The Most Common (and Preventable) Mistakes Small Businesses Make — and How to Avoid Them Here's what your small business can do now to avoid problems in the future.
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On a weekly basis, I have the opportunity to work with small business owners in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, I am often helping them to overcome a challenge that they really didn't need to have happen in the first place. For instance, one area that far too many owners face is the inability to get working capital because they never dealt with their own poor personal credit. Another example is when I am helping a business owner get out from underneath a loan they took out from a hard-money lender.
Both are prime examples of situations that can easily be avoided had the business owner done a better job of getting the personal credit in order. So, what issues are you facing today, that if you had prepared just a little more in the past, would simply be nonexistent?
Here are some ideas on how to ensure that you can limit tomorrow's challenges by taking steps today:
Small business owners will be mostly looking at the bottom line — what they brought in this month, last month and what's expected next month. They are also thinking about much further in the future, like next year, next 3 years, next 5 years, etc. What they are not always thinking about is "What can I do now to avoid future mistakes and to make sure my business is set up for financial success in the future?"
So, if you need to expand, are you ready? Do you have those funds readily available in the bank? Do you have a business credit card? How much can you get on a loan or line of credit? Do you have any business credit at all? If you don't already have a business credit card/line that is open, active and paid on time, then you most likely won't get as much as you'd like or need at the time you really need the money. The time to start building business credit is several years ago. The next best time to do this is now. Like right now.
Here are a few ideas around finance to get you going in the right direction:
Savings account: Put aside 10-20% of all profits into a savings account as soon as the funds are received. This way you won't have to pay last year's taxes with this year's profits.
Personal credit: Clean up your personal credit now because YOU are the personal guarantor of your business credit.
Business credit: Establish (and use) business lines of credit now, and increase them each year. This way, when you need to expand, you'll already have the capital waiting to be used.
Taxes: Consider not writing off EVERYTHING. Your accountant will tell you that the less you pay in taxes the better, and I agree. However, when a business owner writes off nearly everything and pays next to nothing in taxes, they show no profit. When that happens, you can't get funding. After all, if there is no profit, how can you pay back the money you borrowed?
You ever get a few angry customers calling you because a job was not done correctly? Ever have prospects and/or customers write bad reviews for your company on social media? Ever get heartburn or high blood pressure because you know it could have been avoided if "that dang employee had just used their head?" This type of unneeded occurrence happens every day when employees drop the ball.
Small business owners usually fall into two categories here: They either hire people who are exactly the same as themselves, or they hire whoever is breathing. Both are big mistakes. The problem with hiring people exactly like you is that there will be no new ideas, no fresh outside perspective — it will be the same old, same old. In other words, there will be no growth. When you hire whoever is breathing, it's worse. You will have employees who are not engaged, who don't care and who don't see your company as one to stay with for the long haul. This is the employee who causes problems more often than they'll offer solutions.
Here are a few tips on hiring and training quality staff members:
Resumes: Take the time to review each and every resume that crosses your path with a fine-tooth comb. Look to see if the person leaves their job every six months or so to see if they have the ability to stay committed.
Cover letter: Require a cover letter. This gives you an idea of the person's thought process and how well they can communicate, which is crucial if they are interacting with customers and/or other departments.
Training: Make sure you have a well-designed training and onboarding program. This goes two ways. It shows the new hire that you are professional and have high expectations, and it also demonstrates that you value them because you are providing top-notch training. The other is that it allows you to PREVENT issues with customers before they arise.
Reviews: Have employment that is conditional upon their 30-, 60- and 90-day reviews.
Skill set: Look for other skills than just industry experience. Oftentimes I have found that employees who have been in an industry for a very long time do not do well with change. People from outside the industry can often be easier to train and have an easier time learning new things.
3. Industry change
Okay, so you know all about the Blockbuster vs. Netflix story, right? You also know who won that battle, and of course, you know why. In fact, almost everyone knows this information, yet there are still so many business owners who refuse to update aspects of their business, even when they know they are losing business and need to make changes.
Here are some areas in which you can easily make sure that you are handling change in a fast-paced and yet still well-thought-out manner:
Sending/receiving funds: How do you send and receive funds between customers and vendors? Are you still using checks or a debit card? Maybe cash? There is a tremendous amount of fraud surrounding checks and debit cards, and you take on most of the responsibility with those. And cash? Once it's gone, it's gone. Having and using safer and more effective methods of sending and receiving funds will make your customers happy and keep your accounts safe.
Staying on top of industry trends: For your business to stay profitable, it needs to stay relevant, so what changes are happening in your industry? Is there new technology? New business methods? What changes are happening with your customer base? To keep up with change, go to at least two industry trade shows each year. You'll learn what is new, what's old, and who is leading the way and getting the best results. Take time in the trade shows to meet people you can network with to push your company forward.
Advertising and marketing: Still doing coupon clippers and the local newspaper? Today, if you're not using Facebook, Google and the rest to market your business, then you're most likely losing to your competition on a daily basis. The companies that use Google Reviews and take it seriously, win. I can't tell you how many people refuse to hire companies that get a score below 4.5. So, get involved in social media, and take it seriously. Don't know how? Just hire someone.
Pro tip: Write down the top 10 biggest challenges that you have faced and/or are facing now. Next to it, list out all solutions that you need to solve it. But now, list out what created the issues in the first place and what could have prevented it from happening in the first place. Once you see a pattern, you will be in a better position to prevent any negative experiences from happening in the future!