Regardless of your definition of success, there are, oddly enough, a great number of common characteristics that are shared by successful businesspeople. You can place a tick beside each characteristic that you feel that you possess.
This way, you can see how you stack up. Even if you don’t have all of these characteristics, don’t fret. Most can be learned with practice and by developing a winning attitude, especially if you set goals and apply yourself, through strategic planning, to reach those goals in incremental and measurable stages.
The Home Business Musts
Like any activity you pursue, there are certain musts that are required to be successful in a chosen activity. To legally operate a vehicle on public roadways, one must have a driver’s license; to excel in sports, one must train and practice; to retire comfortably, one must become an informed investor and actively invest for retirement. If your goal is success in business, then the formula is no different.
There are certain musts that have to be fully developed, implemented and managed for your business to succeed. There are many business musts, but this article contains I believe to be some of the more important musts that are required to start, operate and grow a profitable home business.
1. Do what you enjoy.
What you get out of your business in the form of personal satisfaction, financial gain, stability and enjoyment will be the sum of what you put into your business. So if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, in all likelihood it’s safe to assume that will be reflected in the success of your business–or subsequent lack of success. In fact, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, chances are you won’t succeed.
2. Take what you do seriously.
You cannot expect to be effective and successful in business unless you truly believe in your business and in the goods and services that you sell. Far too many home business owners fail to take their own businesses seriously enough, getting easily side-tracked and not staying motivated and keeping their noses to the grindstone.
They also fall prey to naysayers who don’t take them seriously because they don’t work from an office building, office park, storefront, or factory. Little do these skeptics, who rain on the home business owner’s parade, know is that the number of people working from home, and making very good annual incomes, has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.
3. Plan everything.
Planning every aspect of your home business is not only a must, but also builds habits that every home business owner should develop, implement, and maintain. The act of business planning is so important because it requires you to analyse each business situation, research and compile data, and make conclusions based mainly on the facts as revealed through the research.
Business planning also serves a second function, which is having your goals and how you will achieve them, on paper. You can use the plan that you create both as map to take you from point A to Z and as a yardstick to measure the success of each individual plan or segment within the plan.
4. Manage money wisely.
The lifeblood of any business enterprise is cash flow. You need it to buy inventory, pay for services, promote and market your business, repair and replace tools and equipment, and pay yourself so that you can continue to work. Therefore, all home business owners must become wise money managers to ensure that the cash keeps flowing and the bills get paid. There are two aspects to wise money management.
- The money you receive from clients in exchange for your goods and services you provide (income)
- The money you spend on inventory, supplies, wages and other items required to keep your business operating. (expenses)
5. Ask for the sale.
A home business entrepreneur must always remember that marketing, advertising, or promotional activities are completely worthless, regardless of how clever, expensive, or perfectly targeted they are, unless one simple thing is accomplished–ask for the sale.
This is not to say that being a great salesperson, advertising copywriting whiz or a public relations specialist isn’t a tremendous asset to your business. However, all of these skills will be for naught if you do not actively ask people to buy what you are selling.
6. Remember it’s all about the customer.
Your home business is not about the products or services that you sell. Your home business is not about the prices that you charge for your goods and services. Your home business is not about your competition and how to beat them. Your business is all about your customers, or clients, period.
After all, your customers are the people that will ultimately decide if your business goes boom or bust.
Everything you do in business must be customer focused, including your policies, warranties, payment options, operating hours, presentations, advertising and promotional campaigns and website. In addition, you must know who your customers are inside out and upside down.
7. Become a shameless self-promoter (without becoming obnoxious).
One of the greatest myths about personal or business success is that eventually your business, personal abilities, products or services will get discovered and be embraced by the masses that will beat a path to your door to buy what you are selling. But how can this happen if no one knows who you are, what you sell and why they should be buying?
Self-promotion is one of the most beneficial, yet most underutilised, marketing tools that the majority of home business owners have at their immediate disposal.
8. Project a positive business image.
You have but a passing moment to make a positive and memorable impression on people with whom you intend to do business. Home business owners must go out of their way and make a conscious effort to always project the most professional business image possible.
