What advice would you give your 18yo self?
Recently, when reflecting on a 30-year history as an entrepreneur I was asked: “if you were sitting face-to-face with your 18-year-old self, who was just in the process of starting their business, what advice would you give?”
These are the seven pieces of small business advice I would offer:
1. Put all your eggs in one basket
Because the business world today is so competitive it’s important to be the “go to person” or the “go to business” in your particular niche. This means being the best at what you do. How does one achieve this? Master your craft. People who master their craft, who aspire to be the best in their space, enjoy rewards that include an endless supply of referrals, better customers, more money – and a business they control, not one that controls them.
2. Change is passive, evolution is powerful
Change is a buzzword we’re sick of hearing. To me ‘change’ is a defeatist term, it suggests we have to change to survive. I much prefer the concept of evolution, or the need to evolve in business. To me this means reacting in a proactive way to any changes in your environment, which will in turn help you to not just survive, but more importantly thrive in the new environment.
3. Take absolute responsibility for every aspect of your business
Putting off the big and difficult things in your business is a major mistake. The longer you ignore them the worse they become. I’ve made many mistakes over the years: not sacking a client, not sacking a member of my team, ignoring my tax responsibilities, not chasing outstanding accounts and so on. They all caught up with me eventually and ultimately the consequences were always far worse for the fact I’d ignored them for so long.
Deal with the tough stuff quickly.
"I can’t emphasize enough how important your peer group is. If they are smart, motivated, energetic, supportive – stick to them like glue. "
4. Someone has to be the most expensive, why not make it you?
Many, if not most, small businesses undercharge. There are lots of reasons, but the most common is lack of self-worth. For some business owners their entire marketing strategy is to be the cheapest. If this is your strategy you will never get ahead financially. Someone has to be the most expensive – why not make it you?
The formula for being the most expensive is simple: you have to exceed every customer expectation. This takes commitment, investment, courage and tenacity – something I’m assuming (if you’re here reading this article) you have in spades.
5. Failure follows fiscal folly
Very few small businesses know how much it costs them to operate each month. This is the simplest, most basic of financial questions and if you can’t answer it you don’t know if you’re making money or losing money at any point in time. In fact you’re waiting for your tax to be done by your accountant at the end of the financial year.
Not being “into” bookkeeping or understanding your figures is the equivalent of driving a car with a blindfold. It’s your responsibility to know your numbers and if you don’t embrace this responsibility, it will cost you dearly.
6. If you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas
I can’t emphasise enough how important your peer group is. If they are smart, motivated, energetic, supportive – stick to them like glue. If they are negative, lazy, critical and most importantly, not successful – get as far as away as possible, as quickly as possible. And find yourself a new peer group while you’re there!
7. Be prepared to work
No one ever said that running a small business was going to be easy. Of course it’s tough, of course it has its challenges, but a corporate career is no easier. The grass always seems greener, every other business appears easier than yours, every other business owner seems more capable, makes more money and so on.
In the end, the people who are most successful have something very plain and simple in common.
They’re the ones who have done the work.
If you could go back in time and tell your ‘brand new business owner self’ one piece of small business advice, what would it be?