Runnin’ Down a Dream
The United States of America is a country comprised of diversity. The land is diverse—driving from sea to shining sea you will encounter countless types of topography and climates. People are diverse—we are a nation of immigrants, and the ethnic diversity numbers are shifting daily. Lastly, the business world is diverse. For instance, on the same city block, you can find skyscrapers with billion-dollar companies on each floor, mom-and-pop shops next door, and a hot dog cart or a food truck parked front.
Although we are sometimes a house divided, we can’t deny that diversity exists to the fullest extent in this great country.
In the business world, you will find strong evidence of the American Dream. Men and women who were born here or who have immigrated here intending to pursue their dreams and create a life for themselves with inspiration, independence, and hard work as the foundation. Those are our small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Starting that New Business
While some of these dreamers might make it look like a cakewalk, running a small business is no easy feat. Launching a company is challenging enough while sustaining it is another thing. Studies show that 30% of new businesses fail within the first year of opening. That is a daunting figure.
For these reasons, if you are someone who has just started a new business, buckle up. If you are someone who has passed that one year mark, you’re still not in the clear, as many meet their demise even after that (wow, I sound like a pessimist!). If you are someone who has successfully run a small business for ten years or longer, congratulations!
Nevertheless, you and I both know that you are probably reading this because you know that you can never hear too many tips about how to keep your business running, and how to stay relevant in the times. Hopefully some of the tips for small business owners in this blog will help you out!
So what is the key to success and longevity? The world may never know, but one thing we do know is that there are certain principles most small business owners can agree on.
Here are some of my favorites, based on quotes from some small business owners who are just beginning, through those who have stood the test of time.
Christine Yanner loved to sew. She enjoyed cross-stitching, and appreciated fabrics and textiles she examined on the pillows and draperies in friends’ and acquaintances’ homes she visited. Yanner would inspect the hems and seams and think to herself, “I can do that.” Do it she did. Over the past 31 years, Yanner became the seamstress of choice for many wealthy patrons who wanted their hems and seams sewn to perfection.
When it comes to branding, however, you won’t find her online. Go ahead and try. You won’t locate a website, a Facebook profile, or a way to connect with her through LinkedIn. “I didn’t have a website, and there was no social media until about 10 years ago, or so,” says Yanner of how she launched her business over three decades ago, “I contracted work with designers and clients by word of mouth.”
Yanner is one of those rare business owners these days who can maintain a steady flow of clients the old-fashioned way: through her reputation. Here are her tips for small business owners: “Product quality needs to be excellent. If there is a problem with something, address it immediately. Be kind.”
Although she is partly retired, she still has so many requests for projects that she frequently has to turn people away. People know that she is the go-to seamstress for quality work, and her secret is simple: “Absolutely love what you’re doing, work very hard, and do it with excellence.”
Striking a good work-life balance is like striking gold
Architectural designer Chris Gill knew the tsunami was coming long before it arrived. After all, the financial crisis of 2008 had already swept over much of the country with a vengeance, so it was just a matter of time before the effects were felt in Nashville.
Two weeks before his wedding in 2010, Gill was laid off from the architecture firm where he was employed (a heart-breaking but amicable separation, due to the unavoidable circumstances). He stalled not really knowing what his next move would be and he was torn between taking the first opportunity that arose—even if it meant abandoning his profession and skills—and journeying out on his own as a freelance designer.
Then, shortly after the new year in 2011, life took another unexpected twist: he and his wife were expecting their first child. This prompted Gill into action, and he decided that if he could drum up business by drawing elevations for his previous employers, he should be able to keep the growing family afloat. Gill Group LLC was born the same year as his baby boy, and the rest is history.
Establishing that small design company gave way to a small building company, which has given Gill more creative freedom and control than he ever had while working for a firm.
Finding that balance
The downside of being an entrepreneur, however, is that as a small business owner, he had to figure out how to set personal boundaries. “It takes a lot of energy and bandwidth to jumpstart a business, but never lose sight of your support system. I’ve learned that it’s easy to lose a work-life balance. When you are passionate about something, especially something you have created, you become so focused and encased in your own product, that it is easy to become disconnected with your most important obligations in life, such as family and friends.”
Gill goes on to say, “Family and friends are key ingredients for any venture, and can provide a backbone or foundation to any business. One can assume a valuation or worth of a business, but no one can associate a value with family, because it doesn’t exist. Family is an invaluable variable in the equation of life.”
Do you want to know one simple way to help keep balance, and shuffle some of the weight off your plate? Try outsourcing! Finding companies (like Journey Employer Solutions!) that will take the work and liability of things like payroll and HR-related issues. This will certainly free up your time so that you can engage in and accomplish the things that you do best.
Finding the Silver Lining
Lori Melhus is creative. She was trained in special education, and she enjoyed planning events. She could see potential and she could make things happen. So when she saw an opportunity to occupy a small space in the heart of retail in downtown Pella, Iowa, she jumped at it.
Silver Lining started out as a home décor shop, with a year-round Christmas section. Her store offered something uniquely for everyone, in this quaint little town where consumers used to drive for miles to the nearest retail centers in order to find any kind of variety. With the birth of her first granddaughter, the store transitioned out of the year-round Christmas theme and became well known for its vast array of baby and children’s items. People recognize Melhus’s eye for unique gifts that anyone will appreciate.
Something that makes Melhus’s perspective unique is that she doesn’t view the dollar as the only way customers can show their enthusiasm for her business. “Owning a small retail business in a small town, you appreciate the support you get from your community. One way you can support us without making a purchase is to follow, like, share, and comment on our posts. The comments—even if it’s a thumbs-up emoji—help push our business to the top of other feeds.”
Even with the constant stream of customers into her store each day, the competition with online shopping is always at the forefront of her mind. “Small retail is such a challenging business with Amazon and box stores like Target and Walmart… every little bit of support is so very important and appreciated.”
Takeaways & Tips for Small Business Owners:
How can I build a good reputation?
- Love your business
- Work hard
- Strive for excellence
- Address problems immediately and with kindness
How can I find a work-life balance?
- Work hard to launch your business, but remember those who helped you get there
- Maintain personal relationships
- Outsource as much as you can!
How can I compete with huge online retailers?
- Ask customers to follow you
- Encourage them to like your posts
- Request that customers share comments and feedback
- Ask customers to write honest reviews