The majority of home business owners do not have the advantage of elaborate offices or elegant storefronts and showrooms to wow prospects and impress customers.
Instead, they must rely on imagination, creativity and attention to the smallest detail when creating and maintaining a professional image for their home business.
9. Get to know your customers.
One of the biggest features and often the most significant competitive edge the home based entrepreneur has over the larger competitors is the he can offer personalised attention.
Call it high-tech backlash if you will, but customers are sick and tired of hearing that their information is somewhere in the computer and must be retrieved, or told to push a dozen digits to finally get to the right department only to end up with voice mail–from which they never receive a return phone call.
The home business owner can actually answer phone calls, get to know customers, provide personal attention and win over repeat business by doing so. It’s a researched fact that most business (80%) will come from repeat customers rather than new customers.
Therefore, along with trying to draw newcomers, the more you can do to woo your regular customers, the better off you will be in the long run and personalised attention is very much appreciated and remembered in the modern high tech world.
10. Level the playing field with technology.
You should avoid getting overly caught up in the high-tech world, but you should also know how to take advantage of using it. One of the most amazing aspects of the internet is that a one or two person business operating from a basement can have a superior website to a R50 million company, and nobody knows the difference.
Make sure you’re keeping up with the high-tech world as it suits your needs.. The best technology is that which helps you, not that which impresses your neighbours.
11. Build a top-notch business team.
No one person can build a successful business alone. It’s a task that requires a team that is as committed as you to the business and its success. Your business team may include family members, friends, suppliers, business alliances, employees, sub-contractors, industry and business associations, local government and the community.
Of course the most important team members will be your customers or clients. Any or all may have a say in how your business will function and a stake in your business future.
12. Become known as an expert.
When you have a problem that needs to be solved, do you seek just anyone’s advice or do you seek an expert in the field to help solve your particular problem?
Obviously, you want the most accurate information and assistance that you can get. You naturally seek an expert to help solve your problem. You call a plumber when the hot water tank leaks, a real estate agent when it’s time to sell your home or a dentist when you have a toothache.
Therefore, it only stands to reason that the more you become known for your expertise in your business, the more people will seek you out to tap into your expertise, creating more selling and referral opportunities.
In effect, becoming known as an expert is another style of prospecting for new business, just in reverse. Instead of finding new and qualified people to sell to, these people seek you out for your expertise.
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13. Create a competitive advantage.
A home business must have a clearly defined unique selling proposition. This is nothing more than a fancy way of asking the vital question, “Why will people choose to do business with you or purchase your product or service instead of doing business with a competitor and buying his product or service?”
In other words, what one aspect or combination of aspects is going to separate your business from your competition? Will it be better service, a longer warranty, better selection, longer business hours, more flexible payment options, lowest price, personalised service, better customer service, better return and exchange policies or a combination of several of these?
14. Invest in yourself.
Top entrepreneurs buy and read business and marketing books, magazines, reports, journals, newsletters, websites and industry publications, knowing that these resources will improve their understanding of business and marketing functions and skills. They join business associations and clubs, and they network with other skilled business people to learn their secrets of success and help define their own goals and objectives.
Top entrepreneurs attend business and marketing seminars, workshops and training courses, even if they have already mastered the subject matter of the event. They do this because they know that education is an ongoing process.
There are usually ways to do things better, in less time, with less effort. In short, top entrepreneurs never stop investing in the most powerful, effective and best business and marketing tool at their immediate disposal – themselves.
15. Be accessible.
We’re living in a time when we all expect our fast food lunch at the drive-thru window to be ready in mere minutes, our dry cleaning to be ready for pick-up on the same day, our money to be available at the cash machine and our pizza delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free.
You see the pattern developing – you must make it as easy as you can for people to do business with you, regardless of the home business you operate.
You must remain cognisant of the fact that few people will work hard, go out of their way, or be inconvenienced just for the privilege of giving you their hard-earned money. The shoe is always on the other foot.
Making it easy for people to do business with you means that you must be accessible and knowledgeable about your products and services. You must be able to provide customers with what they want, when they want it.
