As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you’re probably used to a razor-thin margin for error. Without the deep pockets and seemingly endless resources that more established companies have, we must plan ahead, readily adapt and be deliberate in the decisions we make. Because not doing so can result in costly mistakes that hinder the growth we’re after.
In reality, the act of maintaining a ‘small business’ mindset ultimately helps businesses meet their full potential and grow beyond all expectations while staying true to their origins and purpose. Here are four must-avoid mistakes entrepreneurs often make when trying to grow their businesses.
1. Don’t let your customer relationships suffer.
I try to shop at my local independent grocery store when I can. Although the selection might not be as plentiful as the superstore down the street, I know the names of all the cashiers and vice-versa, and they’ve special-ordered items for me at my request.
These small business community connections aren’t exclusive to physical businesses! Imagine you’ve purchased a coffee-a-month subscription, and every month a fresh one-pound bag of coffee arrives on your doorstep. Receiving a personalized email outlining why this particular variety was chosen for you based on previous preferences you’ve communicated makes the experience much more special than buying a random bag of coffee at the grocery store.
People love small businesses because of their personal touch. So if you’re a small business owner who’s looking to scale your operations or offerings, be sure to keep meaningful customer interactions a top priority, regardless of where or how you deliver your customer service.
2. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
I remember when I was starting my first company, I felt like I was always getting pulled in a million different directions: Should I spend today creating marketing content, fulfilling orders, reaching out to local media, or innovating? These questions plague small business owners – especially the thousands of businesses that are entirely composed of one to two employees.
One potential solution is to invest in automation. With only 24 hours in every day, the value found in automating processes like order fulfillment or email marketing can outweigh the costs of these tools. Seemingly every multinational corporation is in a race to see how much of their businesses they can automate, and as a result, many of the innovations in machine learning and artificial intelligence that they’ve accomplished have trickled down and become available to small businesses.
For example, gathering data on your customers has never been easier. The challenging part is acting on it! Research from Constant Contact shows one in five small businesses don’t use automation, A.I., or machine learning of any kind. Don’t let your business remain in the minority, stuck in a bygone era. Consider the tools and programs available to you to help unpack consumer data and inform business decisions, and ultimately save you time in trying to make these decisions all on your own.
3. Don’t try to grow your business without a plan.
I remember when someone first told me that I should “expect the unexpected” as a small business owner, I rolled my eyes so hard! As I began to spend more time growing my businesses, I realized why it was so popular: preparing your small business for bumps in its journey will leave it stronger in the long run, even if it can feel like you’re sacrificing profit.
A strong business plan will strike a balance between prioritizing innovation and growth while moving forward at a healthy, sustainable pace. Regardless of how much a small business owner may find themselves ready to expand operations or IPO and sell the company within a month of profits in the green, successfully scaling a business cannot be artificially sped up. Growth is a process and must be taken day by day.
The best types of business plans are those that are constantly revisited and reevaluated: businesses’ needs can change overnight. We’ve found that 58% of small businesses started selling online for the first time after COVID-19 hit. In the restaurant industry alone, we saw the overnight rise of businesses that functioned unchanged for decades suddenly adopting new approaches like to-go cocktails. The greatest lesson in recent business history is for companies to consider creative and alternative ways of meeting consumer needs within the bounds of their existing business profile.
4. Don’t forget to invest in your employees.
The more your business grows, the greater the pressure is on your team. I’ve always underscored the importance of communicating frequently and honestly with your employees. Treat them as your teammates, and consider how their mental and physical well-being contributes to the success of your company.
Giant companies all over the U.S. are experiencing the largest unionization push in decades because their employees don’t feel valued. Low wages, unsustainable working conditions, and extreme turnover lead to poor morale and ultimately poor work. Investing in your employees can take many forms: proper training, team-building, and paying a competitive salary.
When employees have all their basic needs met, feel supported, and see a clear path forward in their careers, they’re able to devote more time and energy to work. In cultivating a healthy work culture based on transparency and shared success, you’ll likely find that your business prospers as well.
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