Starting a business is one of the easiest and highest impact decisions of your life. You probably took the plunge during your childhood years. Maybe you set up a little stand on the sidewalk and sold lemonade and cookies. Or perhaps you went door to door, selling seashells or artwork.
Do you remember how it felt to get your first sale? That cup of lemonade might’ve only netted you 10 cents, but the profit wasn’t the point. Your successful transaction was rewarded with the rush of entrepreneurship coursing through your veins.
A simple transaction like that technically qualifies as a business, as any activity that you embark on with the intent to make a profit meets the definition. See? Starting a business is easy. Nearly every person on earth has done it on a small scale.
It’s the running of a successful and sustainable business that requires tenacity and skill. That’s what separates the true entrepreneurs from the weekend warriors who have the sporadic urge to sell something.
How to Run a Small Business with a Big Vision
Of course, you can’t run something that you never started. So we shouldn’t diminish the importance of the first steps of starting a business. They might be simple at the beginning, but they’ll pay off in the long run.
Think of the business titans whose empires began in their garages. From Apple to Amazon to Google to the Walt Disney Company, each of these corporations started in places where oil stains stood in for décor. It’s fascinating to think of the great leaders behind these brands bandying around ideas for the company name or filling out a business license on a folding table next to a messy tool bench.
Indeed, origins matter.
So if you’re at the point of figuring out the process of how to run a business, you’ve probably already completed the following steps:
- Writing a business plan
- Choosing a business location
- Selecting a business structure
- Coming up with your business name
- Registering your business
- Applying for licenses and permits
- Opening a business bank account
Now it’s time to focus on the actions and strategies that bring sustainability and scalability. Because the best businesses are never meant to stay in the proverbial garage—they have a much brighter future in store.
We’re sure that you have a similar vision for your business. And this guide provides resources and ideas to help you reach your goals, no matter how audacious they might be.
Start with Your Financials
In the furor of starting a business, it’s not uncommon for the financial side of things to be neglected. But this omission won’t last long, as there’s no more brutal reality check than the lack of money coming into your bank account.
From the get-go, you’ll need to secure funding for your business. This money will help cover your startup expenses as the rest of your operations get moving. To get an idea of the expenses your startup will face, check out these helpful articles:
You’ll also need to figure out payment processing. The priority should be making it almost effortless for your customers to make purchases. This is because the more roadblocks in the path of the transaction, whether it’s a confusing payment page on your website or cumbersome processes on the back end, the less likely it is that customers will want to give you their money.
Accepting credit cards is a must. But don’t stop there. You should also ensure you can accept payments via alternative methods such as mobile wallets, ShopPay, or PayPal.
Of course, there’s so much more to financial management than simply taking money into your business. You’ll need to make sure that you’re set up to handle taxes and operating costs.
Small businesses can lower their tax bills with deductions, but the only way to qualify for deductions is to carefully track your expenses and retain the relevant receipts and documentation. As long as you’re maintaining an income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement, you should have the content required for taxes and basic money management.
But you never were one for the “basic” level of things, were you? So it’s likely that you’ll want to use more advanced strategies to not just meet your obligations but to maximize your profits.
Consider this free course from Alexa Von Tobel, founder of LearnVest, which provides valuable insights into how to structure your business finances. From tips for navigating possible pitfalls to highlighting the financial blueprints from top companies, the main takeaway is that you can earn more and keep more of what you make.
Use Marketing to Build Your Brand
The building blocks of a strong business often come in the form of marketing strategies. After all, your business is only as healthy as its supply of customers.
Problems arise, however, when a lack of planning gives way to a feeling of being overwhelmed. As Jesse Sumrak explains:
Small business marketing is an ever-changing ecosystem. It’s constantly evolving, and entrepreneurs need to stay on top of the trends to get the most bang for their marketing bucks. But getting started is pretty intimidating—it’s like walking into Disney World without a map or plan. Where to begin? Should your small business start cold calling customers? Or would you be better off trying to get in on the Clubhouse scene? And what about podcasting? Oh, and video is crushing it online right now—maybe start a YouTube channel, too? See how easy it is to get lost?
