8 'Big Business' lessons to help your Small Business thrive
Once upon a time (about two years ago!) before my twins were born, I ran my business alongside working full time in retail management for a large national company.
It was a 'career' I fell into by accident but I was really lucky to end up with a company that actually valued training. I learnt some really useful stuff while away on training courses (and got to spend nights away in 5 star hotels while doing so!) and obviously lots on the job too.
As a work at home Mum working on your own it can be difficult to see how the operations of a national company can be relevant to you. But so many business fundamentals are the same regardless of the size of your business and sadly some of the things that big businesses rightly place enormous value on, some small business owners are either unaware of or disregard because 'they don't apply'.
So here's 8 lessons learned from Big Business to help you change the way you view your relationship with your business and bring it up to badass levels of professionalism.
1. Set Sales Targets
Yep, you read that right - do what the corporate World does and make your business about money (shocking huh!) There almost seems to be a belief amongst some small business owners that working their asses off for not a lot of money is acceptable. Expected even.
There's all this advice about following your dreams and working on your passions and 'do something you'd work at even if you weren't making money'. You know me - I'm all for making a living from what you love but don't use it as permission to fanny about at the fun stuff and not do the work stuff too.
Setting yourself a sales target will force you to concentrate your efforts on where it matters. It will make you look at your marketing and really work out what is effective and what isn't. Eg: You could be gathering social media followers like there's no tomorrow but if they're not converting to paying customers you're wasting your time. Setting yourself a sales target will force you to learn which people convert to paying customers and how they arrive at your site or shop so when you've worked that out, you can do more of what works and not bother with the stuff that isn't.
In my retail job our targets were set quarterly (starting in April at the beginning of the tax year, divide the year into quarters). Setting a quarterly target will give you a bit of breathing space if one month doesn't go to plan and thinking of sales targets as a long term thing is a bit less scary if you're doing it for the first time.
So what if you don't meet your targets? Don't beat yourself up too much. The point of making them for your business is to make you focus on the fact that you are actually running a business and for it to be successful it does have to make some dosh! How much or how little is entirely up to you though.
Try it - set yourself a sales target and see how much it changes your focus and drive.
2. Pay yourself a bonus
Everybody knows that big bosses in big businesses get big bonuses. So big bosses of little businesses should too! But only if you meet your targets! It doesn't have to be about sales though, especially not at the beginning when you might not be getting any yet. Set yourself other milestones to reach - social media engagement, page views on your blog, set yourself productivity goals - anything that encourages you to focus on a specific goal and work purposefully towards it.
Give yourself a quarterly bonus (or even a monthly one if you're a nice boss!) Treat your family to a nice day out somewhere you wouldn't normally go, send the children to Granny's and take hubby out for a meal, go to the cinema or just buy yourself a new pair of shoes (or something off your Amazon wishlist!)
A bonus is not only motivating for you, it's a tangible indicator of your success and progress. It can be useful for showing your family the value of what you are doing if you're having a hard time being taken seriously.
Do you need a Free worksheet so you can track your sales results, hours worked and your bonus criteria? Because this is so important for your business mindset, I made you one! (<< download your worksheet from this link, or clicking the image below)
3. Lock up at night and take your holidays
Yeah I know - easier said than done. To be honest this one is more an aim for the future than something you can do at the start of your business (ps: it's 1am as I'm drafting this post so I'm nowhere near that point yet either!) But I strongly believe that just because you're self employed it doesn't mean you should work all hours and never have any time off.
You will be working unsociable hours when you start your business and when your children are small and the only productive hours of the day are when they're sleeping! Make it a long term goal though (anyone else looking forward to their kids being in school - or is that just me?) to get to a point where you can have your weekends with your family with no work interruptions and take a couple of weeks holiday a year and totally unplug!
4. Make sure your business is legal
Big businesses have legal departments. To ensure employees are treated correctly, to prevent the company getting sued and to help sort out disputes. They also ensure the company is trading legally.
You need to be trading legally too! The amount of, frankly demented, 'legal advice' I see online (mostly from well-meaning but ill informed fellow small business owners) is downright scary!
