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Ten Lessons From A Small Business Owner

Owning your own business is satisfying, exciting, and at times, frustrating. You are “your own boss,” but you also take on the responsibilities of being the boss. If you’re thinking about starting your own business, or if you’re on the learning curve after having taken the plunge, here are a few lessons from some experienced veterans.

1. Focus is more important that hours.
Make no mistake: to be successful, you’ll spend a lot of time—after hours and on weekends—to build your business and to keep customers happy. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking extra hours are always productive. Keep asking yourself, “is this what’s most important?” Learn to focus on the things that matter. You’ll trim down your time, and you’ll be much more effective.

2. Make a plan. Then destroy it when you have to.
Studies show that the difference between people who are successful and those who aren’t typically is that the successful people plan. But successful folks are also flexible. As you create a business, a plan is essential. But so is the courage to modify it as needed because of changes in markets, resources, and your growing understanding of your company.

3. Perfect your elevator pitch.
Many people struggle when asked what they do and why it’s of value. Spend some time perfecting your “elevator pitch,” the 30-to-60 second explanation of what you do and why your customers use you. This has an added benefit: it often helps you fine tune your mission statement so it’s more pithy and relevant.

4. Invest in technology. And invest the time to know how to use it.
We’re big fans of technology, because it makes you more efficient. But it only works if you know how to use it. Don’t buy tech for tech’s sake. Choose the items that are going to make a difference in how you work. And put them to use.

5. A bloody nose is a lesson.
You’re going to make painful mistakes. And sometimes the only way to learn is to do it painfully. Realize these are lessons. Make the most of them.

6. Remember the advice of that sage philosopher, Clint Eastwood: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”
Clint was tough, but knew that he didn’t know everything. Don’t try to do everything yourself, even though you’ll have to do virtually everything involved with your business at some point. Take note of the things that you’re not good at, and find help for those things. It’s more efficient and ultimately makes you more profitable.

7. “A company of giants.”
The great adman David Ogilvy once said, “hire people bigger than you are, and you become a company of giants.” Entrepreneurs by nature try to keep control over everything. Sometimes, that means not hiring people you think might be better than you are. Fight that mistake. It worked for Ogilvy—he went from being a failed farmer to head of one of the largest advertising agencies in the world.

8. To grow, do at least one new business thing every day.
When you’re busy, you can neglect looking for new business or promoting your company. But no client or customer lasts forever, and if you unexpectedly lose a big chunk of business, it can take months or years to recover if you have to ramp up from a standing start. Do one new business thing a day—a phone call, a letter, a social media post—to maintain your visibility. If you’re in a business where your customer base is always changing, you have to keep promoting and advertising even when you’re busy.

9. The hardest part of the job is getting paid.
Your cash flow is critical, especially when you’re starting out, and it’s tempting to be optimistic when you start seeing your receivables grow. But expect delays on payment, and stay proactive—but polite—on chasing customers who start getting behind. If you anticipate delays, you’re more likely to be pleasantly surprised than panicked when you’re out of cash.

10. Count yourself lucky.
You get to work for yourself, doing something you enjoy. You can grow your company to create more income, rather than waiting for a raise. You can challenge yourself. These are not small things.

Smart Ideas. For Free.

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Kelley’s role at RTL Digital Media covers a spectrum of design and production functions, including animation, catalog design, and trade show design with an e-commerce focus. She puts extra energy and life into our clients’ projects.  She knows how to make design fit perfectly—and strategically—into an organization’s branding and messaging.

Kelley’s experience includes directing the creative and artistic vision for Geneologie, an online and catalog fashion resource.  In three years, she was promoted four times, leading the in-house promotional marketing efforts. She built the vision, strategy and delivery teams that focus on Direct Mail pieces including catalogs, apparel, packaging, and design production.

Kelley previously served in a designer capacity assisting Americasmart, creating product displays, and was an intern with Denmark Ad Agency, where she created presentations, print graphics, and branding packages. She has received awards for her designs and invests her personal time with charities donating artistic help, graphics, and mentoring.