Thinking long term when you spend most of your days putting out fires can be challenging. It’s easy to push tasks without firm deadlines aside when your customers and clients demand service now, your family hasn’t seen you in days, and your friends think you’re nuts for quitting your high-paying job to struggle on your own.
The truth is that to be an entrepreneur, you need thick skin and control over your own inner critic. You’ll have to throw away your big book of excuses and take 100 percent responsibility for your business’ success. And you’ll need a strong sense of autonomy (the ability to govern yourself).
What can you expect to do each day? Aside from your business-as-usual tasks of serving your clients and customers, you’ll need to devote time to:
Marketing and Selling
As an entrepreneur, your primary job is to bring in profitable customers or clients, which means you must always be marketing and selling your products or services. It doesn’t matter if you are a designer, programmer, lawyer, accountant, pet store owner, or Domino’s Pizza franchisee, your job is to find customers and clients that have a need for your product or service and can afford to pay you to solve it.
In other words, you are a marketer first, a designer/programmer/lawyer/accountant/pet store owner/Domino’s Pizza franchisee second. Marketing is your lifeblood because it is everything you do to bring in and retain a customer, the source of your income!
If you’re like most people, you probably hate the idea of being a salesman. You can’t envision yourself being the slick, fast-talking sales person using high-pressure techniques to sell your prospect something he doesn’t need. The good news is: You don’t have to. Those types of sales tactics aren’t very effective anymore, anyway. Instead, selling is about identifying the prospects who already have a need for your product or service and educating them about your solution so that they feel comfortable buying from you. In today’s marketplace, selling is about building relationships and creating win/win situations.
Unfortunately, marketing and sales are often where many small-business owners bleed money because they don’t understand marketing. Rather than bring in $2 for every $1 spent on marketing, most lose money, so if you are considering getting into business, learn everything you can about marketing and selling. Read books, take classes, subscribe to magazines and blogs, and do whatever you can to learn these skills. (See the resource list in the back of this guide for suggestions.)
Creating Strategic Alliances
One of the best sources of new customers and clients comes from partnering with other businesses. When customers buy your products and services, they often need all sorts of other things that you don’t provide.
For instance, if you are a real estate agent who works with home sellers, your clients probably need other services including staging companies, landscape care, movers, mortgage companies, and a variety of others. Since you’ve already built a relationship with your client, they should trust your recommendations for these other firms. You can then strike deals with these other types of businesses for a referral fee or simply as an agreement that you only refer to them with the agreement that they will refer their customers to you.
If you are a restaurant owner, you might leave discount coupons in a number of other small-business offices so they can hand them out to their clients and customers. If you are a book author, you can partner with email newsletter publishers to have them mention your book to their subscriber list.
Strategic partners are everywhere and are usually open to helping you out if they receive something in return (referrals, free products or services, etc.). What types of incentives can you offer?
Inevitably, each day you are in business, you’ll face numerous problems that you’ll need to solve. At first, each new situation you encounter will bring with it new questions and challenges. As you solve each problem, write it down with the exact steps you took to solve the problem.
By writing down the problem and its solution, you’ve now created a process for handling a particular type of problem so the next time this problem creeps up, you or an employee can flip to the appropriate page in the manual for the solution rather than reinventing the wheel.
Virtually every day, you will discover new opportunities. These might be discounts on advertising and marketing materials, new work from clients or new orders from customers, request-for-proposals from prospects, requests to partner with other companies, and so on.
You’ll need to develop a system for how you evaluate whether such opportunities are right for you. Many, many people will try to convince you to part with your money. Your job is to only pursue opportunities that will benefit you long-term and keep your expenses to a minimum. Always ask yourself: Is this the best use of my money? Could I get a better return-on-investment if I used that money for something else? Do I really need this right now? Will this move me closer to my long-term goals? Spend when you need to, but spend frugally.
To most entrepreneurs, their job isn’t just work, it’s also fun. They love the thrill of creating something from nothing and nurturing it from the ground up – and, of course, there’s always something more to do. In short, it’s easy to become a workaholic.
Instead of working 24/7, learn to compartmentalize your day so you have time you devote solely to work and time you spend with your family, friends, and hobbies. When you spend time away from work, turn off everything work related. Your family and friends will know if you’re not enjoying your time with them because you’re worried about a problem with your business, and it will affect your relationships for the worse.
A good way to do this is to take a full day off – where you don’t check email and you don’t do anything business related. If you work every day, your health and relationships will suffer. Take the necessary time to rejuvenate, devote time to other priorities in your life (your business shouldn’t be your only priority), and relax.