More of the Best Small Business Tips from USA TODAY

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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 2 of 2)

A Last week I listed the first half of my Top 20 favorite tips celebrating 20 years of my USA TODAY column. Making such a list really is almost a fool’s errand as I have written over 750,000 words, and more than 1,000 columns, in that time. But according to some, that hasn’t stopped me before, so let’s keep it going. J

  1. Bust out your X Factor: As I am wont to note, there are almost 30 million businesses in this country, and 99% of them are small businesses. As such, standing out above the crowd, being heard above the din, is no easy feat, especially in this social media-driven e-age. So how do you do it?

Rely on your X factor.

What is it that you do that is unique, different, and special? Whatever it is, it would behoove you to emphasize it so as to give folks something to hang their hat on and remember you.

  1. Hire English majors: The most shared thing I ever wrote was an article entitled, “Why I Hire English Majors.” At this time of STEM emphasis, I wanted to give some love to the humanities majors out there because I find them able to do the three things I need in my business: Read, write, and think critically. (And yes, the STEM majors can often do this too.)

Of course, all of the English majors loved it and sent it to their parents (including, ironically, my sweet daughter Sydney who got it from her department chair), but, more to this point, I also wanted to emphasize that when looking to hire staff, many things can trump “experience.” Hiring a good teammate, someone smart and sharp, a person who can listen, learn, laugh, think, and be independent, and who makes his or her teammates better, is the key.

  1. Start small, then go big: Small businesses usually do not have a lot of room for error; make an expensive mistake and you may be toast. As such, I have found that many of the best small businesses out there put a lot of effort into testing new ideas first, to see if they really work. Once the idea has been both refined and proven successful, only then should you roll it out in a big way.
  1. If you want to grow, team up: Just as it requires more than just you if you want your business to really grow, so too can you team up with other businesses if you want to take it even bigger.

Strategic partnerships are great because they extend your reach into areas and customers where you typically would not have any. Finding businesses that complement (but do not duplicate) yours creates a synergistic effect, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

  1. Work on your business, not just in it: Michael Gerber’s famous piece of advice from his book The E-Myth remains as true today as when he first wrote it. By stepping back and looking at the big picture, and by setting up systems, you free yourself from the daily grind.
  1. Market your business, and then market it some more: As I said last week, you need to always keep the customer pipeline flowing, and you do that, among other ways, by continuously marketing your business. Marketing is how new customers will hear about you and how old customers will remember you.

Market in different ways. Use social media. Use traditional media. Use shoestring marketing. Just keep marketing.

  1. Embrace technology: One of the biggest changes I have seen in the past 20 years is just how much small business has come to rely on technology. Technology has made us better, more effective, more potent businesspeople. It’s an incredible boon.

That said, some small business folks get overwhelmed by technology, and while understandable, it’s also lamentable. These days, you cannot just be an entrepreneur. You need to celebrate your inner geek

  1. Little changes create big results: Change can be scary, overwhelming. It can seem too big and difficult. But one thing I have seen, and the good news is, that small changes are the ones that often create big results. Adding a new product or service here or tweaking an ad there can yield tremendous results.

Try a small change and see what happens.

  1. Say yes:
  • “Can you stay open a little later so I can get down there?” Yes.
  • “Could you possibly get this to me by tomorrow?” Yes.
  • “Can I have an afternoon off this week?” Yes

Yes is one of the things that makes small business special. Friendliness and that personal touch are the hallmarks of a great small business. Use that to your advantage.

Just say yes.

  1. Small business is unique, different, better: This idea alone would take a whole column, and so it will. We wrap it up next week.