There are no rules in business
Despite what you might hear, there aren't actually any rules to operating a business.
Seriously, it's your business so you do you boo.
Although, caveat, there are absolutely laws and regulations to follow and these will differ from country to country (and in some countries, even between states). But overall, the actual rules of business are just guidelines.
Now, I happen to think that there are a few things every business should do. And not all business experts will agree with me (although a lot will). That's why number one is so important.
- Get clear on your values, and your ideal customers.
This is a big one because not all people will talk to values. A lot of business guidance comes around knowing who your customers are by talking to the customer avatar, and there is some sense to this, but it's also problematic if you're only defining your customer as 51 year old Nancy from Orewa, who has three kids who are all at high school. Customer demographics will vary between regions and age groups, let alone their gender identity.
We often talk about "niching" in business and, while this can mean what demographic you work with, I'm firmly in the camp of "you are your niche". While this isn't a rule that works for everyone, it is a fact that many businesses are born out of a desire to find a solution for a problem that existed for the founder. That means that their ideal customer is often themself, and their values are likely to be similar too.
Values are a much more inclusive segmentation as we naturally gravitate to those that are similar - it's part of our social cohesion, and also mean that you'll be more aligned with the service providers or businesses that you choose to work with in your business activities. Having clarity on your values will also support you towards achieving your mission and vision.
- Know what your business is and how it solves problems for those customers.
Having clarity on exactly what your business is, and how it solves/removes the pain points for customers, enables you to be clear and concise about communicating this to prospective supporters. To quote most business networking gurus, it helps you to "nail your elevator speech".
In everyday business, having clarity here enables you to be clear in your marketing. It supports you to be clear in your strategy, and enables you to quickly get to the point in your content. Which leads into number 3
- Get clear on your messaging
If you're a business owner that wants to make money from your business, then one of the most important things you need to learn is that you either need to hire a marketer or become one. And to do either of these things, you need to understand exactly what your message is. Who are you selling to, and what is it you're selling?
Sometimes it is easier to discount who you aren't selling to, and knowing your values is a really good way to exclude people.
A really good marketing message that I hear others share regularly is "if you're selling to everyone, you're selling to no-one" and that's a good thing to bear in mind when you're working on your content. Don't try to appeal to everyone, get brave about being specific on who you are trying to attract.
But Sel, you talk about being inclusive!
Fair point, but inclusion doesn't mean that you market to everyone, especially when they have no relevance or interest in your product or services. This very point is why it is so important to understand who your ideal customers are AND why we shouldn't focus on one kind of persona/avatar.
- Sort out your money mindset
I cannot emphasise this enough. Until you can see your own value, and understand the importance of investing in yourself and your business, you will not have a profitable business.
You need to be able to confidently put your prices at a level where they will enable you to earn a comfortable wage, cover your expenses and enable growth; but this does not mean picking an arbitrary figure. There also needs to be logic to the pricing, and if you don't quite understand how to do this, then I can't emphasise enough the importance of getting external expertise and guidance.
- Put boundaries in place and get firm on them
This is a big one that many of us struggle with. I used to think that my value came from how much service I could provide my clients. The reality of that meant that I answered phone calls outside of business hours and worked a lot more hours than I was getting paid for. As a result, one of my strongest boundaries is that drama is not in the service agreement.
Learning to say no is an important lesson in business.
The earlier you can implement this kind of rule, the better the balance will be for you.
Pro tip: ensure that your T's and C's have these boundaries reflected in them. Mine do.
- Get clarity on systems
This is one that costs a lot of us in time and money. The need to have big shiny systems that do everything.
No you don't.
Seriously. You don't need a big fancy CRM system that shows your funnel of leads progressing through your business - not when you're starting out, and probably not a few years later either. Unless you've got a large team of people working in your business, and many hundreds of clients on your database, you're likely to be able to get through with just your client mailing list as the database, or even an excel/google sheet. Don't over think this.
And yes, you should have a system that enables you to sign people up and send regular newsletters to. Email marketing is important. Don't fight it.
The other systems that are important are how you manage your workflow (how you organise everything you're supposed to do), how you manage your finances, and how you manage your processes (what happens for each of the things you're supposed to do).