16. Build a rock-solid reputation.
A good reputation is unquestionably one of the home business owner’s most tangible and marketable assets. You can’t simply buy a good reputation; it’s something that you earn by honouring your promises.
If you promise to have the merchandise in the customer’s hands by Wednesday, you have no excuse not to have it there. If you offer to repair something, you need to make good on your offer.
Consistency in what you offer is the other key factor. If you cannot come through with the same level of service (and products) for clients on a regular basis, they have no reason to trust you . . . and without trust, you won’t have a good reputation.
17. Sell benefits.
Pushing product features is for inexperienced or wannabe entrepreneurs. Selling the benefits associated with owning and using the products and services you carry is what sales professionals worldwide focus on to create buying excitement and to sell, sell more, and sell more frequently to their customers.
Your advertising, sales presentations, printed marketing materials, product packaging, website, newsletters, trade show exhibit and signage are vital. Every time and every medium used to communicate with your target audience must always be selling the benefits associated with owning your product or using your service.
18. Get involved.
Always go out of your way to get involved in the community that supports your business. You can do this in many ways, such as pitching in to help local charities or the food bank, becoming involved in organising community events, and getting involved in local politics.
You can join associations and clubs that concentrate on programmes and policies designed to improve the local community. It’s a fact that people like to do business with people they know, like and respect, and with people who do things to help them as members of the community.
19. Grab attention.
Small-business owners cannot waste time, money and energy on promotional activities aimed at building awareness solely through long-term, repeated exposure. If you do, chances are you will go broke long before this goal is accomplished.
Instead, every promotional activity you engage in, must put money back in your pocket so that you can continue to grab more attention and grow your business.
20. Master the art of negotiations.
The ability to negotiate effectively is unquestionably a skill that every home business owner must make every effort to master. It’s perhaps second in importance only to asking for the sale in terms of home business musts. In business, negotiation skills are used daily.
Always remember that mastering the art of negotiation means that your skills are so finely tuned that you can always orchestrate a win-win situation. These win-win arrangements mean that everyone involved feels they have won, which is really the basis for building long-term and profitable business relationships.
21. Design your workspace for success.
Carefully plan and design your home office workspace to ensure maximum personal performance and productivity and, if necessary, to project professionalism for visiting clients.
If at all possible, resist the temptation to turn a corner of the living room or your bedroom into your office. Ideally, you’ll want a separate room with a door that closes to keep business activities in and family members out, at least during prime business and revenue generating hours of the day.
A den, spare bedroom, basement or converted garage are all ideal candidates for your new home office. If this is not possible, you’ll have to find a means of converting a room with a partition or simply find hours to do the bulk of your work when nobody else is home.
22. Get and stay organised.
The key to staying organised is not about which type of file you have or whether you keep a stack or two of papers on your desk, but it’s about managing your business. It’s about having systems in place to do things.
Therefore, you want to establish a routine by which you can accomplish as much as possible in a given workday, whether that’s three hours for a part-time business or seven or nine hours as a full-timer.
In fact, you should develop systems and routines for just about every single business activity. Small things such as creating a to-do list at the end of each business day, or for the week, will help keep you on top of important tasks to tackle. Creating a single calendar to work from, not multiple sets for individual tasks or jobs, will also ensure that jobs are completed on schedule and appointments kept.
Incorporating family and personal activities into your work calendar is also critical so that you work and plan from a single calendar.
23. Take time off.
The temptation to work around the clock is very real for some home business owners. After all, you don’t have a manager telling you it’s time to go home because they can’t afford the overtime pay.
Every person working from home must take time to establish a regular work schedule that includes time to stretch your legs and take lunch breaks, plus some days off and scheduled vacations.
Create the schedule as soon as you have made the commitment to start a home business. Of course, your schedule will have to be flexible. You should, therefore, not fill every possible hour in the day. Give yourself a backup hour or two. All work and no play makes you burn out very fast and grumpy customer service is not what people want.
