Starting a business is difficult work. Stamina, sleepless nights and a super-set of organizational skills are essential. To get your business off the ground effectively, you'll also need to be extremely organized and have a keen sense of all your plans and goals.
What additional personal tools can entrepreneurs use to make sure their operations run like clockwork? Here are a few that have helped me immensely through my business ventures and saved me a lot of headaches:
1. Use your eyes and ears.
Keep your eyes and ears open because listening to your customers is the most valuable and honest feedback you will ever receive. They will tell you when something is working or not working, and they’ll definitely tell you what they like and don’t like. It is imperative that you listen, and if possible, spend a little time learning from your customers.
In my first book, The Mirror Test, I wrote about my experience working the floor at a Best Buy store. What was unusual was that I wasn’t starting out, or a young entrepreneur looking to get my business off the ground. I was the chief marketing officer of a Fortune 100 company.
Working the floor at the store allowed me a unique perspective and one-on-one interactions with the people buying my product. That kind of firsthand feedback is seldom acquired, but I think it should be one of your business’ best practices.
2. Use your brain.
It seems simple and obvious, but I have encountered many so-called “entrepreneurs” who don’t engage their brains, and I’ve seen their business ventures barely take off because of some dumb mistake.
Let me clarify: Using your brain doesn’t mean "always get it right." You will fail. Like death and taxes, failure is a given in any business venture, but if you engage the brain, your entrepreneurial shelf-life will be a long one.
How do you engage your brain? By consuming as much information as you can, so you are the expert. As your business takes off, you’ll have employees who in due time will become experts with your customers, but don’t let that prevent you from engaging and knowing everything there is to know about the tools your business uses. Don’t rely on others!
If you’re in sales, and Salesforce is one of your tools, learn how to use it. At the very least, you should be proficient.
Before I was part of the c-suite, I ran several printing businesses and one of the first things I did was learn all the ins and outs of the how the press worked. If you think you’re too big to do the "little stuff," your business shelf-life will be short. You have to lead by example. Don’t ask employees to do something you’re not willing to do yourself. That is how you lead.
3. Keep track of your leads.
My mantra is “sell, sell, sell, and when you’re done selling, sell some more.” No matter what business you’re in, you’re always selling something, so be sure to keep track of all your leads and stay on top of them.
According to the Journal of Marketing, 70 percent of leads generated by marketing departments are not pursued by salespeople. I don’t need to tell you those are not good numbers. Why aren’t those leads being pursued? That’s potential revenue you’re losing, and as an entrepreneur, you can’t afford to lose money. I always say, "Making money is how you keep track of business." Follow up on your leads; just don’t be a creeper about it.
In business, sometimes you have a lucky streak and hit the jackpot on your first try. However, that is the exception. Here are four things you need to know when pursuing leads:
- Keep it simple -- Lead, pitch, negotiation, closing, win. Simple.
- Only track prospects that might turn into customers -- Don’t bother going after every Tom, Dick or Harry. It’s not a good use of your time. Time is money.
- Know where you are in the process -- You should always know how many leads you have at any given time and how much each deal is worth.
- Watch every step of the conversion rate -- Don’t just track overall conversions. Track every step of the funnel instead. The data gained will give you a much clearer picture of your methodology, what works and what doesn’t.
There’s no sure-fire way to go about this process. Do what works for you and your business, but don’t overcomplicate the process. That will cost you time and efficiency, taking you away from other essential duties to help grow the business.
4. Avoid fuzzy math.
Starting your own business requires meticulous bookkeeping skills to ensure the financial health of your business. You have enough problems popping up every day, and accounting shouldn’t be one of them. As an entrepreneur, you have to come up with systematic ways to divide your time equally for all of the important things your business requires.
Therefore, you need to get organized -- not just during tax season, but all the time. Establish a series of checklists: daily, weekly or monthly, depending on your business needs, and don’t let them accumulate over time. Come tax season, you’ll thank your superb bookkeeping skills.
Take your books to the cloud. Staying organized with cloud software increases accuracy and efficiency. It also makes your information available at all times and on your smartphone. Automating key tasks like repeat invoicing and credit control will allow you to spend more time growing your business and making money.
Last, but definitely not least, invest in an accountant. This should be one of your top priorities when owning a business. They will not only help you with basic accounting tasks but help you plot the direction of your business, not to mention ensure its financial growth.
Whatever your business is, never stop learning. Never stop becoming an expert. Your business life will depend on your God-given talents and a little bit of luck. Never squander an opportunity when it comes knocking. Use your brain. And, above all, have fun doing it. Otherwise, what’s the point?