Recently I had the opportunity to join Aaron Ellsworth, one of our SCORE volunteers, in several joint-counseling sessions. Aaron is an entrepreneur who has built several successful small businesses. His advice is in demand by SCORE clients who recognize that Aaron not only has “done it” but continues to “do it” being engaged in all of his businesses.
Spending time with Aaron allowed me to question him on lessons he learned in forming and running his businesses. He emphasized that learning never stops and business challenges are ongoing. Here are eight lessons he shared:
Identify your market. It starts with knowing the value of your products and services. Can you solve a customer’s problem or add value that your customer can offer to his customers? With a value proposition, you can focus your customer-acquisition efforts. Be flexible and adaptable. Sales may occur from a market that was not a priority in your plan.
Know your competition. Are you keeping pace or, better yet, can you maintain a lead? One source of information is often your suppliers. If there is an opportunity to visit a competitor, do so. For a retail operation you can park nearby and observe the number of customers and determine the times of greatest activity. Visit your competitor’s website. Your public library likely subscribes to general data sources that likely include your competitors.
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Hire good people. Search for people who are better or know more than you. Establish trust by delegating responsibility and accountability. Support your employees’ decisions. Get them involved with goal setting and working directly with customers.
Customers are your top priority. You’ve heard many times: “The customer is always right.” That isn’t always so, but the customer certainly deserves your immediate attention. Customers want to be heard, and they expect resolution to any and all problems. Make sure you keep your commitments. A customer should never need to call to determine the status of an order.
Change is inevitable. The use of social media is now the dominant process for marketing and sales. Every business has a website, and many businesses are dependent on web-based sales. 3-D printing has become a way of forming prototypes and samples in new product development. As your customers’ products and processes change, you’ll need to adapt to their needs. Stay current with technology.
Seek opportunities to innovate. Being first into the market typically results in good rewards. Innovation is not all about new products but often making existing products better than those offered by your competitors.
Know the numbers. To sustain and grow your business, you need to be aware of current income and expenses. Aaron looks at his numbers every week. He likes to know if the historical trend line is being followed and if not, why not. The numbers will allow the business owner to respond to issues early on. The numbers can also indicate growth, allowing the business owner to provide resources to take advantage of new opportunities.
Be excited about what you are doing. Being positive is contagious. Your employees will respond and be a positive influence on the business when the owner is the example. Sharing the successes and recognizing the contributions of your employees has been shown to be a major factor in business success.