Q: I've recently launched a small business (very small — just me so far), and now I need to make it succeed. What tips do you have to help me stay on track?
A: Build some structure and stay disciplined in order to succeed.
The inner game
Think about your business in terms of three themes: delivering your product or service, administering your company, and getting the word out. To succeed, you have to be effective at all three. That will require reflection on your strengths, weaknesses and preferences regarding each area.
Product or service delivery is probably the easiest part; it's the reason you started your business. That said, you need to be sure your offering meets your customers' needs, that it's appropriately priced, etc. Keep in mind that customer needs can evolve, so be sure to keep thinking about innovations and new ways to meet market needs.
Administration can be the bane of a small-business owner's existence. There are fewer challenges for a sole proprietorship, but if you have thoughts of adding employees, you need to be prepared on the payroll, benefits, and leadership fronts.
Then there is sales and marketing. Depending on your temperament, this can also be a difficult area. And obviously it's essential because people can't buy from you if they don't know about you. Assess your skills as a networker and your comfort in discussing the benefits of your product or service.
Finally, assess your support structure. Do you have thinking partners, devil's advocates, cheerleaders and mentors?
The outer game
One of the other challenges in running your own business is staying on task. I'd strongly recommend laying out a plan so that you know what you want to accomplish in a day, a week, or a month. In particular, this level of discipline will be helpful for the areas that you are least drawn to.
Thinking in terms of administration, try setting a time of day to attend to all non-urgent e-mails. Set a day of the week for doing financials. Develop a system to track expenses and manage receipts (your accountant will thank you). This will accomplish two things: It will keep you from dropping the ball and will also keep you from being distracted and wasting time.
Regarding business development, if you don't have a clear strategy for acquiring customers, you need to develop one. And, to be clear, while word of mouth is good and important, it's generally not sufficient, especially if you do not have a long track record in your field. So push yourself to know who your prospects are, where you can find them, and how they can best be reached. Then have timing in your plan to pursue it.
Make no mistake, being out there on your own can be lonely, so get your community in place. Get together with professional peers and ask people you respect to be mentors on various aspects of running a business. Don't spend all your time working, either — be sure to have a social life and have fun!
The last word
Be deliberate in your planning and implementation to help succeed in your new business.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at email@example.com.