» Don’t do your own dentistry or brain surgery. Do what you do best, and hire other experts to do what they do best. Doing things that you have little experience in will take you much longer and you will end up with a half-baked job. The extra time it takes you could have been better spent doing the thing you are good at, and the money you make will more than make up for the cost of a professional.
» Do not be afraid to ask for advice. Build a network of experts who can help and advise you. Start looking at the Chamber of Commerce or SCORE, or among your fellow students if you are in a business class. Know who to ask when a problem arises that you can’t solve.
» Consider forming your own board of advisers early in your business. You will have a core group of experts to help and advise you. Santa Barbara is loaded with experienced business people who are willing to share their experience for free (although an occasional lunch is not out of the question).
» Establish a reciprocal network of people with whom you can exchange services or ideas. Trade your expertise for theirs or your products for theirs. You will both save time and money.
» Talk to people who are in the same business you are but who are not located in your (Santa Barbara?) area and are not competitors. Need advice about running a dry cleaning business? Call a dry cleaner in Thousand Oaks (or even Phoenix) and exchange ideas. (It may take three or four phone calls to find the right person.)
» Need help in a specialized area, such as marketing, accounting or engineering? Contact your local college or university and talk to the department chairman of that particular expertise. Ask him to refer you to one of the instructors, and ask the instructor if he would like to make your problem a class project. Or “hire” one of his top students as an unpaid intern. You will get some semi-professional help (especially if the instructor gets involved) and he or she will get work experience to add to a résumé.
» Do not be afraid of competition. Competition keeps you sharp. Beat the competition by studying their methods, and then change the rules and don’t tell them the new rules.
» Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Do the important things first, not the things that you enjoy or the things that are easier.
» Learn the basics of accounting — at least enough to understand the basics of financial statements and to be able to ask some “dumb” questions. Do (or have done) a profit and loss statement every month to keep track of how you’re doing. If you don’t know where you are, you can’t know what you need to do to get to where you want to be.
» Remember WIIFM. That stands for What’s In It For Me? It’s in every customer’s mind, whether or not he asks you the question. Answer it for him before he asks it. He will surely be interested in hearing why it will benefit him to buy from you.
» Sell the benefits, not the features. I don’t really care that you graduated first in your massage therapy class. I do care that you will give me the best massage in town for the price. I don’t care that the washing machine you are selling me is made out of stainless steel. I do care that it will never rust and not need to be replaced in two years.
» Have a very clear, accurate picture of your target market. Only then can you answer the key marketing question of, “How do I get to those people?” (in the most cost-effective way). Once you know your market, you can ask yourself, “Where do they congregate?” “What do they read?” “What other products do they buy?” “What do they need?,” etc., etc.
» Associate yourself with winners. Losers waste your time and depress you. You know who fits into which category.
» Consider speaking to local business or fraternal groups to tell them about your business or about your expertise. Give them some valuable information, samples or something of value. Don’t forget to bring lots of business cards.
» Ask for “open account” status from your suppliers as soon as possible. Open account is the opposite of COD, with which you have to pay in cash for every purchase and it means that your supplier will send you an invoice for your purchase. Then, you will usually have 30 days in which to pay that bill.
» Pay your suppliers promptly. Many businesses offer terms of 1 percent — 10 days, net 30. This means that you can take a 1 percent discount off the invoice if you pay it within the 10 days. Always try to take that discount. Although a 1 percent discount may not sound like much, it amounts to 12 percent interest over a year — a much better rate than you can get almost anywhere now. In addition, suppliers value customer who “discount” (i.e., pay within 10 days) and will favor them over other customers.
» Join a local business group such as Mastermind. These are groups of business people who meet on a regular basis to discuss mutual business problems. All businesses have similar problems, such as sales, marketing, collections, employees, taxes, insurance, etc. A problem that you presently have probably has been already faced and solved by another member of the group.