Every decision you make for your company comes from either your personal experience and skills or what other have done in the past. But small to midsize businesses (SMBs) can struggle with keeping straight all the subtleties of navigating through unfamiliar waters. What happens when you run into an issue that doesn’t fall into a category of your skill-set? Or need information that isn’t accessible to you? New problems you’ve never even heard of before? Competitors with assets you know you’ll never afford?
The best way deal with these issues and ensure your success is preventative medicine. Be a "glass-half-empty" guy for just a few minutes and think of what could go wrong. Don't focus on the obvious things that every business owner deals with,; consider issues that are unique to your business. Those are the ones that will be the trickiest. Make changes ahead of time, and keep an eye on the weather, and always have a backup plan. To give you as much guidance as possible and get you through some common issues, we’ve handpicked a few small business secrets that’ll help you be prepared for whatever lemons life throws your way.
1. Are your ducks in a row?
Whether you’re a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed startup ready to tackle the world or a steadily growing company in an established space, there’s one factor that anyone can identify with: money. Managing finances incorrectly is one of the most common reasons businesses fail, no matter how big. Don’t want to spend a chunk of that change on an accountant? You don’t have to. Try using a financial planning tool. Some companies set up elaborate spreadsheets for this task. Others invest in software that makes sure you’re on the right track. Most programs come in different packages based on the size of your business, so you know you won’t break the bank. By keeping a close eye on expenses and profits, you'll be able to spot any potential financial issues a mile away.
2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Even a corporate Goliath can fall from operating at above max capacity. Your company only does what your company does. If you sell farming equipment parts, don’t waste time trying to sell seed. Side projects that take only a little time and little investment are a smart way to try out new avenues, but keep those projects light. Don’t assign a whole department to them. Your business does one thing or several things very well. Tackling a new endeavor should never detract from your flagship product. If anything, they should enhance it.
3. Hire people, not paperwork
If you run into an unfamiliar issue, who do you think is going to bail you out? Your employees are the greatest asset you have, but they aren’t worth the paper their pay stubs are printed on if they freeze up in a crisis. Don’t just hire new employees— vet them so you know how they handle themselves in a pinch. If they can’t adapt, then you should be asking them what that attractive master’s degree on their résumé really taught them.
4. Who runs this joint, anyway?
As an owner or manager, making yourself visible (both literally and figuratively) is one of the easiest ways to show the community what kind of company you are. This is especially imperative for midsize companies that don't want to be seen as “too corporate” to work with local shops and manufacturers. This can be as simple as going out on calls alongside your salespeople or doing a little volunteer work on the weekends in a company windbreaker. Maybe tell the local or city paper that your business recently made a newsworthy change that could make a good article. No measure is too small to get your name and your voice out there.
5. Learn from the competition
It’s easy to look at your top rivals and envy their larger equipment budgets or brand new offices. It’s not so easy to ignore the jealousy and examine them objectively. If your competitor simply has greater annual revenue, that’s one thing. Try to figure out if the reason they’re succeeding is more than just financial. And then ask yourself whether their success comes at a cost they never suspected. Sometimes your eyes are bigger than your stomach, and dropping a pile of cash on a new shipping fleet is overstretching resources. Then, sometimes it’s not. Either way, every change a competitor makes is an opportunity to learn and grow.
6. Tech savvy business is here to stay
If you’re still buzzing over the cloud, you may be a little late to the party. Tech doesn’t just mean up-to-date computers and smartphones (although those are a must for any business to run smoothly these days). New tech can also refer to new vehicles that are optimized for weather changes and security systems that can be updated regularly. Technology permeates everything your company does. You may not have the capital to invest in all of the latest upgrades right now, but knowing what needs to be upgraded, and making a numbered list, will give you a good base to add to that financial plan you’ve been setting up since Tip #1.
7. Lease equipment through a trusted source
Acquiring the machines or vehicles you need for your company doesn’t have to be the mountain of stress that it seems like. Buying outright is often too expensive, even for midsize companies. Getting a loan directly from the bank is its own battle, whether you’re cash flow positive or not. Try leasing your equipment through a third party. They know the industry you’re in. You won’t have to deal with the interest rates at the bank. Leasing usually has a very low rate, especially if you go for used equipment that’s still very reliable.
Running an SMB is one of the most rewarding and nerve-wracking experiences imaginable. Luckily, you have resources (like these small business secrets) at your disposal. And you’re not alone. If you do it right, you’ll have a network of support from both your employees and your local community. Because that’s what smaller companies are all about— people. If you keep that in mind, that’s the only tip you really need.