20 Top Tips from USA TODAY

Q: Hi Steve. First, congrats on your work anniversary. I was wondering about all of the tips and strategies you have shared over the years. What is your favorite?

– Ally

(Part 1 of 2)

A: Yes, this month does somehow mark 20 years since I first started writing this column. In 1995, USA TODAY was just creating USATODAY.com and they were looking for a lawyer who had been published who could write about small business. Someone told my soon-to-be editors about me, I seemed to fit the bill, and so they reached out. I was of course thrilled when I received the inquiry, although the whole Internet thing was in fact so new I am rumored to have asked, “Sounds great, but what’s an online columnist?”

OK, so yes, we have come a way since then, and this week’s question got me to thinking about the many amazing entrepreneurs and business people that I have had the good fortune to meet, speak to, and/or interview. It would of course be impossible to say which of their insights are the best, but upon reflection, and in honor of 20 years here, I was able to winnow it down to my top 20.

They are, in no particular order:

  1. You gotta have multiple profit centers. This is probably my favorite piece of advice and certainly one I have shared several times over the years. It comes from Barbara Winter in her great book, Making a Living Without a Job.

The idea is both simple and important. Just as Starbucks started out selling coffee and now also sells food, music, Frappucinos and so on, so too should you figure out additional ways to generate revenue, aside from your core business. It evens out your business cycle and helps ensure that you will be around for the long run.

  1. There are three types of customers, and you need to juggle all three: You have
  • New customers
  • Existing customers
  • Exiting customers

Customers leave for reasons both good and bad. As such, you need to create a constant funnel of new customers that become existing customers so that they can replace the exiting customers. You should cultivate and nourish all three.

  1. Not everybody is meant to be an entrepreneur: Some people are artists and some are athletes. Some people make great employees and others are exceptional entrepreneurs. Sure, many of the things you need to know to run a successful business can be learned, but, as with running for president, you should not start a business unless you have the fire in the belly.

That seems to be a prerequisite.

  1. There is a lot of help available if you look for it: Especially today with the advent of the e-age, there is an incredible amount of assistance available, for starters, consider the SBA, SCORE, SBDCs, websites, seminars, and webinars.
  1. Big businesses wants to help you succeed: By the same token, one thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the years is that many large companies are committed to helping small businesses succeed. They spend a lot of money to create products, tools, and services with us in mind and it would behoove you to take advantage of them.
  1. Be a great boss: It has consistently been proven true that the best small businesses – the ones with a solid profit margin, low turnover, good morale, fine products, and loyal customers – are the ones where the owner creates a great culture. Happy employees create happy customers
  1. Have fun: In the book Fish, authors Stephen C. Lundin and Harry Paul and John Christensen, show how having fun at work not only creates a positive culture, it directly impacts the bottom line.

If you are going to be a boss, be a good one, and a fun one.

  1. Play good defense: You probably like playing offense, that is, being creative, doing that part of your business that you love to do, making sales and so on. That’s smart. But it is also smart to play defense too – incorporate, consult with your attorney when needed, have an accountant, save for a rainy day, pay your quarterlies on time, get enough and the right kind of insurance.
  1. It is usually better to ask for forgiveness than permission: You don’t need permission to start a business (except from your spouse of course.) And no one is going to give you permission to expand your business or run with that kooky, but maybe brilliant, idea.

Entrepreneurship is largely a measure of having the confidence, initiative, and intelligence necessary to trust your gut and make it work.

  1. Being an entrepreneur is not enough – you also have to be a businessperson: What I love about entrepreneurs is their positivity. They dream. They create. They believe. That said, vision is not enough. To succeed, you also have to learn the nitty-gritty of business, be it taxes, hiring and firing, marketing, or what have you.

Next week: Your X Factor, hiring English majors, and why small business is different, special, and better.