24. Limit the number of hats you wear.
It’s difficult for most business owners not to take a hands-on approach. They try to do as much as possible and tackle as many tasks as possible in their business. The ability to multitask, in fact, is a common trait shared by successful entrepreneurs. However, once in a while you have to stand back and look beyond today to determine what’s in the best interest of your business and yourself over the long run.
Most highly successful entrepreneurs will tell you that from the time they started out, they knew what they were good at and what tasks to delegate to others.
25. Follow-up constantly.
Constant contact, follow-up, and follow-through with customers, prospects, and business alliances should be the mantra of every home business owner, new or established.
Constant and consistent follow-up enables you to turn prospects into customers, increase the value of each sale and buying frequency from existing customers, and build stronger business relationships with suppliers and your core business team.
Follow-up is especially important with your existing customer base, as the real work begins after the sale. It’s easy to sell one product or service, but it takes work to retain customers and keep them coming back.
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Are You Building A Business Or Creating A Job For Yourself?
Is it just you behind a desk or are you delegating the work? The distinction is an important one.
We recently spoke with a member of our co-working space who owns a PR/marketing company and is the only employee of his company. His firm is successful and has been in business for more than three years since he left a large organisation where he was the head of PR.
Our conversation got around to the issue of extra help. When he needs additional skills to fulfill assignments, this man told us, he contracts with other professionals. That was interesting, we thought. Because, although our PR friend is talented and able to support his growing family, his comment about contracting out work raised a question for us.
“Was he trying to build a company or create a job for himself?” we wanted to know. It was a question that struck a chord with this man – one that he later came back to discuss.
In that context, we want to state that we think that we consider either choice a valid one, but one that should be a specific choice, nonethless. We work with and mentor dozens of small start-ups. And many start as single-person firms completing short assignments for a variety of other small or midsized companies.
There are more than 28 million small business in the United States. Of these, single-person companies are in the majority, representing three-quarters of all small businesses. These individuals, whether they planned it or not, have created a job for themselves. They will not hire employees or scale their businesses. Of course, this need not be negative.
Done right, a one-person business can actually make good money. It can give the owner the flexibility to choose assignments that are interesting and fulfilling, and to enjoy the flexibility of working when and where he or she chooses.
The “micro-business” category
A person working alone, or essentially alone, is a business category we call a “microbusiness.” The defining characteristic of a micro business is that the owner or principal is doing the primary work of the business, whether that means providing PR services or baking cookies. He or she may have helpers in the form of other freelancers, vendors or assistants, but the preponderance of the revenue comes directly from the work of this principal.
The key to the success of a micro business is how well the principal does its primary work, which includes selling. We find that the biggest challenge in a micro business is finding a steady stream of work. By the way, our consulting practice is a successful micro business. We have one paid full-time employee, our marketing assistant, but we do the primary work of our business – consulting.
The small business structure
Many people who own micro-businesses choose to stay at this size. However, if you want to build a business, you will need to grow, at least to what we call a small business structure, where the primary work is delegated to others. The owner might keep his or her hand in it, but others do the preponderance of the work. At this point, how well the principal does the primary work of the business is not nearly as important as it was when the enterprise was a micro business.
Personally, we found it difficult to transition to a small business structure in our consulting business for a couple of reasons. First, when people hire Doug and Polly to consult to their small business, they want Doug and Polly, not an associate. Second, we are limited in the amount we can charge to the very small businesses we serve. The fees we charge are not high enough to pay talent at the level we would want and still provide a sufficient markup for our firm. Therefore, Whitestone Partners has stayed a micro business.
It’s important to note that the role of the entrepreneur changes dramatically as a business moves from micro to small. In fact, at the point of transition, the principal has to let go of doing the very thing that made the company successful at the prior step. In a micro business, the business lives or dies based on how well the owner performs the primary work of the business. This makes sense. You have created a job, and you keep it or lose it based on how well you do the work.
But, if you choose to grow to a small business structure, success depends on how well the principal hires and manages workers. If you are the principal, your role will change. If you want to bake cakes, stay a micro business. If you want to run a bakery, you need to build a business. This is a scary step and one that can cause the principal sleepless nights.
