Monday, August 15, 2011

12 Most Common Mistakes of Small Business

Many of us face challenging economic times with uncertain tax and new mandates that causes business planning challenges. It’s been my experience that success in small business has as much to do with avoiding operational mistakes as it does with doing the overall economic environment. With many small businesses not making it during the past several years, I want to highlight 12 common mistakes made by business owners so that you can avoid them.

1. Focus

A common mistake is lack of focus. Small businesses often do not have the resources to go after multiple markets simultaneously, and if they try, their marketing message is sure to be muddled. Specialization simplifies your life and maximizes your profits. Focus helps you define your customer and minimize competition.

2. No Tracking

Many small businesses do not routinely monitor key business indicators and process measures. This reduces the ability to more timely respond to business issues or to identify problems in the making. Track your lead generation activities as well as your production or service processes.

3. Selling

Another mistake is not spending enough time selling. This is particularly a problem for sole practitioners without a dedicated sales person. If you are a one-person shop, spend at least 25 percent of your time selling. Your business cannot grow without new customers. It’s tough, but you must make the effort to contact new prospects each week. You need to keep the future funnel filled while working on your existing projects.

4. Planning

Without a plan you can’t know where you are going. You normally wouldn’t take a vacation without a plan, so why would try to run something as important or complex as a business without a plan? The plan should be where you document the reasons for your major decisions. You then need to monitor the plan to understand deviations. There is a reason no bank will loan money to persons without a business plan. People who plan are generally more successful.

5. Pricing

Pricing is a key. I see too much discounting. Why sell at a price lower than you have to? Charge for your product or service based upon value to the customer rather than what you think they are willing to pay. Target the customers who can pay for your value. Understand your competition’s pricing put don’t get into a pricing war. A key is to deliver a quality product and service at a reasonable price.

6. Customer

The next mistake is not clearly defining your customer. Without a clear definition of your customer, you cannot be focused, and with a clear definition of your customer, you are much more likely to be focused. Describe your ideal customer profile in specific words.

7. Poor Budgeting

Many small businesses do not create a budget to set goals or plan key expenses. The key is to plan for profit and make sure your revenues and expenses are aligned to support that goal. Too many times, I see profit as a “leftover” versus a specific goal.

8. Repeat Business

Another mistake is not going after repeat business. The best customer is the repeat customer, and many studies show the repeat customer is the most profitable customer. Attracting new customers is expensive and can be time consuming, so avoid this mistake. Maintain a database of your customer’s likes and dislikes and figure out how to sell more products and services to them. Also thank them and follow up in a non-sales mode. Your social media network would be one great tool for this follow up and to stay top on mind.

9. Employees

The first employee mistake is not hiring employees to free you up to do what you do best. Your greatest constraint is time, and the best way to leverage your time is to hire employees and delegate work that can be performed by others. Some of these tasks could be virtual assistant part time positions which is a growing field. Take time to hire the right employee. Mistakes here will cost you dearly, both emotionally and financially. And once you hire someone, clearly define job responsibilities. Write job descriptions beginning with the first employee you hire. You do not want finger pointing or misaligned priorities.

10. Bookkeeping

Financial records provide you with the information you need to manage your business. Data, in particular financial data, should drive your decision making. Operating a business without financial records is like driving a car without a dashboard. Don’t do it. There are a variety of low cost options out there to help you.

11. Technology

Next to employees, your best productivity boost will come from maximizing technology. If you are weak in the areas of word processing, spreadsheets, bookkeeping, and utilizing Social Media tools, take classes. You can outsource these tasks, but computer skills are becoming basic requirements for today’s successful business owners. If you run a retail operation, a point-of-sale system is essential, and a computerized customer database is key for maximizing repeat business and identifying your ideal customer. More importantly, a business without a web presence is potentially losing a lot of leads.

12. Capitalization

Not having enough capital – cash in the bank to support yourself and to get the business off the ground. Your car and mortgage/rental payments still have to be paid. Once operational, sufficient working capital is needed when customers are slow to pay or when you have the dry spells. Working capital becomes even more important to support growth. You don’t want to outgrow your working capital capacity.
What other common issues have you seen
Featured image courtesy of  licensed via creative commons.
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