success!