Your focus early on should be mastering a core selection of marketing efforts. This helps maximize your impact and avoid the message dilution that occurs when you’re trying to say too many things in too many places.
Two of the best places to invest your efforts and resources are social media and email. While other forms of marketing can be highly effective, social and email still reign supreme. The costs are low and the ROI can be massive.
To help you get started with the most effective marketing strategies, refer to these helpful resources:
Facebook Ad Targeting: Find Customers Like a Marketing Eagle Eye
5 Steps to a Successful YouTube Marketing Strategy
11+ Ecommerce Marketing Strategies to Boost Your Online Sales
Podcast 319: How To Crisis-Proof Your Email Marketing Strategy
6 Steps for Creating a Content Marketing Team That Scales Your Business
At the heart of all your marketing is the way you communicate your brand’s personality and differentiators. This free writing course from Arman Assadi highlights actionable ways to make your messaging more personalized and persuasive. Even beginners can take these tips and see fast results.
Develop Your Leadership Skills
Here’s a guarantee—you possess natural leadership skills. The fact that you’re pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams and taking the initiative to read through this guide and get additional insights shows that you know how to take action and get results.
But our innate skills will only get us so far. If you’re interested in learning how to run a business like a pro, you need to strengthen your leadership abilities. In its purest sense, this process involves 3 elements:
- Refining your existing strengths
- Increasing your abilities in areas you are lacking
- Eliminating bad habits
This process requires introspection and the perspective of a trusted mentor. For example, you might think that you already possess 7 leadership attributes. But an outside source could help you realize that 2 of these attributes will only be effective if you adopt them in specific ways. And another one of your seemingly positive attributes could actually be revealed to be a hindrance on your journey to becoming a better leader.
We all have blind spots. So don’t miss out on the opportunity to have an empathetic light directed toward some of your own.
If you currently don’t have any employees, it might be tempting to think that leadership can wait. But this is actually the ideal time to get started. Your business will thrive in the near-term as you become a more impactful leader, and you’ll be in a much better place as things scale and you begin to bring on additional team members.
Check out this helpful guide to learn more about the different types of leadership you can aspire to:
And here’s an article that highlights important steps you can take to promote a strong culture within your business:
Finally, this free course from Joe De Sena shares helpful strategies for overcoming the obstacles you face to become a stronger and more impactful leader.
Give Your Daily Operations a Digital Boost
When it comes to how to run a successful business, the answers are often found in the daily operations that can seem so tedious and mundane. But there’s simply too much for one person (or even a small team) to handle.
Start by identifying your critical few. Then you can also consider which business operations you want to do. In the words of Lori Hill:
Starting with the lifestyle you want to create is so important, because it gives you clarity on how to run your business […] So a great strategy is to dial it back to think about what your perfect day looks like. Some questions to ask yourself when designing your perfect day: What do I want to be doing every day? What do I want my mornings to look like? Who do I want to spend time with? What are my top priorities? Once you have an idea of what your ideal day looks like, you can then begin to reverse engineer to see what it is going to take to make that happen.
The good news is that technology is standing by to handle many of your operational tasks. Automation is an entrepreneur’s best friend because it not only takes obligations off your plate, but it carries them out with precision. When human error is removed from the equation, your business functions become more efficient and accurate.
Here are 12 of the best digital tools to improve your business operations:
- Marketo: A comprehensive marketing tool
- Mailchimp: Sends and tracks your emails
- Hootsuite: Simplifies your social media marketing
- Deluxe: Automates many aspects of your payroll
- QuickBooks: Manages expense reports and vehicle mileage
- Slack: Collaborative communication tool
- Square: Processes payments and handles multiple back-end functions
- TripIt: Coordinates all elements of business travel
- Zapier: All-in-one automation tool
- Trello: Project management tool for solo or team initiatives
- IFTTT: Allows you to coordinate your various business apps
- G Suite: File storage, document sharing, and communication
This article reveals how to use business automation to create streams of passive income for your business:
Take Care of Yourself
As any entrepreneur knows, running a business is a full-body experience. It can suck up all your physical, emotional, and mental energy, even when things are going well.
