When you are running a business, it’s perfectly natural to want to do everything on your own. You’re looking to cut as many costs as possible, so doing your own books, taxes, advertising and anything else seems like a reasonable decision.

Let’s read that again, this time with the correct emphasis.

Doing your own books, taxes, advertising and anything else seems like a reasonable decision. See where I’m going here? The fact is, you can’t do everything yourself, nor should you. Here is a list of people you should consider hiring if you want your business to have the best chance of success.

1.) Professional Accountant. Taxes are nothing to joke about. One slip-up could cost thousands of dollars in fees and wasted time, not to mention legal issues and a damaged company reputation. Get your taxes done right by someone how knows what they’re doing. 

2.) Lawyer. And speaking of legal issues, a decent lawyer is essential. Your company may be held liable for a number of things, and in the unfortunate instance that a problem should arise, every contract or written agreement is going to be gone over with the most intense of scrutiny. It would be wise to do this while drafting up the contracts. You’ll want to make sure any potential issues are discussed long before you find yourself in hot water. And if you do find yourself in hot water, you’re going to want a good business lawyer on your side, especially one that already knows your business inside and out.

3.) Professional Web Designer. If you don’t have a website, you’re already behind, plain and simple. Did you know over 64% of adults under 25 years old don’t even own a phonebook? And why would they, they can find everything they need on the internet! You need a website, but a site that is messy and difficult to navigate won’t do you any good. A professional web designer will give your business the web presence it needs to be successful.

4.) Social Media Expert. The phrase, “adapt or die” hasn’t been around for nothing, and in this day and age social media is an essential part of business. Not only does it provide free marketing to a constantly growing and evolving audience (it costs nothing to have your own Facebook page or Twitter account), but it also gives your customers additional ways of interacting with you. Hiring someone who is proficient in the ways of social media helps give your business the identity and presence you want it to have. 

 
 
Every new experience comes with a learning curve. The first time you bake an apple pie, you realize you needed a touch more cinnamon and make a mental note for next time. The first time you drive a new car you realize the brakes are a bit more sensitive, and adjust yourself accordingly. Basically, the first time you have ever taken on a new venture you have learned a few things for yourself.

But running your own business is different. It takes an immense amount of time and effort to open your business, and one mistake may cost you everything; your reputation, future clients and even your entire life savings. So to keep you a few steps ahead of the game, here is a list of the three most common regrets for first time business owners.

1.) Being unprepared for growth. Every owner hopes their business will be an immediate success, but very few are prepared for when it happens. Being prepared means you have the proper personnel needed to handle the increase in work (shipping and manufacturing, for example), the skills and equipment to keep everything organized and the ability to have effective communication and collaboration among your employees. Remember, getting new customers isn’t too tricky; keeping them is.

2.) Failing to keep a database from the start. Many people put the record keeping tasks to the back burner when they open a new business. After all, they only have six consistent customers, so why not just worry about the customers you have and deal with more as they come? No problem, right? Not quite. This might have been a fine business strategy when you were 12 and running a lemonade stand, but not anymore. You need to have an organized and up-to-date database from day one, including your list of customers, their contact information and purchase receipts.  

3.) Hiring friends and family. This tends to be one of the most common business mistakes of all time, so we’re going to reiterate its importance: don’t hire someone because you like them, hire someone because they are the best possible person for that job. When you hire someone based on their likeable personality alone, you are setting yourself up for two major issues: the job won’t be done with the quality you’re expecting and bridges could be burned in the process. Nothing ruins a friendship like having to fire your friend, and you don’t want to put yourself (or a loved one) in that situation.  

 
 
No one wants to end up in court on account of something someone overlooked, especially when that something could turn out to be illegal. No one is perfect though, and even the most innocent of owners will make a mistake now and then, so here are some guidelines to make sure whatever mistakes are made, none of them will land you in hot water with the judge.

1.) Have a No-Tolerance policy for illegal behavior. That means performing random drug tests and following all rules and regulations. Are you handling food? Get licensed. Are your workers working more than 40 hours a week? Pay them overtime. The law is the law for a reason, and you need to follow it. 

2.) Have an employee handbook. However, certain rules can be a bit gray, so before you go off expecting your staff to be mind-readers, make sure they all have a copy of all the companies policies; what is or isn’t a violation, what happens should a violation take place, etc. It’s also important to have each employee sign a form acknowledging they’ve read and understood the handbook, ensuring everyone is on the same page

3.) Pay your taxes and cooperate with government officials. If someone from the IRS stops by your place of business, don’t immediately become defensive. After all, they could just be here to clear up a few things, meaning you haven’t done anything wrong and you won’t be getting in trouble for anything. Just in case though…

4.) Keep records. Tax returns, receipts, signed forms and other paperwork is given to you for a reason; as a written record of your transactions and policies. If you need to prove your innocence, the easiest way to do that is having the paperwork backing it up.

5.) Do background checks. You need to know who you’re hiring, plain and simple. If you run a daycare, you need to be able to promise parents that their children won’t be coming into contact with any registered sexual offenders. If you run a delivery company, you’ll need to make sure your drivers have a clean driving record, which means 16 DUI’s is definitely going to be a deal-breaker. In order to trust your staff implicitly, you need to know who they are.

6.) Investigate complaints. There is no quicker way to find yourself in hot water than to have a list of complaints that you do nothing about. If you receive a complaint, whether it’s from an employee or a customer, it is absolutely essential that you look into the issue. And if it is a serious issue, like allegations of sexual harassment, you need to inform the correct authorities.

 
 
Are you in love with your business partner?  Not just for their love of numbers, the company you have created together, or their customer service skills, but their cute little nose, their manly smell or the way they make your knees go weak with a passionate kiss?

