4 Hard Lessons I Learned in 4 Years as a Small Business Owner
I took the plunge and went into business for myself four years ago, shunning a regular paycheck for the freedom, adventure, and sometimes challenges of owning my own company.
I knew it would not be easy, but both of my parents started and ran small businesses most of my life, so you might say it was in my blood. Around 400,000 new businesses are started in the United States every month. And statistics show that 90% of those businesses will fail. But your chances of surviving increase dramatically if you can make it past the first few years.
So, I wanted to share some things that have helped me get to the place I am today, in the hopes that it will help other small businesses make it here too.
Here are the four most valuable lessons I’ve learned in four years of being a small business owner.
Lesson 1: Customer Service Can Be Your Best Ally or Your Worst Enemy
Customer service is a double-edged sword. Bad customer service (ignoring customer complaints, responding late, giving inadequate solutions) can tear down your goodwill, and eventually your bottom line. But good customer service grows your business. What makes it good? The customer feels heard and feels like you offered an appropriate solution.
In this age of social media, companies have a harder time controlling their message and maintaining positive-only reviews online. The key isn’t to delete bad reviews, but to make it right. Respond in a quick, polite, apologetic, and professional manner. Taking pride in your work is a good thing, but sometimes you have to set it aside, even if the customer may not be right.
A perfect example of this happened on a local businesses Facebook page. A customer commented that it took three days for someone to return her call for an appointment. The office replied to the comment within an hour, apologized, thanked her for the feedback, and assured her that they were training a new front-desk manager and wanted to exceed her expectations in the future.
It was the perfect response, and the customer even replied with a follow-up comment thanking them for their willingness to work on the issue. That negative comment won’t disappear, but now every future visitor can see the company’s humble response, appreciate their transparency, and know that the business welcomes feedback in order to grow.
Lesson 2: If You Want Something Done Professionally, Pay for a Professional
My father owns a construction business and remodels old homes for a living, so he was pretty handy around the house, and he taught me a lesson that would serve me well as a small business owner. You get what you pay for. Cutting corners may save you money upfront, but could end up costing more in money and frustration.
But that voice in my head retorts, “I can do it myself, it’s not that hard!” Yes, I probably could look up some YouTube videos and figure out how to write an air-tight contract. But I always look at my time as money. It’s the same thing I ask small businesses to trust me with each day as a local marketing company.
Lesson 3: Hire the Right People and Let Them Do Their Job
Every interview I hold with a potential contractor or partner, I repeat to myself, “Hire hard; manage easy.” It pays to be picky with personnel choices. And once I get the right person, I try to give them wings to do their job well. Micromanaging only puts more on my plate, and stresses both of us out. And I believe my employees’ morale soars when I’m not policing them at every turn.
I’ve learned that one of my jobs as the boss, is to set the vision for my employees, and periodically check in to make sure they are walking down that path, towards that vision in their own way. Giving them more power in the day to day decisions even opens doors for their own innovation and efficiencies.
Lesson 4: Don’t Neglect Your Personal Life
The first year you are in business is usually awful. Every waking moment is focused on the business, and how to invest in its growth while still putting food on the table. But being deliberate about balance made me a better business owner, person, friend, and husband. In a Harvard Business Review study, several themes emerged on how to balance the seesaw, suggesting managing technology, traveling selectively, and collaborating with your partner among other tips from executives.
Whether you define balance as physical (working out, eating healthy), emotional (meditating), or relational (spending quality time or traveling with friends and family), your day must be marked by intentional planning. As one executive from the study said, “I just prioritize dinner with my family as if it was a 6PM meeting with my most important client.”
I’m sure the next four years of owning a small business will reveal even more lessons learned. What are some other lessons you’ve learned the hard way?