The list of what the typical entrepreneur lays on the line when starting a new business is remarkably long. This includes (but is certainly not limited to) their reputation, competence, finances, and career trajectory. It’s no wonder, then, that entrepreneurs experience high degrees of stress. The stakes are high, and deeply personal.
But that doesn’t mean that you must beat yourself down in the process of running your business. On the contrary, this is an important opportunity to focus on self-care. When your wellness is intrinsically linked to the health of the business, your efforts carry a solid return on investment (ROI).
It’s much harder to climb out of a place of burnout and depression than to proactively bolster yourself against it. So the earlier in your career that you can establish healthy boundaries between yourself and your company, the more successfully such practices will serve you.
Here are 4 tips that can help ensure you have fresh legs for the marathon ahead. Because running a business is no sprint—it follows a long, grueling course.
1. Establish Work-Free Times and Places
Research has consistently shown how essential it is for us to rejuvenate ourselves with breaks from work. Doing so allows us to be more efficient and productive when we do work, while also promoting creativity and health. In addition, regularly stepping away from your company—both physically and mentally—will give you the opportunity to invest in and enjoy other priorities.
Consider setting aside at least one weeknight and one weekend day to be free of work. You may also want to pick a space in your home, such as your bedroom or your family room, as a place where you do not discuss work or check your emails. The exact time or place you decide on doesn’t matter—what matters is that you rigidly honor those boundaries to the best of your ability. This gives you the opportunity to practice living apart from your company on a regular basis.
2. Schedule Regular Times for Activities You Enjoy
Entrepreneurs are so busy that even important things won’t happen unless they are scheduled in a calendar. Though it may feel silly to schedule activities such as “read a book” or “meditate for 20 minutes,” doing so makes it much more likely that you will follow through. And it helps ensure that these regular activities become part of your weekly rhythm—and your sense of who you are.
Many executive coaches, whose primary goal is to help business owners become as effective a leader as possible, open their sessions with questions like: “Have you spent time on your hobbies recently?” or “How are your personal relationships going?” They know, after working with hundreds of executives and entrepreneurs, that living a balanced, healthy life is foundational for long-term professional success.
3. Say No to Unnecessarily High-Risk Business Opportunities
Entrepreneurs tend to be “opportunity junkies.” They are driven by the fear of missing out and, as a result, feel the need to pursue every possibility that comes their way, no matter the risk or cost. Soon they become addicted to the chase itself rather than rationally evaluating each opportunity as it comes. All their time and energy is taken up with racing after potential breaks.
Saying no to business opportunities gives you the chance to practice exercising power over your startup, rather than having it be the other way around. It also creates space in your life to focus on the highest potential work opportunities and to pursue personal priorities outside of the company.
If you have difficulty evaluating if an opportunity is worth pursuing, consider enlisting the help of a mentor or adviser that you can call upon each time a new business prospect emerges. Ask him or her to help you think through the pros and cons of a business opportunity before you devote much time or energy to it.
4. Practice Delegating and Collaborating More Often
One of the most practical ways to relieve the strain of running your business is to delegate tasks to others you trust, and to partner with collaborators rather than trying to do everything yourself. Make sure you have competent and committed members on your team whose strengths and skills are different from your own. This will then allow you to hand off the tasks that are the most draining for you.
In addition to lightening your load, delegating and collaborating will make your business stronger. It invites more perspectives and ideas. And the burden to succeed, and the cost of any failure, will be spread out across multiple people rather than sitting on your shoulders alone.
If you’d like more insights into how to run a successful business, check out our library of free entrepreneurial courses. Presented by instructors who have already walked your path and become masters of the game, each course provides valuable tips and resources for taking your business to the next level.