One of the lessons I’m reminded of time and time again is that the skills that make a great entrepreneur in a start-up company are not necessarily the skills needed to grow a business. Starting a business requires a lot of boot-strapping and working in all aspects of the business. Growing a business requires more management skills — such as learning to delegate and hiring staff.
As I’ve grown my business, I’ve hired an assistant and learned to delegate. Once, I could manage all my current and prospective clients in my head, but now I need CRM (customer relationship management) software. As I’ve struggled to learn how to use this new tool effectively (and I’m not there yet), I recognize that these are the same struggles my clients have when they switch from a haphazard bookkeeping method to QuickBooks. We’re all trying to use software more effectively to better manage our growing businesses.
With that in mind, I offer you these six tips for creating new work habits to adapt to your growing business.
1. Learn new software. Many entrepreneurs start out using Excel to track expenses, and a regular email for mailings. But as your business grows, these inexpensive tools become inefficient and cumbersome. Could you benefit from an accounting software package like QuickBooks instead of using Excel spreadsheets? Maybe you need to start using an email service like Constant Contact.
- First off, identify your own learning style. For a visual learner, watching video tutorials would be most helpful. A quick Google search will likely yield dozens of options. For a kinetic learner, tinkering around with the new software may be enough to figure it out. I like a combination of both.
- Identify resources to support you. Chances are you know someone who’s already using your new tool, so reach out. Resources on the Internet come in many forms: tutorials, blogs, and YouTube videos can be very helpful. If teaching yourself isn’t working, buy a book, take a class, or even hire someone to help you. Think of it as an investment in your future success.
- Create a sample file or company to practice. If you’re starting in QuickBooks, don’t immediately set up your company and expect you’ll get it right the first time. Start with a practice run; try out different transactions and see what happens. Make mistakes and learn. And then set up the software for real.
- Take 15 minutes every day to practice the new software. The task will be less daunting than if you look at it once a week. Irregular practice means you’ll need to relearn the little tricks every time you open it; the work will pile up, making things more overwhelming, and it will be that much harder to learn.
2. Improve your public speaking. Public speaking is a great way to promote your business and demonstrate to potential customers that you have the appropriate expertise. Knowing you can rely on yourself to speak articulately builds confidence, and prepares you to present to investors or at conferences.
- No one wants to hear this advice, but practice. And practice again. Practice in front of someone. Don’t worry about messing up — that’s why you’re practicing. As part of your practice, record yourself. It’s painful, but it works. You’ll notice that you really do need to slow down, enunciate, and modulate your tone – and hearing yourself improving over time is another great confidence boost.
- Anxiety comes from unpreparedness, both in yourself and the setup of your presentation. Set everything up in the room beforehand (arrive early if necessary), and test to make sure it’s ready to go, and works the way you want it. Do a trial run in the space if possible. Remove as many obstacles from success as you can.
- Join a public speaking organization or club to get lots of support, opportunities for practice, and to develop your skills further.
3. Expand your team. As your business grows, you realize you can’t do everything yourself; this may be a matter of skill (you’re not a good bookkeeper) or a matter of time (you can’t deliver produce and harvest the fields at the same time). Figure out where your talents are best utilized and expand your team to fill in the gaps. This can be in the form of partnerships or hiring staff.
- If you’re identifying specific needs, like marketing or graphic design, cultivate a partnership with another specialist. You might even be able to barter. (I can’t say enough good things about my partners.)
- Are you turning down business because you’re over capacity? If you expand, will your workload become too much for you to handle alone? It might be time for you to add some new faces to your business. Start small: you don’t need to turn over whole segments of your business at once, but if there are discrete tasks you can let go of, you’ll be freer to focus on the work that only you can do.
4. Keep Marketing. Growing your business is a constant balance between doing the work and getting the work. A few years ago, I was flat-out writing business plans. When I looked up, I had no business in the pipeline. It took me 6 weeks to generate new work. Needless to say, I now budget time for working on the business and in the business.
- Consider social media, if you don’t already use it. For a start, it’s free. (Our article on social media provides more in-depth tips on getting started and best practices.) Social media can be useful as a means of promoting your business; it also boosts your profile as a valuable thought leader. Becoming involved in online communities that rely on you as a resource is even more valuable.
- Too busy to market, or feel that it’s not a strength (see tip 1)? Consider partnering (tip 3) with some whose strength it is. See how this is all tied together? Personally, I’m a huge fan of Good Egg Marketing.
5. Learn better time management. This is key if you’re planning to take on more work, because the day will always be 24 hours, but you’ll need to accomplish more.
- Break a project down into smaller tasks, each with their own timeframe.
- Set goals. Stick to them and celebrate success.
- Build in accountability for yourself, in the form of setting deadlines for yourself and check-ins with your clients.
- Use technology (see tip 1) to help you.
- More on this in last month’s article.
6. Keep learning. Business is dynamic, and we must evolve as the world around us changes.
- Set aside time every week to do research, learn about new developments in your arena, and deepen your understanding.
Thinking about how to grow your business or gain new skills? Feel free to call or email — we’ll look forward to working with you!