Pro tip: use a system like Loom to record you doing each process (or to upload and store video) so you can quickly share a link as your SOP (standard operating process) with your team members.
Most other things are decorating, and probably not that important.
- · Learn to delegate
This is important whether you're a solopreneur or someone with a team of people in your business.
If you are the person in charge of doing everything in your business then either you need to get more hours in your day or you need to accept that you are a bottleneck and your business is never going to grow or make you more money, until you start to delegate things.
For real. Yes that is depressing. Yes I am serious.
If you want to be the face of your business and do all the client facing stuff, but you're also doing all of the behind scenes things then you need to clone yourself pretty damn fast or accept the above facts. The more work you get, the bigger the administration bundle becomes.
Get a VA, or a business manager, or hire a team member. Whatever you do, make sure that they are clear on the strategy behind it - that means you need to have some internal processes in place to match your business strategy.
And if you don't know what that means, (that's not a bad thing btw, but learning will make business life easier) then we should talk.
- Get a contingency budget
Look, I get that this one can sound hard when you're starting out or if you're already struggling, but this is one of those things that you will likely need one day and will be incredibly grateful to have had the forethought to create. And yes, I'm speaking from experience on this.
Put aside whatever you can in it, but aim to save at least three months worth of operating expenditure (ideally six). The sooner you start, the sooner you will get there. Even if you only have $1 spare each week, put it in that account.
Business can be going incredibly well and then something unexpected happens that absolutely destroys your ability to make money for a period of time. This year, people in the North Island experienced this in a major way. Between 2020 and this year, it was many businesses impacted by a global pandemic. In 2011 (and 2010) it was people in Canterbury. In the decade in between, there were many hundreds of thousands of business owners for a multitude of other reasons.
My point is, you never know what is coming and insurance won't always pay out fast. This is another tool you can have in place to manage your risk.
- Be yourself and stand in your own power
Oooo, I can't emphasise the importance of this one enough.
You are enough. You are skilled, your experience IS valid and your expertise is strong. Stop doubting yourself.
This is a lesson you're going to need to learn many times over.
Imposter phenomenon is not an easy thing to overcome, but if you understand that you're half way there.
A bit part to this lesson is to back yourself. Another part is to aim high. Most of us are conditioned to do the opposite, to expect as little as possible so as not to be considered demanding.
It's time to say fuck that kind of expectation. You deserve more!
Aim big. Demand what you think you are worth, and then bloody go out and get it for yourself.
If you're forever aiming at only small things, then you're only ever going to get the scraps. Aim for pie in the sky (up high) and know your own value. Stand tall in your own power because you can be as powerful as you dream. You DESERVE to be as powerful as you dream. Back yourself.
Also, professional is subjective. Dress how you want, do your hair as you want and swear as loudly as you feel you need to in business.
Remember lesson three? Your messaging is your vibe and it will attract your people. Your business, your rules.
Although, like anything I've got a caveat to my advice. Judge the situation and ideal client. If you're running a rest home, you may find it more effective to tone things down a notch. At least until Gen X and beyond are ready for onboarding....
- Learn how to plan effectively and efficiently
I know many successful people that say they have never done anything but trust their gut in business, but that doesn't mean that planning hasn't played a part in this success.
Not all business planning is a formal document of countless words and pages. In fact, that's the worst kind of plan IMO because it's the type of plan that is too convoluted to be a living document, which is the very thing your business plan should be.
Planning comes in many forms, and there are many different types of business plans. I have some pretty strong views on what kinds of planning is important in business (and what isn't) - I am a strategist after all.
Overall, the strongest view I have is that any plan needs to be able to be revisited frequently and easily tweaked in minutes when something changes. The next view I have is that we need to be able to know what we want to achieve in order to be able to head in that direction, and when we want to arrive at that place by. That means that we need to know what our goals are, and what our non negotiable values are, and details of any deadline that may apply.
That is the simplest form of planning. Where do you want to head, with who, and what are you not willing to compromise upon to get there?
Once you know that, it's much easier to get yourself to that destination (and with support of your team). Until that point, you're really just throwing countless paper planes up in the air and hoping that one of them lands in the right place.