By Alexia Chianis
Whether you’re brainstorming a new venture or already have one up and running, listening to small-business advice from successful leaders can pay off. Not only can their knowledge help you avoid critical mistakes, it can also help you make more informed decisions and help your business reach its full potential.
We asked nineteen successful business leaders to share their small-business advice about everything from starting a small business to running it effectively. Here’s what they had to say.
- Figure out who you want to impress every single day, every single hour. Picture that person and how you can make her life easier. Once you figure out who you’re willing to bend over backwards for, you’ve found your customer base. —Jovim Ventura, founder, InoPrints
- Start with the end in mind.Envision what you want your business to look like ten or fifteen years down the line. . . . From there, work backwards to the present in building a business plan with well-defined milestones and benchmarks that systematically lead to the ideal version of your future business. —Jeremy Schaedler, president and founder, Schaedler Insurance Agency, Inc.
- Look for problems. Problems are the best-disguised opportunities for making money. . . . You have to ask yourself, what problem am I solving for the customer? That is what separates businesses that are successful from the other ones. —D. Anthony Miles, founder of Miles Development Industries Corporation, entrepreneur and best-selling author
- Do not be afraid to ask the hard questions you don’t have a clue how to answer.Instead of being paralyzed by your lack of knowledge, distill your questions into the one specific question you need answered to move forward with your business. Then, find the best possible expert or resource to answer that question and ask it. Listen to the answer, write it down, think about it, and then implement it and continue on your journey. —Danielle Tate, founder and CEO, MissNowMrs.com
- Take your time when choosing your co-founders. Get clear up front. Document your founders’ agreement, including roles, responsibilities, and equity. Better to hash that out before you get started than to try to clarify expectations once you’ve started. —Tony Loyd, founder, Culture Shift Companies
- Don’t be afraid to hire people smarter than you. Some entrepreneurs think they need to know all the answers. Don’t let personal insecurity limit the potential of your business. Surround yourself with people who can challenge you. They will be able to share their knowledge and skills with the rest of your employees, and raise the bar of your team. —Bob Ellis, founder and owner, Bavarian Clockworks
- Hire wisely. Find people who match your business style, but who also push you in ways that make you see opportunities or your business differently. Don’t only hire clones of yourself, but make sure you are compatible. —Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation
- Target candidates with high potential and focus on training and development. In today’s competitive war on talent, not many startups can afford to pay for “A players.” Meanwhile, there are plenty of high-potential, but unproven candidates. . . . When you do eventually scale your business, the “A players” will start coming to you. —Jordan Wan, founder and CEO, CloserIQ
- Invest in SEO. Either educate yourself on how to optimize your website for search engines or contract with a marketing agency that specializes in SEO. . . . If you are running a small company, you should have a strong online presence. Customers need to be able to locate your business, and many times this process begins with a search in Google. —Sophie Knowles, founder and CEO, PDF Pro
- Be memorable. Keep your efforts constant, deliver above and beyond, and try your best to provide long-term care for your existing clients. Satisfied customers are worth more than any other marketing strategy. —Jacob Bayer, CEO, Luminext
- Write about what you do. Having an online presence is everything these days. However, that doesn’t just mean having a website. I try to keep patients in the loop by contributing to a blog about various topics within my specialty. This is a way to reach out to the public and offer information on a new topic or just about anything I find interesting within my field. —Dr. Rebecca Pruthi, owner, Foot Care of Manhattan
- Get the sale. You cannot run a business idea up the hill of success unless you get out there and sell. . . . Social media . . . is not the same as warm calls, face-to-face, and direct, detailed emails that show you care about someone. —Ken Yager, president, Newpoint Advisors Corporation
- Promote the possibilities and the dreams of your target audience. People don’t purchase things for the things themselves. They buy items and services because they’re hoping it will enhance their lives in some way. . . . They’re thinking about . . . the end result—the possibilities. —Jean Margaret Walker, co-founder and CCO, The Regear Group, LLC
- Live by the penny, die by the penny.Don’t compete on price alone. Quality is the hardest thing to knock off. —Craig Wolfe, president, CelebriDucks
- Be prepared to sacrifice.I sold most of my wardrobe online and in consignment stores, raising nearly $75,000. . . . It’s going to cost three times more than you think [to run your business] . . . so you’ve got to be super creative when it comes to footing the bootstrapped budget. . . . Every extra dollar I earn is an additional dollar that can be used to spread the word about Cheekd. —Lori Cheek, founder and CEO, Cheekd
- Focus on revenue, not expenses. . . . Your goal should be to spend the majority of your time figuring out ways to make money rather than spend it. . . . Your obsessive focus should be on making money by developing relationships, building products, and closing deals. —Ben Brooks, founder and CEO, PILOT
- Choose a vendor with the right fee. Small-business owners must be constantly thinking about increasing revenue and reducing expenses. Price matters and the pennies count. Find a vendor with a fee structure that works for you and make sure the contract you are asked to sign does not have hidden fees or acceleration clauses, and be comfortable with the duration of the terms. —John C. Woodman, Creditor/Debtor Rights and Business Litigation Attorney, Sodoma Law, P.C.
- Think about the 2–3 people who are willing to be your sounding boards. Who will challenge you to see things differently, encourage you when you need a lift, warn you when you’re floating off course, etc. It can feel lonely, and having a cadre of people at your back makes a huge difference. —Colin T. McLetchie, president, Five Ways Forward
- Find a mentor. As business owners, we’re so close to our businesses that it can be hard to see the forest through the trees. That’s why it’s important to find an advisor, mentor, or coach who can provide an outside perspective. —Nadine Pizarro, co-founder, Keyword Marketing
One trait of good leadership is determination, and following these tips can help you navigate the challenges of small-business ownership—and keep you going when you feel like giving up. Implement some or all of their suggestions and set your small business on the path to success.