If you are unsure of a legal issue, don't ask on Facebook - go to the correct authority or, if you don't know who that is, try your local Citizens Advice Bureau. As a small business owner (in the UK) you must be registered with HMRC as self employed and fill out an annual tax return and pay national insurance contributions.
The biggest issues I see are copyright infringements (aka theft!) particularly with the use of whichever Disney character is the nation's current favourite and a blatant disregard of the safety testing required on products such as children's toys and cosmetics and skincare products.
If you are caught trading illegally, you could face a heavy fine and your business could be shut down, either temporarily or permanently.
5. Care what the public thinks of you
Big companies have whole teams working on their public image and employees have strict rules regarding what they can say on social media or to the press and can even be sacked if they breach those rules
I'm not saying you need to hire a PR department but you do need to be aware of what you are saying and how you are saying it at all times. By all means show the real you, the personality behind the brand, but don't get caught out whinging, making excuses for poor service or products, being crude and inappropriate or slating or arguing with your competitors or, even worse, your customers!
Deal with all queries quickly and politely and remain professional when you get negative comments or complaints. It's really hard not to take complaints personally when you put so much of yourself into your business but being aggressive and argumentative won't help your business' reputation - unfortunately bad news travels faster than good news.
Everything you do online creates an impression of your business - so make sure it's a good one.
6. Don't get caught slacking
Haha no, I'm not suggesting you give yourself a disciplinary if you don't complete your to do list every single day. Just don't let being your own boss turn into allowing yourself to goof of when you should be working!
When you sit down to work have a plan for what you need to get done. Analyse your systems and make changes to ensure you're working efficiently. Make short and long term goals for your business, to keep you focused on the important things and not get lost in the everyday details.
To make your business successful you have to work hard and take yourself seriously
7. Analyse what went wrong and how to fix it
As part of the management team at store level I used to get told off quite a lot! If targets were missed, if customers complained, if targets weren't met when the Area Manager came to visit, if procedures weren't followed. But it wasn't only a telling off we got from the ones in charge at Head Office - they wanted to know why it went wrong and what we were going to do to fix it!
As a small business owner you need to face up to what is going wrong too. Eg; you can't just get upset if a customer complains and then ignore it and pretend it didn't happen to make yourself feel better. You have to ask yourself was the complaint justified? And what can you do to make sure it doesn't happen again? Even if it was something that wasn't directly your fault (perhaps you got let down by a supplier, or Royal Mail damaged a parcel) there will be something you can do to minimise the chances of it happening again (such as making sure you have materials in stock before listing an item as available or improving the durability of your packaging)
You need to take disappointments and turn them into valuable lessons to keep you improving all the time and keep your business moving onwards and upwards.
8. Don't be afraid to make changes
When I worked in retail we were always moving stock around - adding new products, removing old ones, displaying seasonal products. Sometime we just moved stuff, like, 6ft away to a new location. And it never ceased to amaze me how many regulars would comment on the amazing new stock we had in, that had in fact, just been moved a few feet!
You need to keep things fresh in your business too. If you're a blogger or sell services, make sure you blog regularly and consistently, update your resource page, upgrade you products, update your bio and about pages as your business evolves. Regular updates show you are still investing time and energy into your audience and will keep them checking back for more from you.
If you have a shop, try changing your product photographs occasionally - maybe in line with the seasons and popular holidays. (Don't forget to change them back again after the event too! - nothing shouts 'I'm an abandoned shop' louder than Christmas photos still up in January!) You will give your shop a whole new look. You never know, one of your regulars might notice something completely different if you photograph it differently! And you could inspire a whole new type of shopper.
Don't be afraid to change your focus as your business grows. Allow your customers to have their say about what stays in your shop and what lines you abandon. You might be surprised at what sells and what doesn't - I know I always was!!
Time to Take Action: Download and print our your Free Sales, Hours and Bonus Results Trackers. Create sales targets for the next quarter and track your results. Making your business about sales will really focus your decision making on getting results!