Small Business Owners – The Essential \’To-Do\’ List For Tough Times

I’ve had six small businesses in my time and started them all with next to no finance yet sold them all for a substantial amount of money. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and errors of judgment yet still managed to pull through, even when the odds were against me. Some of the mistakes I made were due to bad advice, normally given to me by some supposed ‘Expert’. These ‘Experts’ have rarely been involved in small business and believe that a Degree in Marketing gave them the right answers. They couldn’t have be more wrong.

Whilst I could probably write a book on small business advice, I thought it would be easier for readers to take small bite-size piece of advice; rules of small business if you like. Whether you run a lawn-mowing business, a clothes store or a computer repairs business, these rules are applicable and essential for your success. So without further ado, here is my top-10 fundamental rules for running a recession-proof small business.

1. Network, network and then network some more.

There is no better way of selling your product or service than face-to-face. Most networking events are organised locally and free to attend so it’s an incredibly cost-effective way of meeting potential new customers. Think about it logically, would you more likely to buy a product or service from somebody you’ve met locally or from a company the other side of the country who just sent you an email?

2. Trust absolutely NOBODY.

This advice is always highly controversial but believe me, you cannot afford sentiment in business. Customers who say they’ll pay you next week, suppliers who promise a delivery by tomorrow, treat them all as liars. If you take that attitude, you will already have a back-up plan for the times where you were proved right. To avoid confrontation over this policy, ensure you have strict terms of business that your suppliers and customers are aware of before you agree to do business.

3. Your competition are your greatest opportunity.

You simply cannot know enough about your competition. Scour their website, their brochures, their adverts, every piece of marketing material they utilise. Make a list of everything you like about what they do and everything you don’t then canvas the opinion of your friends and family to gauge their opinions. It may seem obvious but the reality is all you need to do is ensure you combine the best of all your competitors strengths whilst avoiding all their perceived weaknesses.

4. Don’t borrow money unless you absolutely have to.

Debt is like a disease, it will consume your business and eventually kill it. Whilst I’ve had six very successful businesses, I’ve also had one business which I just couldn’t get to work. Thankfully because it was debt-free I managed to just close it down and start again. If you need equipment, hire or borrow it wherever you can. If you need premises, sub-let or work from your garage. Do whatever you can practically do to avoid owing money to anyone. Whenever you consider borrowing money, always think to yourself, ‘What would happen if my business closed down next month, how would I repay this debt?’

5. Staff – The strain and the drain.

Don’t think for one moment that anyone you employ will care one iota about your business; they won’t. Staff expect prompt and regular payment, they expect to be paid when sick, they expect to be paid whilst on holiday, they expect training, they expect to be praised and motivated all the time, that is all they care about. In short, your staff are your biggest liability and can suck the life out of you and your business. Don’t employ staff unless you really are doing too much yourself and if you do require additional labour, use temporary Agency Staff for menial tasks or sub-contract more demanding tasks to another company.

6. Don’t need a website?

Yes you do. I don’t care if your business only relies on local customers, you still need a presence on the Internet. Hundreds of books have been written on Internet marketing so go read one but for now you need to know a couple of basic facts. Firstly, localised businesses need a website even more than national ones because they don’t have the same marketing budget and a website is a cheap way of reaching your customers. Secondly, a short, descriptive domain name is much easier to remember than a telephone number. When you close this article down, try to remember ‘Call – 72618974990’ and ‘’ and see which one is easier to recall. Put your website address on vehicles, signs, windows….just about anywhere you can put it and it will bring you more customers.

7. Sack your Accountant

Why pay a small fortune every month/year for something you can almost certainly do yourself? There is so much cheap accountancy software available online that month-to-month bookkeeping is something you must do yourself. I don’t care if you’re computer illiterate or not. The fact that you’re reading this article is proof enough that you are capable of looking after your monthly accounts. You will probably still need an Accountant for your end of year submissions and for tax issues but don’t pay somebody for something that can be done so quickly and easily with a $50 accounts program. Don’t have time to do your own bookkeeping? Get your partner, sister, uncle or next door neighbour to do it. I guarantee that even if you pay them a small monthly fee, it will be considerable cheaper than your Accountant.

8. Advertise-Wise

Whatever your product or service, you need to advertise. It may just be putting flyers through the neighbours door but it still costs time and money and you need to know if it works? I have seen so much advertising money wasted in my career it makes me weep. You MUST establish how every one of your customers came to find your business. This data is absolutely crucial in determining where you spend your valuable advertising budget. Monitor it closely and if something isn’t paying it’s way, get rid of it. Don’t be concerned that other companies still use the medium, that’s their look-out. Have you ever considered that some companies advertise in certain media just because their competition do? Madness!

9. It’s always cheaper somewhere else.

You MUST conduct a thorough appraisal of your existing supplier costs. It doesn’t matter if it’s electricity, water, products, gas….there is a good chance you can get it cheaper elsewhere. Not worth the hassle to save 2-3%?How many suppliers do you have, 5, 10, 15? If you can save an average of only 2% with every supplier simply by re-negotiating their prices or going elsewhere, you can save up to 25%-30% from your operating costs. That’s real money in your bank account and not theirs. I still find it incredible that small business owners spend so much effort on bringing in money that they never consider how much they’re giving away to suppliers.

10. Sorry, the office is closed.

Every time a potential customer tries to contact you and can’t, you’ve wasted advertising money. Work out how many customers you have in one month then divide that by your profit and you’ll quickly discover how much you’ve paid to attract each individual customer. Every time you don’t answer the phone, that’s how much cash you’ve wasted. Sinking in now? If you only want to take customer enquiries 9.00am to 5.00pm Monday to Friday then go and get a job, running a small business is not for you. Whenever you leave the office, have your office phone re-directed to your mobile phone, it’s cheap, easy and means you will be able to take customer enquiries when your competition are closed.

I sincerely hope you found the above advice useful and if some of it seems a little harshArticle Submission, it’s because running a small business requires harsh decision making. You do not have the luxury of being able to make continuous mistakes as nobody will be there to cover your back.

Best of luck.

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