Start Learning about Business as Early as You Can
Dress for success. Looking professional can open up a lot of doors, so don’t squander this opportunity. Dress as well as your budget will allow.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. In any business deal or negotiation, try to figure out what’s important to the other person. That usually enables you to negotiate a deal that’s still appealing to them but at a lower price for you.
Hire good people, and take care of them. It’s much easier to be successful in business when you have long-lasting relationships, built on mutual trust and loyalty.
Build Relationships with Your Customers
Be passionate about your business: That enthusiasm appeals to customers. People will naturally be drawn to you if you’re upbeat about how you can help them do their work more efficiently or productively.
Sell constantly to everyone you meet, and continuously expand your network. Look for customers in every organization you belong to (religious, social, philanthropic, business), ask who they know, and develop reciprocal relationships with people you do business with.
Ask people if they’re happy with their current vendors. Listen for clues that someone may be looking for a better price, better service, or a more reliable vendor—then offer to help them because their business will also help yours.
Go the extra mile for customers, and say yes whenever you can. Go out of your way to accommodate customers. They’ll remember that forever, and you’ll have customers for life.
Hire great salespeople and customer service people, and empower them to say yes, too. Find the best salespeople or find people with potential and train them to be the best; then make sure they have the support they need to deliver great service.
Develop Loyalty with Your Employees
Don’t be arrogant; be open to learning from your employees. They’ll appreciate your attitude, and they’ll be more likely to work well with you and become loyal employees.
Let your employees know how important they are. If your employees make a poor impression on your customers, you may lose that business forever, so don’t let that happen.
Get to know your people. The better you know your employees, the better your relationships will be, and you’ll create an environment where people want to do great work.
Help your employees when they have problems—financially or otherwise. Lending money or providing access to professionals you know generates good will and loyalty.
Be Loyal to Your Vendors
Take the long view. Every business has downturns and losses, but if you’ve been loyal to the companies you buy from, they’re more likely to be there when you need a helping hand.
Show your vendors how they benefit from a long-term relationship. Emphasize that as you do better and increase your business, so will they because you’ll be buying more from them.
Let your vendors know there’s no free lunch. If a vendor has offered a better deal to one of your competitors, that vendor needs to make up for that, to continue to do business with you.
Ask for help when you need it. When your business is in trouble, ask your vendors to cut you some slack. If you’ve been loyal, they should be willing to help until you recover.
Establish relationships with the most senior person you can get to. It’s easier to develop loyalty with the C-suite or owner because that person has ultimate decision-making authority.
Differentiate Your Products by Adding Value and Offering Great Service
Be innovative about differentiating your business from your competitors. It’s increasingly difficult to compete with so many companies clamoring for your customers’ dollars, so you need to be inventive.
Find new ways to keep in touch with your customers. Don’t get complacent. Just because you have great customers now, don’t take them for granted and expect that they’ll continue to buy from you.
Be the “go-to guy.” You can’t compete solely on your products because products often become commodities; add value and go the extra mile so your customers won’t want to do business with anyone else.
Stay on Top of Market Shifts and Always Look for New Opportunities
Be open to new ideas. Don’t let your business get pigeon-holed; welcome and encourage people to suggest new products and services that you can add to your business. They may become your most successful products ever!
Listen to your suppliers: They know what your competition is doing. Welcome ideas from all sources because you never know what might lead to your future success.
Think about your customers’ needs, rather than your own products. Even if an idea has nothing to do with your current products or services, be open to what else your customers want and how you can provide it.
Get to know your customers better: The more you know, the more you can sell. Find out what would make your customers’ work easier, and then provide that product or service. You’ll both benefit.
Keep up with new technology and new ways of doing business. Work is constantly evolving, so you need to, too. Be constantly vigilant about new markets and new ways of doing business—or you’ll soon be out of business.
Know Your Financials: Make Sure You’re Profitable
Don’t think you can run a business with talented sales and marketing people only. You can’t. You must have strong controls on the inside of your business, especially accounting.
Hire the right person to manage your financials and accounting. This is the most important hiring decision you’ll make, so spend the time and money to hire right.
As your business grows, hire more sophisticated financial people. When you’re running a small business, you can probably work with a bookkeeper and an outside accountant to manage your financials, but as your business grows, you’ll need a controller and a CFO.
Make sure you’re getting timely financial information. Insist that your financial people set up the right procedures to deliver timely information, and make sure they meet your deadlines, so you can make sound financial decisions.
Learn How to Evaluate a Business You Want to Buy
Make sure the business you’re thinking of buying is a good fit with the business you already own. If the new business is too different from the one you’re already running (in products, customers, services, or vendors), it’s unlikely to be successful, so walk away.
Don’t make an offer until you know what the seller is looking for. Don’t overpay; find out what’s important to the seller, and then make an offer that will satisfy the seller and still be a good value for you.
Do your own due diligence. The seller has a vested interest in inflating the value of the company’s sales, products, customers, and inventory, so assess the value yourself before making an offer.
Look at the books and other records. Sign an NDA if the seller wants you to, but make sure you review all the financials before making an offer; that’s the only way to not get burned.
Estimate the costs you can save when acquiring a new business. You can eliminate salaries of people who handle the same functions as yours, and you should be able to buy at a higher discount or better terms as you acquire more companies and grow your business.
Decide When to Sell Your Business
Think about the future of your business. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day challenges of running a company, but you need to keep an eye on how your competitors are doing, how the economy is doing, and how the industry as a whole is changing.
Consider where you are in your career and life. If you’re still young, you still have years to recover if this business fails, but if you’d like to retire sooner rather than later, keep your ears open for opportunities to sell.
Always be willing to discuss selling. Even when you’re not interested in selling, it’s worthwhile to hear what someone else thinks your company is worth, and you might even pick up new ideas for how to run your business better while you still own it.
Put the word out that you might be willing to sell if the right offer came along. That doesn’t mean you have to sell, but you want your company’s name to be mentioned to other companies that may be looking to buy.