If starting a business were easy, everyone would do it. But they don't. Only those of you who know deep down inside you're entrepreneurs at heart will ever take these steps--even if you've denied that entrepreneurial spirit burning inside you for a long time.
Using that burning desire to grow your business, however, is a far different task from simply lighting it. Most people start with the odds stacked so much against them that it's difficult for them to fan the fire beyond the first few months or years. Here are a few pieces of advice I can offer to help you keep your new business growing in size and profit:
1. Hire people who are better at the job than you are. It's a fact that companies are built by people, and the best people build the best and most profitable companies. Put simply, great employees may cost you 20 to 30 percent more in wages, but they can be twice as productive as mediocre employees. Invest in good people.
2. Place high urgency in everything you do. Always do everything you can today. When I started each of my businesses, I'd work constantly until I just had to go eat and sleep. Too many people treat their businesses as nine-to-five jobs. Never put something off until tomorrow if you can do it right now.
3. Get customers coming back. The road to profitability is through repeat business. Too few business owners set themselves up for long-term success. Your business grows when you add regular new customers on top of existing regular customers. Think of it this way: What if every customer you ever got stayed for life? How many regular buyers would you have?
4. Make decisions quickly. New companies don't have the time or resources to stand still. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf once said to me, "When placed in command, take charge." He also believes it's better to make a decision and move than it is to stand still.
5. Deliver more than you promise. If you tell a customer it'll be three days, deliver in two. If you think it'll be two hours, say three hours and surprise them. This is the best form of marketing ever.
6. Price yourself for profit. Don't ever be the cheapest. You're the little guy; you don't have economies of scale. Big companies can make up in volume what they lack in margin. You can't.
7. Never spend a dollar you don't have to. You don't need a new desk, you need a cheap desk. Too many new business owners go and buy the best stuff because they think image is important. Listen, when you get profitable, you can have a big mahogany desk. Right now, just get a desk.
8. Set a big vision. Start Small, Finish Big should be the title of your book. Don't aim to be the best dog trainer in Montana--aim to be the best in the country. Remember, building a business is a 10-year plan, not a one-year plan.
9. Marketing is math. Don't ever let an advertising sales rep teach you anything about marketing. Reps will say dumb things like, "Half your advertising works and half doesn't--and you'll never know which half." Rubbish. If an ad that costs $100 makes you $100 back in profit, it's a good ad. One other tip: Image advertising doesn't make sense when you're not yet profitable.
10. Learn to sell. There's nothing worse than a business owner who isn't willing to sell--or even learn to sell. No company makes money unless someone sells something, and you can't just rely on people you hire to do the selling for you. If you want to grow a profitable business, you've got to learn sales yourself.
11. It's simpler than you think. Before most people even go into business, they work it up to be far more complex than it really is. Business is very simple: Sell at a profit and keep at it. Overcomplicating the process won't help anyone. If your business seems too complex, it probably is--so make it simple and watch yourself succeed.
Remember, you have a lot to learn--and that's a good thing. You'll make mistakes. Just try to make them small ones at the start. Never bet the ranch on one deal.