In the past 5.5 years of co-owning a business and handling all the selling, proposals and client contact that small business owners like Kristin and I do, we have learned some important Small Business Owner Do Nots. Some of these lessons go against the stereotypical assumptions people make. Some of these are about self-preservation as a (mostly sane) small business owner. And a couple really are more about realizing that people are people, no matter what.
If you were to come to me today because you are in the start-up phase of your own consulting firm, here are 7 lessons I’d pass along.
7 Things I’ve Learned Never To Do In Business
- Don’t assume the buying signals will always pan out You’ll have clients who seem all gung ho, are hurried to get started, are comfortable with your processes and pricing, some who even send you their login information…and then you never hear from them again. And at the same time, you’ll have those clients who did little more than ask you a few questions and request a proposal – never once indicating any strong interest or excitement in their brief communication with you – who surprise you when they reply to your proposal within a few hours saying they can’t wait to get started ASAP.
- Don’t blindly jump on bandwagons You are a small business owner – you cannot do it all! Jumping on bandwagons leads to inconsistency in focus and strategy, and can often also lead down rabbit holes since we all know there are plenty of hugely popular bandwagons that fizzle out in a year or less.
- Don’t assume that clients in bigger cities, with flashier websites, located at prestigious addresses, will equate to past and future success for their business or large budgets for your services We aren’t and never have been the type of firm to chase dollars or brand names or budgets. In fact, we prefer to work with small business owners over medium or large companies. We have so many wildly-successful entrepreneurs and small business owners as clients, often from smaller markets and towns, with what many would consider an unassuming or simplistic online presence. The bottom line is: You really never know what a client’s situation is until you get to know them.
- Don’t discount clients in small markets (and even tiny towns) In fact, one of the most brilliant business women I know has built 3 successful horse businesses from the ground, up, so far, and is located in a tiny country town near the center of Tennessee. I frequently tell her that I’m preparing for her total world domination at some point. I hear from other consultants about how they are always reaching higher and higher for ‘bigger fish’. That’s awesome for them, and to each their own. But I’ve also learned from experience that bigger doesn’t mean better (or smarter or more pulled together or more organized or more successful or more strategic).
- Don’t watch others too closely It can cloud your judgment about how you want to run your own business. Don’t hesitate to fly under the radar either. That’s how we operate, and prefer to “do our thing” out of the limelight. You can never tell how happy or successful someone is, or how a big change in their business really panned out for them. Do be aware of a changing marketplace but don’t lose sight of yourself and your business’ focus because you become consumed with what your competition is doing.
- If a prospective client is fighting with you about the value of the services you provide, don’t try to convince him In the social media world, there are business owners who inquire about getting help with their social media presence but firmly do not believe in it. And if you don’t already wholeheartedly see the value in social and understand the parallels between business online and business offline, it’s going to make it very difficult to be successful. Be careful not to confuse lack of education on social media with lack of faith in it, though. Social media is one more tool in your marketing tool box and needs to be treated as such. Otherwise, you will have limited to no success with it, for no other reason than you weren’t behind those efforts.
- Don’t think you can’t walk away A vendor-client relationship is a two-way street. You don’t have to move forward with every single opportunity that presents itself if you get a sense it’s not going to be worth your time (and sometimes, worth your aggravation). You can also opt out while working together if your working conditions are headed south, fast. This isn’t easy to do early on in your business, but something you’ll likely feel comfortable with over time.
In another couple years, I’m sure I’ll have a different set of lessons I’ve learned. In fact, you can see what my lessons were 2.5 years ago. Owning your own business – while not something I ever planned on doing – has been a truly incredible experience. I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way, had experiences I never imagined I’d have, and accomplished tasks I used to think I never could do.