Small business owners need a solid plan, good credit card tricks, a growth strategy, excellent time management skills, and a dose of self-care. Sounds almost easy, right? Of course, the reality of owning a small business can’t be summed up in one sentence.

Entrepreneurs should consider these tips when starting their own small business:

  1. Establish good credit habits
  2. Maximize Your Time
  3. Invest in growth strategies
  4. Plan for down time

1. Establish Good Credit Habits

While it’s easier to just use your personal credit cards to fund startup costs, it can help you track your business expenses by keeping a personal credit card account and another specifically for your business. But funding your entire business through credit can set you up for some serious debt, so using your card to make smaller purchases, and then paying all bills on time, will go a long way in maintaining your business credit.

Shop around for the right card for your business. If you got a credit card with a 0 percent introductory APR offer, you can pay that off in smaller, more manageable pieces for several months to a year. A card with rewards like cash back or travel points can also support your needs. Just keep track of your debt and make sure to pay it in full by the end of the introductory offer, or you’ll be paying a much higher interest rate on whatever debt you still have.

2. Maximize Your Time

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you wear multiple hats as a small business owner. On any given day, you might find yourself playing business strategist, marketer, HR manager, accountant, and customer service rep. And that’s on top of completing client work or moving product off your shelves.

Being pulled in several different directions like this could hurt your productivity if you’re not careful. It can help to get meticulously organized, set firm routines, and develop detailed processes for any task you need to perform repeatedly.

  • Embrace energy peaks.Do the important, concentration-heavy, billable work when you’re most energized and alert. Save less taxing tasks like replying to messages and invoicing for when you’re winding down late in the day. If you’re not sure when your energy peaks, keep a log for a week.
  • Track your time. Understand how long each task or type of project takes so that you can better estimate your time, create more accurate project bids and hire the right amount of subcontractors. This may also help increase your profit margin by ensuring you don’t undercharge clients for your time.
  • Automate everything you can.Instead of emailing back and forth to schedule calls, try a meeting booker like YouCanBookMe or Calendly. Automate contracts with a tool like DocuSign, invoices and account receivables with a tool like FreshBooks, client intake forms with a survey tool like SurveyMonkey, and point-of-sale payments with a tool like Square.
  • Delegate often.Farm out the tasks you dread, those that don’t directly earn revenue and those that don’t fall under your area of expertise. The time you save and peace of mind you gain will be well worth the money spent.
  • Embrace timed sprints.Breaking beefy projects into bite-sized pieces and using a timer can help cut through the inertia. The Pomodoro Technique is a longtime favorite of entrepreneurs and freelancers, especially those who wrestle with procrastination. Work for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. Repeat, taking a slightly longer break after every sprint.
  • Clock out at the same time daily. Recognize that you might not accomplish much more than scrolling through your favorite social media apps after 7 to 9 work hours each day. To stay efficient and productive, replenish your personal well each evening and weekend. That means prioritizing recharge time and making self-care non-negotiable.
  • End the week by planning ahead.Starting the workweek without your priorities clearly delineated could mean falling prey to merely reacting to the messages filling your inbox. Before you log out each Friday, create a to-do list for the following week.
  • Refine your infrastructure. Set aside a couple days once or twice a year to evaluate the systems, processes and tools you use to work more efficiently. When an app, program or process no longer serves you, update, tweak or replace it accordingly.

3. Invest in Growth Strategies

In order to help avert the risk of closure, your business needs to keep finding new sales opportunities. These strategies will help you focus your efforts on growing your business as efficiently as possible, while still maintaining your current obligations to customers. Selling your business and closing new sales is part of your full-time job, not just serving existing customers or servicing current accounts.

  • Start with existing customers. Sales is often thought of as an activity focused on finding new customers, but repeat sales are just as valuable. If you can find a way to sell more products and services to your existing customers, you can increase the lifetime value of your customers and create a stronger foundation for your business growth.
  • Get referrals. Your current customers can be a source of new business leads. If your customers are not already spreading the word about your business, encourage them to do so by openly asking for referrals.
  • Boost profit margins.Maybe you can improve your business profits by cutting costs or raising prices. You don’t want to cut back on essential elements of your customer experience or cut corners so product quality suffers. You might lose some customers by raising your prices. However, higher prices are a way of sending a signal to the market that your product or service is a higher quality premium option. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • Clarify your brand. Building a brand is a strategic choice to figure out what your small business stands for and why your business matters. Evaluate strategic choices about how you describe your business, what image and personality your business presents to the world, what your core values are as a company, your sense of mission — and why it matters to your customers.
  • Know your customer’s journey. Every business has a sales funnel, the process by which you take prospective customers through each stage of deciding to buy from you. Sales funnels look different depending on the business or type of product or service. For example, the first outbound activity of your sales funnel might be, “call new prospects.” The next stage could be, “request a phone call or in-person meeting.” Each stage of the sales funnel requires a careful approach in the way you talk with customers.
  • Partner strategically.Connect with other business owners, industry associations and networking groups to get your name out there and connect with prospects who need (and want) what you sell.
  • Use social media.Experiment with targeted ads, testing different times of day or days of the week to reach your audience and being more creative with your content.

4. Plan for Down Time

When you’re running a successful business, vacation time can be rare. It’s natural to worry that being away might negatively impact your business. But maintaining work-life balance is especially important as a small business owner, and regular breaks contribute to that.

If you’re overdue for a vacation, consider whether you’ll close your doors temporarily while you’re on vacation. This could be easier if you’re a freelancer or independent contractor with a flexible schedule, but if you own a more traditional business, the decision might be more difficult. Staying open can keep revenues coming in, but you have to be comfortable handing over the reins to your management staff or employees temporarily. If you’re hiring extra staff to cover the gap while you’re gone, that has to make sense financially.

Decide before you leave how often you’ll check email while you’re away. If you have employees, consider whether you’ll check in with your staff as well, or direct them to only call or message you if it’s an emergency. And be sure to delegate clearly so you’re not inundated with calls if there is a crisis.

Timing matters for vacation planning — you don’t want to leave your customers or employees hanging during your busiest season. Get out the calendar and your sales figures for the last year and pinpoint the busiest times for your business. Then, note the other times you’re likely to be busy, such as tax filing season.

Before you go on vacation, go through your to-do list and clear up any lingering items that need to be handled. Run payroll if needed, check your accounts receivable for outstanding invoices, pay up your vendors and clear out your inbox.

With these smaller things done, you can head out on your vacation (mostly) worry-free. If there’s anything you’re not able to get to, consider handing those duties over to your staff.

If you’ve smartly planned your finances and credit usage, have maximized sales and marketing plans that support business growth, odds are your business will be fine while you decompress — and return refreshed and ready to take on even more ideas and challenges to help grow your business.

Published April 28, 2016.

Updated March 20, 2020.

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