Running a small business is rewarding. But it also comes with plenty of ups and downs, along with surprises. Regardless of your industry, you'll quickly find yourself caught up in day-to-day operations. By the time you realize you need help or a better solution, you're in over your head.
Although it's impossible to predict every future scenario, you can and should develop systems to alleviate problems. Learn how to run a small business by taking deliberate actions that set you up for success.
1. Organize your business documents
You already have a small business plan. But what about a marketing blueprint, brand guidelines, and by the way, where'd you put those gas receipts from last week's trip? Although you're anxious to build your business, disorganization can put you in a bind.
It's the simple things that can eat away at your time, especially if you don't have the budget to spend on paid versions of business software solutions.
Here are a few tips for running a business that can help you get the best use out of your resources:
- Pick Google or Microsoft: You need one simple solution offering cloud storage to help you manage documents and spreadsheets. Go with what you're familiar with because as you grow, you'll move many items into new programs.
- Create folders and subfolders: You need a spot to dump documents about various business aspects, such as accounting, website, social media, branding, and legal information. If you use paper files, create identically labeled ones on your cloud drive.
- Select a password manager: Browser- or system-based password solutions may not offer the security or flexibility you need. Pick a free or low-cost tool and keep your master password in a couple of offline spots.
2. Have a scalable technology plan ready
Whether you're figuring out how to run a business from home or opening a retail shop, there are a few tools you can't go without. In the beginning, you may use mostly free software. But you may outgrow these solutions quickly.
Before settling on a free solution, look at the pricing and features available for small companies and teams. This gives you an idea of your next step and may help prevent you from needing to move to an entirely different system later. The basic technology platforms include:
- Email marketing program
- Photo and editing tools
- Social media management software
- Project management solutions
- Accounting platform with expense-tracking and invoicing capabilities
- Industry or business-specific software, like inventory or point-of-sale software
3. Plan to spend money to earn money
Small business owners can inadvertently limit their growth by not realizing when to make a change. Many things can open up doors for higher revenues, whether that's a new piece of technology, outsourcing a time-consuming task, or adding products to your line. Set up triggers that signify the right time to expand, such as:
- Meeting a minimum monthly revenue goal for three consecutive months
- Spending over a certain number of hours per month on administrative tasks
- Reaching specific business goals for new customers or sales
For example, Sage reports that small business owners "currently spend an average of 120 working days per year on administrative tasks." That's time you could use to engage with clients or build new revenue streams.
Use a free time-tracker tool, like Toggl, to occasionally assess time spent on admin. Once your accounting or social media management becomes too time-consuming, consider finding a solution, such as automation tools or a virtual assistant.
4. Prepare to outsource tasks
When you’re learning how to run a company, it can be hard to imagine handing over any part of your baby to an outsider. However, there almost always comes a point where you'll need to outsource some or all of your work.
Business owners often contract their taxes, accounting, and payroll first. This can be a real headache if you're not organized. Whether you use QuickBooks or spreadsheets, keep your information in one spot so it's easy to turn it over to a contractor or agency.
Small business marketing is another area that entrepreneurs often want help with. For a smooth handoff, have your basic branding documents ready and keep a swipe file with ideas you want to emulate, from screenshots of marketing emails to links for websites you love.
Lastly, even if you handle most things on your own, a virtual assistant can be a lifesaver. Record your everyday processes and workflows using a tool like Trello or a word processor document. This makes it easier to plan the scope of work and explain it to a remote contractor.
5. Create a blueprint for business continuity
Running your own business is great. However, when an emergency strikes, you're in charge and on your own. What happens if you get sick? Or your building burns down?
Of course, these are terrible things to think about. But your customers and bill collectors rely on you, regardless of the crisis you face. Setting up your company using the strategies above is an excellent start. However, you'll want to create a contingency plan.
Keep the following information in a place that's accessible from any location:
- One-page cheat sheet: If you're incapacitated, make it easy for someone to take over. Write down your main software tools and must-do daily tasks. Include links or notes about accessing systems or locating passwords.
- Communications: List each communication channel for customers and employees, along with a primary and secondary person responsible for communicating in each instance.
- Emergency response: Determine immediate actions to address a cyberattack or weather emergency. Your goals are to protect employees, data, and physical business assets.
- Disaster recovery: Create a plan for how you'll recover after an emergency. This may include how you'll get technical systems up and running, reopening processes, or further communication instructions.
6. Develop a strategy for balancing work and life
Initially, you'll be focusing on marketing and finding new leads. You'll jump on every email regardless if it's late at night or on the weekend. However, few people can survive at full speed all the time.
One solution that works for me is automating anything I can in my personal life. I haven't thought about buying dog food or toilet paper in years. It arrives on schedule, thanks to companies like Chewy and Amazon.
Figuring out how to balance business and personal life isn't easy, and I can't say I've mastered it. But if you can identify a few things that cause you to stress and eliminate them, it'll sure help you out.
7. Build your team
Your team may include employees, partners, mentors, or communities of like-minded people. Each one plays a different role in your life and business as you do in theirs. Having key people to offer support or even just to commiserate helps you move forward when it gets tough.
Plus, developing relationships with various professionals help you decide what types of people you want or need in your workplace. And when the time is right, you'll have a list of candidates ready.
Learn how to run a successful small business
When you're running a small business, every day is a learning experience. Not only do your circumstances continuously change, but so do your customers, trends, and technologies. The best small business tips remind you to continually learn and grow, both personally and professionally.
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