Many people we mentor balk at this transition when they realise they will be responsible for the livelihood of others. However, to grow a business, yourself,, eventually, you will need to hire and manage employees.
Next . . . the midsize business
If you’re successful at the small business stage and choose to continue to grow, you will become a midsize business. The business has transitioned from small to midsize when at least one layer of management has been inserted between the principal and those doing the primary work. The principal has gone from managing workers to managing managers. This might sound like a small change. It is not.
To effectively utilise managers, the principal must delegate decision-making authority to them. This means giving up a measure of control, which is often difficult for entrepreneurs who are used to making every significant decision in the company.
This also is the transition with which growing companies most often struggle. Letting go of some control is a scary thing for entrepreneurs, and they are right to feel trepidation. Ineffective delegation can lead to the ruin of the business – we’ve seen it too often. To enable effective delegation, the principal will need to ensure that the appropriate infrastructure is in place. This means making certain that the business has the right managers, that processes are well-documented and that appropriate metrics are in place.
Meanwhile, if you want to create a life that has flexibility and autonomy and allows you to work when and where you like, you should probably choose to stay a micro business. As we like to say, you can create a great job for yourself. If you want to build something more, you will need to move to a small business structure. You will know that you have transitioned from micro to small when you have delegated most of the primary work of the business to others.
To truly scale a business, you will need to transition to midsize or larger. You will have done this once you’ve delegated day-to-day decision-making authority to a layer of managers that is between you and those doing the primary work of the businesses.
Each choice is valid and comes with its own challenges. However, we believe that it should be a conscious and specific choice. If you are unsure which direction to take, find an experienced consultant or mentor with whom to explore your options, skill sets, and desires. Then move forward with purpose in the direction that works for you.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Why Optimism Isn’t Enough – You Need To Also Accept The Brutal Facts
Entrepreneurs tend to depend on optimism in the same way that fish depend on water. It’s absolutely crucial for survival. In fact, it’s arguably the single most important character trait that a successful entrepreneur can have, but it also has a dark side…
A realistic path to success
- Lead with questions, not answers
- Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion
- Conduct autopsies without blame
- Build red flag mechanisms.
No matter how bad your day’s going, it’s probably nothing compared to your average day at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. This was the euphemistically-named prisoner-of-war camp (actually called Hoa Lo Prison) where American soldiers were interned during the Vietnam War. Pilot Jim Stockdale was shot down on 9 September 1965 and sent to the prison. While there, he was tortured, denied medical attention, kept in a windowless cell and locked in leg irons at night. Stockdale spent almost eight years in the prison, and while many other American soldiers died there, he survived.
This brings us to the topic of optimism. You don’t survive eight years in a prison camp by giving up hope. Despite almost impossible conditions (and odds), you need to stay optimistic. Stockdale never lost hope.
“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade,” Stockdale later said about his time in the prison.
The Stockdale paradox
So, Stockdale was an optimist right? Yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Jim Collins interviewed him while writing his seminal book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. After hearing how Stockdale refused to give up hope and stayed optimistic throughout his internment, Collins asked him who didn’t make it out alive.
“Oh, that’s easy,” he replied. “The optimists. They were the ones who said: ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say: ’We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.
“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
From this, Collins identified one of the key things that differentiated great companies from others: The ability to accept brutal facts. Greatness demands optimism, but not in the face of obvious disaster. Collins called this the Stockdale Paradox.
Too much optimism
What happens when a bunch of executives enter a boardroom with their charismatic founder? The founder is optimistic, inspiring… and demanding. He has absurd expectations. He wants the impossible. (Steve Jobs was a good example, who employees said had a ‘reality distortion field’ around him). The executives are eager to seem equally gung-ho, of course, even those who know that a crucial deadline won’t be met, so the brutal facts are ignored.
“We’re going to be shipping product by Christmas,” they all say. And Christmas comes, and Christmas goes. Then they say: “We’re going to ship by Easter. And Easter comes, and Easter goes. And then Thanksgiving, and then it’s Christmas again…
An overdose of optimism is a dangerous thing. While optimism is a crucial tool in the entrepreneurial kit (especially when it comes to motivating employees), it can lead to disaster if administered too liberally. Like morphine, a sensible amount can take the edge off a scary reality, but too much will distort reality to such an extent that you become oblivious to existential threats.
