For legions of students, heading back to school after a summer break reignites their enthusiasm and motivation to learn. Some small business owners feel similarly inspired by the shift in seasons, while others find it challenging to get back into a business mindset. Applying these school-inspired strategies will help you regain your focus and clarify your priorities for the rest of the year.
1 – Do Your Homework
Small business success is never guaranteed, but doing your “homework” can help improve the odds. If you’re starting a business, this means thoroughly researching the fundamentals such as your business structure, financial options, target market, and competition. You will want to put a solid business plan in place before you open your doors.
For experienced business owners, September is the perfect time to review your current plan and evaluate where you stand relative to the goals you set for the year. Make sure your financials are up to date so you have a clear picture of the current state of your business. If you struggle to stay on top of your bookkeeping, make the switch to an accounting software program for small businesses. These systems can help speed up your cash flow, reduce costs, simplify your budgeting, and improve efficiency to ultimately help your business grow.
2 – Over Prepare
When it comes to running your business, you can never be too prepared. While it is impossible to anticipate every conceivable crisis, it is important to consider the situations that are likely to have the greatest impact and determine how you will respond to them. For example, what will you do if a senior team member becomes ill or suddenly leaves the company? How will you make payroll if you experience cash flow problems? What if a flood or fire severely damages your warehouse? Advance planning will make it easier for you and your team to navigate serious obstacles when they arise.
3 – Go for Extra Credit
One advantage small businesses have over larger competitors is their ability to connect with their clients or customers on a personal level. While you may already be committed to going the extra mile for your customers, it could be time to raise the bar when it comes to customer service as you head into the holiday season. Talk to your customers to learn more about them and what they want. Respond immediately to questions and concerns, and follow up consistently on how your products or services are meeting their needs. Don’t forget to thank them for their business. Friendly interactions, whether face-to-face, over the phone, or via email, will keep you top of mind and are often the key to generating repeat business or new sales.
4 – Make Connections
College students understand the importance of making connections that can lead to job opportunities. This is an equally important lesson for small business owners to learn. Networking is an essential tool for forging relationships and gathering the information necessary for growing your business, and opportunities tend to be plentiful this time of year.
Make a short list of industry groups or organizations that could benefit your business and attend their networking events. Solicit ideas or advice from other small business owners or colleagues and offer to return the favor in the future. If you use Linkedin or other social networking sites to connect with other industry professionals, make an effort to expand key relationships by meeting select contacts face-to-face. Always carry your business cards; you never know when or where you will meet someone who can be a valuable resource.
5 – Stay on Schedule
Small business owners who struggle with time management can take a page from students who rely on technology to plan and stick to their schedules. Your phone can be a handy time management tool if you maximize its potential. Choose a calendar, task, alert, notification, or alarm app to help you stay on track. If you find the options too overwhelming, consider investing in a basic wearable device that can be set to remind you to make an important call, end a meeting, or leave for the airport on time.
6 – Consider Failure an Opportunity
In school and in business, failing is not a reason to give up or abandon a plan. Whether it’s a philosophy exam or a branding strategy, lack of success can be a valuable learning experience. Circle back to figure out what went wrong and why. Use the knowledge gained from your mistakes to shift gears and try again. If taking immediate steps to course correct is not an option, trust that the information or insights you’ve garnered will be put to good use when a new opportunity comes along.
7 – Commit to Life-long Learning
Learning is not limited to acquiring knowledge in a school classroom. It takes place on an ongoing basis as result of our daily interactions and experiences. Learning to run a business does not stop when you reach a certain level of success. Be open to continuing your education with the help of experts inside and outside of your industry. Participate in professional development trainings, take online courses, or read industry publications on and offline. Making a commitment to life-long learning will allow you to deepen your knowledge, sharpen your skills, and acquire tools to build a solid foundation for long-term success.
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