There’s no shortage of advice for business owners on the internet. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to get advice and much of it was useless to me.
But there were a few key pieces that I’ve collected over the years that have made a dramatic impact on my business. No-nonsense lessons that I either picked up from people smarter than me, or learned the hard way. It’s the advice that I wish I was given when I first started out in business
It won’t all be useful to you right now, but if just one of these tips is as game-changing for you as it was for me, then I’ll consider this post a success.
1.There are only two things your business NEEDS to do.
At the end of the day, there are two things that every business, if it wants to survive, needs to do:
- Make or Do something valuable.
- Sell it at a profit.
Everything else is negotiable. Doing too much of that “everything else” can and will distract you. Distractions can and will kill you.
2. Relationships with smart people will save your business.
Having people I could turn to for smart guidance has saved me more times than I can count.
Networking matters. But probably not the way you think (if you hate networking, anyway). A lot of people think of networking as trading business cards. It’s not, and the reason why is that your business card has no value.
Relationships are built on adding value to each other’s lives. Building your network is about delivering value to as many of the right people as possible so that when you need something, somebody in your network will be happy to help you get it. Now, it’s not transactional. You’re not trading favors.
Forget the conferences and the business cards, and think about who you want to meet that might be valuable to you.
3. Your product or service is a commodity.
You’re selling a commodity. It has never been easier and less costly to build things.
Anyone who builds a successful product now risks commoditization from two directions:
- From below, where new startups can quickly “copy” the product you’ve validated in the marketplace.
- From above, where cash-rich businesses who can’t (or won’t) acquire you can throw money at the challenge and build a similar product.
The good news is this: while it’s easier than ever to build a product, it’s still not easy to build a healthy business. That’s the reason why so many startups still fail, and it’s the reason why so many ripoff initiatives from large companies still fail. So while your product is certain to become a commodity, that doesn’t mean that your business will fail.
You just have to work on building and defending the aspects of your business that won’t be commoditized: your brand and your culture.
4. Talk to your clients. A lot.
I know that this is scary for some people. But not doing it won’t end well for you, I promise. The ultimate “win” from talking to clients is deep insight into how your customers think, feel and use your product or service.
That insight is absolutely critical to the growth of any business, and it’s the biggest reason I do this. Even if there were no other benefits, that benefit one alone would make it worthwhile. With that said, talking with your clients will deliver a host of other benefits:
- You’ll better understand the personas in your client base, and what matters to each one (so that you can market to them better)
- You’ll get feedback that would otherwise go unshared (and would have either led to dissatisfaction or, worse, churn)
If you haven’t done this, you’ll be amazed by what you learn and get from the exercise.
5. Invest in things that give you more time.
You have a finite amount time, and a seemingly infinite amount of tasks to accomplish in that time.
Good time management is critical to success but even then, too many business owners leave too much time on the table throughout the day by doing things they don’t need to be doing.
Invest in things that give you time leverage, especially when they’re not expensive.
It may seem “scrappy” to do things rather than outsource them, but it’s not; it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish, as it robs you and your clients of the time you could be spending on the more important work of improving your business.
Want work/life balance and the opportunity to go home at a reasonable hour? It’s definitely attainable, but it means you have to be ruthless in protecting your time.
6. Define success for yourself.
People who champion the “hustle all the time” mentality love to talk about “it.”
Do you have what it takes? Because it takes hustle to get there. The promise sounds great, and I’m sure it has inspired more than a few people to push themselves. But what the heck is It?
To me, It should be your own personal vision; what you want to achieve in your business or life. But does It really take day-after-unsustainable-day of backbreaking work to achieve? It took me a long time (and coming close to burnout more than once) to realize that my It isn’t the same as that of some of the hard-chargers I looked up to.
My It is a lot simpler.
For me, It means loving my work, being challenged by it and learning and growing every day.
- It means living at the beach in California.
- It means having the means to provide for my family.
- It means living and being able to work around the needs of my family.
You don’t have to let other people define success for you. Do it for yourself.
Think about what an ideal lifestyle actually looks like for you, and come up with the number for how much it’ll cost to fund. Then build your business working backwards from there. You may have to “hustle” a lot less than you thought.
7. Learn to sell your vision.
If you’re not already good at selling, get good at it. You need to be able to sell your vision. Because in the early days, people don’t join you because of who you are today. They join you because of who you’ll be tomorrow.
When you have nothing but a vision, selling it is the only thing you can do to get others to help you turn it into a reality. Like any other skill, selling your vision can be learned and improved.
While I wish I had a clever hack here for getting better, there are really only two things to do that I can virtually guarantee will move the needle for you:
- First, know exactly what your vision is. If you can’t clearly define your vision, then you have no hope of being able to sell it.
- Second, if you want to get better at selling your vision, then you need to sell your vision. I know it sounds obvious, but the only way to improve this skill is to practice it.
Once you have your vision, sell it.
- Sell it to your prospects.
- Sell it to your significant other.
- Sell it to anyone who will listen—or even those who won’t—because every single time will make you better.
Ask for feedback, incorporate the things that sound wise to you, and keep going.
How to Apply This to Your Business
I know that not all of these tips will be useful for you today. The best advice I’ve ever received has been advice I’ve saved for months or years, and then relied on when I hit a challenge that the advice was relevant for. At that point, I was really happy to have it.