As you maintain and grow your small business, it’s important to keep continued focus on some of the solid practices that helped get you to where you are today. This list is intended to help you do that because it’s easy to start to look to far ahead and forget that they way you were doing business wasn’t broken in the first place.
1. Develop and Maintain Your Company’s Mission – Basically what we’re talking about here is creating a strategic direction for your company and doing your best to stick to it. That’s hard sometimes for a newer, small organization that is trying to make it’s own place in the marketplace. Sometimes you have to roll with the changes and adjust your expectations and plans mid-stream in order to survive. However, keeping these changes to a minimum in order to stay focused on the good planning and ideas that got you this far is also important. And customers like consistency.
2. Build Strong Vendor and Customer Relationships – This one is critical to the long-term viability of your company. Developing a trust and loyalty with customers is an absolute must. It is the same with the vendors you deal with. You are their customer so keep that relationship strong – if you’ve found good vendors then you will reap long-term rewards from the solid relationship you will have built and maintained with these suppliers – just as you and your long-term customers will reap benefits from each other.
3. Hold Employees Accountable – Holding employees accountable for their individual tasks and responsibilities is no different than doing the same with your own kids. Train them to be responsible for what’s assigned to them or given to them and they will be better employees in the long run for it. Of course, you must give opportunities for recognition, rewards, and advancement (and if not advancement, at least more responsibility) if they are successful. Parents, does this sound familiar?
4. Create a Solid and Loyal Employee Base – A loyal and well-trained workforce will help your business move forward and stand up strong against the competition. It will also help to reduce employee turnover which means less lost productivity spent retraining new staff.
5. Develop Your Management from Within – As you create and develop your small business, it’s like that it is a one-man or one-woman show for awhile. As you grow, it can be very difficult to want to relinquish any of that decision-making and control to someone who comes in from the outside. Trust your own judgment as you add skilled resources to your company and find ways to delegate increasingly meaningful tasks and responsibilities so that at the same to you’re actually working toward upgrading your management. Building that loyalty amongst your employees – as we discussed in #4 above – will help you to build a great resource pool to base all of your future company growth upon.
6. Never Lose Focus on Quality – This is probably an obvious one, but when the economy looks the way our current economy does, it’s easy to think about cutting corners. That’s fine to do internally as you reduce some operating expenses, freeze wages, freeze hiring, or possibly even letting someone go, but don’t reduce the quality that you provide to your customer. As a customer myself, when I start to see quality decrease, I go elsewhere. It’s hard to gain a customer, but it’s very easy to lose one quickly if we don’t continue to provide what they expect and are accustomed to.
7. Keep an Eye on Operating Costs During Growth – Just as you continually work to maintain the quality that got you to where you are in your marketplace and customer standing, you must also remember to try to maintain your production cost perspective. When there is a venture capital injection, or a growth spurt, it’s easy to start to think too big and spend accordingly. The prudent business owner maintains the focus on efficient, solid production practices and therefore maintains his/her grip on operating expenses and likewise on lower-cost production.
8. Grow Wisely – This one has been discussed on these pages before. Grow, but grow prudently and not too fast. Trying to grow too fast can kill a small business quickly as too much emphasis can be placed on growth and not enough on the customer relationships and the product quality that got you to that growth point in the first place.
9. Maintain Operations Excellence – You are driven as the small business owner/operator. As you experience success, growth, and customer loyalty, make sure that you continue to focus some resources on maintaining the strong infrastructure within your organization. Because if that falters, it can quickly affect everything about your business – and your customers may see it even before you do.
10. Build Solid Business Processes – Stop and take the time to define in an appropriate level of detail what your business processes are. Establish meaningful employee and business processes and practices and stick to them. Managing by the seat of your pants may work for a short time, but once growth has started you’ll continually be behind the eight ball if you aren’t working off of established management practices. You can’t be struggling to maintain control all the time and serve your customers well…it’s a battle you’ll eventually lose if you aren’t prepared.
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