Last week, I had the privilege of guest lecturing at my alma mater, James Madison University, for professor Rusty Greene’s class in the School of Media Arts and Design. Professor Greene had asked me to share my advice, as an entrepreneur, for creating and managing your business.
After I completed the presentation deck, I realized that these tips might also be helpful for those in the SEM/SEO community who have a small business or are considering starting one. So, without further ado, (from the home office in Charlottesville, Virginia) here are my top ten rules for creating and managing your business:
Rule 1: At the beginning, you must think about the end.
It may seem strange to think about the end of anything before you even start, but why should your business and its goals be different than any other goal in your life? Think about it. To achieve goals, we must first set the goal. If you want to run a marathon (the goal), you must know that goal before you know how to train for the marathon — it affects the way you would train. The same is true for your business. Think about what your end goal is for your business, and then take the necessary steps to achieve that goal along the way.
Rule 2: Focus on what you’re good at. Delegate the rest to others.
Let’s face it — you can’t be good at EVERYTHING. So figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are. Then complement your strengths by hiring those whose strengths are your weaknesses. My strength? SEO. My weakness? Accounting. Thus, I hired a finance director, and my life is much happier and my business more successful for it.
Rule 3: Even if you’re small, look big.
Sometimes, possibly wrongfully, prospects trust big companies more than small. Perhaps it’s the old adage of “too big to fail”. But we know from Enron, AIG, and others, that you’re never too big to fail. Whether right or wrong, “looking big” gives prospects a feeling of security. So get a professional looking website and materials. If you work out of your house, have a separate home phone and business phone. The small things can make a BIG difference.
Rule 4: Network, network, network.
Without a doubt, I can say that networking has been essential to the growth of my business. Networking provides business opportunities and saves you advertising budget. With the advent of social networking, networking has been easier than ever. So do it!
Rule 5: Be careful whose toes you step on today — they might be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.
You read correctly. I used the word “ass” in a blog post. It’s OK to burn bridges, but be sure that you only end relationships that you feel you cannot or really do not want to save.
Rule 6: Avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
I learned this rule way back at JMU as a PR student. Why worry about the “appearance” of impropriety if you’re doing everything on the up and up? The problem has never been more of an issue than today with social media. Appearing in a negative light, even if it isn’t true, can spread like wildfire over social networks and really damage your brand. So be careful and manage that brand properly, which includes doing social media monitoring and online reputation management (ORM).
Rule 7: Always be learning.
This rule was in there to remind the students that learning doesn’t stop after graduation. And anyone in SEO, social media, PPC, etc. knows that. Everyday, Google (or some other tool or engine) is changing the landscape. It’s so much, it can be hard to keep up with it all. So keep learning. It’s a lifelong process.
Rule 8: ABC: Always be closing.
I came from a creative background, starting off in PR and as a web designer. Sales has never been my strongest suit. But then I read a great book (stay with me here) called Fire Someone Today. I know, it sounds harsh. But what really stirred me about this book was that it was written by a guy who sold Bible software and his ethical dilemmas running his company. His clients were typically churches, and many would ask for the software for free or at a significant discount. At first, he gave in. Then, he realized that by caving on price all of the time, he was putting his business’ survival, and the fate of his employees, at risk. That wasn’t fair to him or his employees. So he stopped caving in on price. Remember: You’re a business, not a charity. It’s important to think about being fair to your company and your employees as well as customers.
Rule 9: There’s no secret formula. It’s all trial and error.
I used to think there was some great pricing formula that would help me figure out how to price my services. Guess what? There is none. Much of business (and all of its facets) is trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try new things and see what works and what doesn’t.
Rule 10: Do what makes you happy.
This is perhaps the most important rule of all. Remember, if you start a business, you may be putting in 80 hour weeks or more to keep it going. It’s hard work. So be sure you’re doing what you love. If you do, your passion will also be seen by prospects and customers.
What are your rules?
Have some rules to share? Please feel free to add them in the comments.