You graduate from business school with dreams of landing a great job or starting your own business. While you may be book-smart at this juncture in your career, they don’t teach you EVERYTHING you need to know in business school.
I have learned many tough business lessons and made many mistakes along the way to entrepreneurial success. But I have also accumulated a vast amount of knowledge over the past 15 years as an entrepreneur, so here it goes:
1. Put yourself into the business plan.
No one ever tells you to do this. This is never one of the “101 steps to writing a business plan.” But it is a key factor that will make investors keener at throwing money your way.
If I asked you 10 great attributes about yourself, what would they be? This is the “sell yourself” part of your business plan. You are the driving force behind the idea. Banks don’t invest in companies; they invest in the people creating and driving the companies. So, make sure all your best attributes are in that business plan. And please don’t hold back.
One of the reasons my bank gave me a line of credit of almost $100,000 when I started my first company at 24 years old is they believed in me as the driving force of the company. I made them feel comfortable taking a chance on me. Never forget to put yourself in that business plan.
2. Market research is good for your self-esteem. And self-esteem is good for your bottom line.
When starting your business and making a realistic budget, here is something important to contemplate: are you pricing your goods and services high enough? Many start-ups undervalue their offer, and as a result, simply make less money. When we start-up, we aren’t always confident yet in our product or service. Many start-ups do this, and then wonder where the bottom line is at the end of year one. So, do the thorough market research needed to know what your competitors are offering and charging, and do not be afraid to charge for good work. Market research lets you become more confident in your offer, which will in turn give you a healthier bottom line.
3. Be a giver from the day you take your first order.
Business school doesn’t always teach you about the art of giving. But you should give back to your community early in your business start-up. Everyone needs to get involved in something, both personally and professionally. Even if it isn’t much, you must be a giver. Community members also like to support those that benefit the community. When I look at my community, the ones who are successful are big givers. Yes, it’s true; they give a lot because they can afford to give. But, many of these companies were giving way before they became financially solid.
The day I opened my business, before I had any sales, I made a pledge to give a percentage of my yearly net sales to various breast cancer research causes. Breast cancer was a cause very close to my heart and it made me very proud to be able to give back. Obviously, it wasn’t much the first year or two, but it was a commitment, and every dollar counts.
People not only like to buy from winners, they also like to buy from givers. Give what you can, right from the start. Be as generous as you are with your time and money.
4. If you can't sell yourself, you ain’t gonna sell anything!
If I told you that you had one minute to sell yourself, would you know how to do it? If you had to create your own infomercial, would you know what to cover? Now stay with me, and don’t cringe out of stage fright. We haven’t all mastered the art of self-promotion as effortlessly as the Kardashians. But it is a staple for the success of your business. If you think you’re not a born salesperson, think again. We’re all salespeople, even your kid is a salesperson! Do you ever find yourself giving in to your child who asks to stay up that extra hour at night? They’re selling you; dont think for one minute that’s not selling!
The art of convincing someone else that you are best suited for the job is imperative to your success. You need to make your clients comfortable to put their trust in you. So before you pick up the phone to call a new prospect or walk into a meeting to pitch your product or service, think confidence. Speak confidently. Watch your tone and your body language. If you come prepared, you will know your stuff cold, which will in turn bring you the confidence you need. Preparedness is a key factor in selling you – remember tip #2?
5. Be exceedingly generous about your salespeople’s commission plans.
The core to business success: 1) Employees 2) Customers. Keep your employees happy; they’ll dazzle your customers.
If there is one lesson I’ve learned the hard way, it’s 9 times out of 10, you get what you pay for in life. That being said, if you want to grow your sales, and you want your business to be more than just about you, you’ll need good salespeople. In my experience, finding and keeping good people is no easy task.
So, in the search for salespeople, start-ups need to be exceedingly generous about their commission plans. Every time I tried to hire someone solely on commission, without any base salary, draw on commission, or bonus incentive, etc., they never worked out. I mean never. Simply put: you must pay for a producer.
Let’s look at the George Steinbrenner strategy for building his winning team – the Yankees. Now, granted, we don’t all have Steinbrenner’s budget, but his theory of paying a little extra for quality is excellent advice. Even if your margins suffer in the short term, this is how you’ll grow your business long-term. Treat your employees with care, and consider their salaries carefully.