Although my coaching practice mainly focuses on leaders and teams within larger organisational settings, I’ve had the privilege, over the last few years, of working with business owners. Their reality is quite different, and often far more challenging, than what I’ve witnessed in the corporate world.
Owning and operating a small business is no small feat. There are several moving parts that entrepreneurs need to keep an eye on. It can quickly become a complicated juggling act. This is why it’s useful to rely on best practices – pre-established recipes so to speak – that allow business owners to run things more smoothly.
But what is a best practice anyway? And why is it important? Simply put, a best practice is a set of professional procedures, actions or practices that are preferred and considered standard within an organization because of the results they produce. Sometimes, these practices have been derived by researchers after benchmarking several businesses that share similar operational characteristics in terms of size, type or market focus. Other times, business owners themselves come up with their own preferred ways of doing things as a result of experience, trials and errors. In any event, the goal of any entrepreneur is to find out what are the most optimal ways the run business. And best practices are useful to reach short-term goals and, over time, ensure the sustainability of the business operations.
Reflecting of the insight that I gained from while working with my client entrepreneurs, I’ve come up with five (5) management and entrepreneurship best practices that every business owner should consider adopting. These practical guidelines are:
|Find and delight your customers;
|Choose your employees and partners wisely;
|Know the risks that your business faces and manage them efficiently;
|Constantly look for ways to innovate and improve your business operations; and
|Be passionate and dedicated to the management of your business.
First, and perhaps above all else, entrepreneurs should strive to find customers for their products or services, and make sure that they constantly delight them. It’s far more costly to gain new customers than to keep existing ones. And a satisfied customer may, in turn, become an ambassador for your business. But dissatisfied customers are less likely to be loyal and may even tell others not to do business with you. So… how do you delight customers? One way is to consider your customer service as the sum of “What you do” and “How you do it”. The “what” has to do with their features and characteristics of your products and services, and how they meet customer needs. Without this crucial product-market fit, entrepreneurs might as well shut down their business. Products or services must also be in stock or easily accessible; they must work as sold; their price must be right. Etc. All of this is essential, but not enough. To truly delight customers, entrepreneurs also need to worry about the “how”. This relates to the interactions that they establish with their customers. It goes beyond the transactions and focuses on the emotional connections with them. How professional, personal and hospitable was the business with them. Customers may overlook or even forget about what you did or sold… but they will always remember how you made them feel. This is how you delight your customers.
But to serve customers, business owners generally need employees and suppliers. Entrepreneurs should choose their employees and suppliers wisely, and treat them as they themselves would want to be treated. Why? Because a business is a chain of interconnected elements that include employees and partners. If some of these components begin to fail, the entire value chain may collapse. In other words, employees, suppliers and other business partners form a critical value chain as they collaborate together to bring value to the end customers. Therefore, selecting these key individuals wisely and treating them well plays a central role in the success of the business. As such, business owners should make sure that their employees are as engaged as possible, that they know their role and contribution within the business, and that they have a collaborative approach with their peers and suppliers. Your own engagement as a business owner, and the way you demonstrate trust and teamwork will also go a long way in fostering the right business climate for employees to thrive.
Aside from employees and suppliers, other aspects that may impact the cohesiveness and fluidity of the business are risks (competitive, financial, reputational, liability, business continuity, cybersecurity, etc.). Business owners should be acutely aware of what these risks are so that you can better anticipate them and either avoid them or effectively deal with them as they arise. Efficiently managing these risks can be broken down into four phases: 1. Identifying what these risks are; 2. Assessing these risks in terms of root cause, likelihood of occurrence and potential impact; 3. Putting measures in place to help the business anticipate such risks and reduce its likelihood of occurrence or, ideally, avoid them altogether; and 4. Knowing what to do when such risks come to life and hit the business.
Ensuring that the business runs smoothly is important, but entrepreneurs shouldn’t be fooled by how fluid things are going. The business environment may change at any instant. This is why business owners should be proactive and constantly look for ways to innovate and improve their company. Regularly coming up with new ideas and putting them in practice is crucial to the success of the business. This regular focus on innovation can bring about several benefits. It can help entrepreneurs improve their business processes, bring newer and better products and services to market, increase employee productivity, drive sales while reducing costs and, most importantly, improve overall profitability. In fact, small businesses are often better suited to be more innovative than larger organizations. They can execute ideas more quickly and pivot more easily; they can develop and implement novel approaches rapidly. When considering innovation, it’s useful to look at three different areas where entrepreneurs can improve their business: their Products, their Processes, and sometimes even their overall business model. Finally, it’s worth considering where these innovative ideas will come from. One important source of ideas lies within the business. Talking to customers, observing employees, surveying suppliers, reviewing client feedback, etc. Entrepreneurs should also consider looking outside of their business. Studying the competition, analysing complementary businesses, reading specialized magazines, attending trade shows, and talking to non-customers such as friends and family members. In the end, business owners should keep in mind that innovation is a contact sport. They may not get it right the first time. But failure is certainly an important catalyst for improvement.
At last, the one person that plays the biggest in the success of the SMB is its owner. A business is more than a job, it’s a responsibility. Entrepreneurs are accountable to their customers, their employees, their suppliers, their partners, their lenders and shareholders… This is huge. So the only way for business owners to truly succeed is to find something that they love, to be passionate about their business and its contribution to the local community, and to dedicate their heart and soul to it. By knowing what their business stands for, by focusing on what needs to get done to reach their goals and vision, and by appreciating the work that they do, entrepreneurs can find the energy and motivation required to invest their time, talent and money. This is hard. That’s where courage, commitment and hard work kick in, day and day, week after week, all year long. Businesses will often require its owners to go beyond what they thought they were capable of. The goal is not to never fail, but to rise up and learn every time one falls. Challenges are an implicit part of any business. In the end, as Confucius once said so wisely, “if you find an occupation that you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.
Are you a business owner? If so, how much of these guidelines do you put in practice?