And how do you keep your company off the morphine? Collins suggests four things: Lead with questions, not answers. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion. Conduct autopsies without blame. Build red flag mechanisms. If you do this, optimism becomes a powerful tool, and not a ticking time-bomb.
Alan Knott-Craig Weigh In On Living Your Entrepreneurial Dream
From raising capital to getting the most from your employees, business ownership is all about living your dream.
How do I chase my dream? — Sam
First, you need money. Moola. Cash. Capital.
Chasing your dream without enough capital is akin to having a premature baby. All the baby’s energy goes into survival rather than growth. Start-ups are not about survival (paying the bills). They’re about growth (getting rich).
Before you chase your dream, make sure you have enough capital. Keep your lifestyle simple and living costs down. Save up enough to last two years. Or marry rich.
I’m considering selling my business. I need help. — Clark
Before you enter M&A conversations, first decide: “Am I a seller?”
You won’t find it easy backing out during negotiations. Don’t start a process you can’t finish. Don’t look for buyers if you don’t want to sell.
Most people I know that sold their business regret it, unless they had a very specific reason: i.e. the business was about to die, or the business can’t grow without a big brother, or they want to leave the country. If that’s your reason, go ahead and sell. If it’s simply to have a pile of cash, reconsider.
What are you going to do with the money? Put it in your bathtub and wash yourself with notes? Buy fancy cars? Buy a fancy spouse?
Lots of money in your pocket can only tempt you to the dark side. Eventually you’ll get bored and you’ll want to start a business again, and you’ll start all over. If you don’t need to, don’t sell.
How do you instil an ownership mindset in your staff? — Johan
It’s hard to work with people that have no drive. Some people just come to work and go home with no planning or vision or energy. Start with getting rid of the bad apples, then start fine-tuning recruitment to only let in the folks with a good attitude.
Use some of these methods to motivate and encourage buy-in from staff:
- Ask staff for feedback.
- Do not tolerate mediocrity.
- Make sure everyone knows their job.
- Share information. Keep everyone in the loop.
- Look after your staff and they’ll look after you.
- Lead by example. Pick up litter. Be first to office. Be last to leave.
How do I determine what venture to dedicate my energy to and when do I know when to stop pursuing one of the opportunities? — Mike
Go with whatever gets traction first. Ruthlessly scratch everything else off your to-do list. Generally speaking, go with the business with the most tried-and-tested business model.
I left my former employer to move away from the legal side of things. I know that I have the technical skills in this area and I have used that in completely running the legal side of the micro lending venture, but the ultimate aim is to be an entrepreneur/businessman rather than constantly seen as the ‘lawyer’. Do I discontinue the legal consulting or slowly taper off? — Mike
If you can live without the sideline income, do so. Focus 100% on business. If you need the money, keep selling hours on the side.
I have a very successful farm store. I’m considering expanding countrywide. Any advice? — Elo
Ask yourself “why?”
If the answer is to get rich, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to scale your successful farm store.
Maybe a better option is to take the free cashflow of your farm store and invest it in a different business. An annuity revenue business. A business that will make money while you sleep, rather than only when you’re behind the till. Cash cows are hard to come by. If you don’t want to lose your cow, don’t try to scale it unless you’re 100% sure you never have to sell it.
Can you help me flesh out the detail of a pitch to investors? — Mamkhele
There’s only so much you can rely on others for. At some point, you need to man up and do the work yourself. You need to answer the questions yourself. The answers for all pitch-related questions are on the Internet. Google it. No one will save you, only you will save you.
Listen to this
Alan’s audible book Be a Hero: Make Life an Adventure is now available on amazon.com and Audible.com
Read by Alan himself, Be a Hero is a collection of stories on how to make your life an adventure by changing your mindset and tackling adversity.
Go to amazon.com or audible.com to download your copy. Be a Hero is also available in Kindle and paperback through Amazon.com.
Read ‘Be A Hero’ today
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