I know some small business owners (SBOs) who have cut corners, cheated, skipped out on bills, even embezzled from clients. Worst of all, I know some once-successful SBOs who got too big for their own britches, who began to think that the rules of successful business simply did not apply to them. They were wrong, and they all paid a high price for their mistakes.
Now, I don’t have all the answers, but I have picked up a few common-sense things over the years. Here are few of the hard-and-fast rules I’ve learned (sometimes from hard experience) about running a business.
1. The purpose of a business is to make money. It’s fine to have a social conscience, but without a positive bottom line, you’ll soon be working for someone else…and your employees will be out of a job. So, don’t confuse charity with business. When you make money, everyone benefits.
2. Ethical business is good business. Don’t cheat or lie to your customers or your suppliers. If you do, it will catch up to you eventually.
3. Hire only quality employees. Your employees are your greatest assets. Good, honest, hard-working employees will help make and keep your business a success. Poor employees will destroy everything you are working for.
4. Treat your employees right. This starts with paying them an above-average wage. In fact, forget about the "average" wage. If they’re good, pay them what they are worth. If they’re not, replace them.
5. Watch your top line and your bottom line. Delegate this responsibility and you delegate control of your business. Not really a numbers person? Tough. If you’re in business, at least learn the basics. Then, without fail or exception, spend at least 30 minutes each week poring over the books. It’s amazing what you can learn about your company that way.
6. Get good, objective advice. Your best source is your banker who — especially if you owe the bank money — has a vested interest in your financial solvency. The next best source is a good accountant (not just a bookkeeper, but an accountant) who can show you how to use your money to make more money and save taxes. Finally, talk to other successful business men and women. Do not talk to helpful friends and do-gooders who have never risked a nickel of their own money in a business venture. What they know can’t help you.
7. Establish a "brain trust." This builds on the above point. Find half a dozen aggressive, focused small business owners like yourself. Meet once a week for breakfast or lunch to discuss business issues. Form an agenda to discuss goals, concerns and "best practices," and how to solve problems. Two hard and fast rules: (A) Discuss only business matters; do social hour some other time. (B) No griping or complaining; keep this a positive, problem-solving and idea-sharing session.
8. Maintain balance in your life, including time away from the shop. Business is important, but so is family and friends and community involvement. One of my favorite practices when I feel overwhelmed by the trials and tribulations of business is to just walk away from it for an hour or two. It has been my experience that even a small break helps bring even complicated problems into perspective.
9. Never forget that success hinges on SOP — standard operating procedures. Master what works and then turn it into a process that can be repeated over and over again. That’s the primary reason McDonalds and other franchises have been successful. It can work for you, too.
10. Keep growing. Keep learning. Otherwise, you will become bored and grow stale, which is also the downside of SOP. The risk of creating standard operating procedures is that they eventually can become mind numbing. Find new challenges.
The list could go on. There are many important rules of good business practices. One thing I have learned is that it never hurts to stick to the basics. Don’t get too fancy, don’t get too complacent, and don’t get too cocky.
Work hard. Make money. Have fun. —
JRIngrisano, The Freestyle Entrepreneur
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