Whoa, back up.  Passionate kiss?  Can entrepreneurs do that sort of thing?  

They can and they do!  Even though the U.S. Census Bureau does not provide exact data on the number of businesses own by couples, they do show that approximately 3 million businesses are owned equally by men and women, estimating that the vast majority of these are businesses owned by an “entrepreneurial couple”. It would wrong of us to assume that none of these couples are romantically involved. Out of 3 million…that sure is a lot of lovin’ in the office. 

In addition, the phenomenon occurs even more regularly when applied to small businesses with less than 10 employees.  Apparently when people live together, laugh together and decide to build a life together, the imagined life of working side by side through the long hours required of business ownership is a logical next step.  And it is.  They trust each other, they enjoy being together and they are often passionate about the same things.  These couples jump into the business with all of the passion that got them into bed the first time and it is a beautiful, passionate journey; most of the time.

To ensure it is a passionate and wonderful journey all of the time, here are 5 things to consider:

1.  Take a break.  Not from the business, but from each other.  Go for a walk, go on vacation and go out with friends…alone.  You simply have to have moments apart so you have something to talk about when you come back together.  No one wants to be the boring folks ignoring each other over dinner and no one wants to be the bickering couple either.  Spending time in separate locations keeps you both interesting and able to be just a little bit nicer when you are together.

2.  Take care of the couple first.  Someday the kids will be gone, the business will be gone and you will be left staring at the person you decided to build a life with.  Don’t wake up and wonder how you ended up in bed with a stranger.  Be romantic.  Be spontaneous.  Be a flirt.  Step away from everything but each other once in a while.  You deserve it.

3. Set clear goals.  There is nothing worse than working side by side hour after hour only to realize you were both going in different directions.  Knowing where you are going, when you want to get there and who is doing which tasks is essential.  Deciding your direction now, when everyone is calm, is a better plan than waiting till you hit a fork in the road; because that fork could very well be used to stab someone in the leg.

4.  Hire help.  Someone out there likes to clean toilets and I bet it is neither of you.  Someone also knows how to fix a computer, balance the books, and run social media.  Let them.  Make a list of everything that needs to be done- and what has to be done by you - then farm out the rest.  The trick is to use the time you are not doing menial tasks to earn money to pay for the people doing those tasks or to take care of the couple as talked about in point two.

5.  Don’t be the boss.  You can kiss your entrepreneurial partner, but you probably don’t want to kiss the boss.  The boss is a Big Ol’ Stinking Slob.  They think they are always right, use volume and intimidation instead of effective communication and would rather watch others work than participate in work.  If you are acting like the boss and your partner doesn’t like it you can be fired.  That firing usually means the kids and the house are divided and happily ever after is not going to be the end of your story.  Be kind.  Be helpful.  Be a partner.  Don’t be a stinker: don’t be a boss.

Bonus Point: You need other people.  And you have to let them into this crazy project you are doing together.  Enlist the help of a coach, an accountant, a lawyer and probably a therapist (better early on than when it is too late!).  Well-meaning friends and family do not know what you are going through, and truth be told, you probably don’t either.  There are people out there who do, and people who can help you lay out a game plan that will keep you sane, prosperous and most importantly, together.  Let them. 

Now go kiss your big ol bundle of entrepreneurial passion- and don’t stop till their knees go weak.  But, do it fast, you have work to do.
 
 
Let’s face it; everyone has a few personality traits that can be a bit of a…pain in the neck. But for the most part, they’re harmful. So you don’t like it when your green beans touch your pork-chop, or you tend to talk a little too long when you’re on the phone, it’s probably not going to be the downfall of your business or the unraveling of your family. The following personality traits, however, are going to cause some serious difficulties in your life, and it’s recommended that you do something to make some changes, stat.

1.) You focus on the negative. No one wants to be around a Debbie Downer, but have you ever tried working for one? Don’t defend yourself by saying, “Well there’s always room for improvement.” Sometimes a job well done is just a job well done, and it needs to be left at that. Could your employee have turned in that report a day sooner? Would you have done anything with it if it had been turned in a day sooner? No? Then let it go. No one will want to work for you if nothing they do is ever good enough. 

2.) You misplace your frustrations. Everyone has a bad day once in a while, but that doesn’t mean you are allowed to scream at your employees when you are really still upset about your alarm not going off this morning. Or maybe you yell at your husband during your late night phone call when in reality you just haven’t seen him in a month and you miss him. If you’re upset about something, address it. Don’t let your receptionist or your spouse take the brunt of your bad mood.

3.) You’re apathetic. An individual who is apathetic appears to not care. You may care a great deal about the goings on in your daily life, but you have to act like it for others to get it. An example would be if a costly mistake occurs and you say, “Oh well, let’s not do it again.” A caring person would want to determine why the mistake was made and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. Remember, if you don’t care about the work being done, why would anyone else?

4.) You nag. A nagging personality is one of the most draining personalities to be around, and why? Because you are never fully alone when you are with a nagger. Everything you do is under constant scrutiny. Are you going to turn that in on time? Are you doing that right? Will they like it? Are you following all the directions? Exhausting, isn’t it? So stop. When you ask someone to do something, let them do it. Their process for completing a task is fully their own; you don’t have a say. Assign a task and then wait until either the task is complete or the deadline arrives before you make your critiques.

5.) You don’t listen. Knowing how to really listen (and I mean really listen, not just sit there quietly waiting for the other person to finish so you can say whatever it is you want to say), is one of the most invaluable traits there is. The fact is, you are not always right and you do not know everything. If you need to make a conscious effort to stop talking, then do it.

The problem with most of these personality traits is that the people that have them don’t realize they have them. Take a second to really examine yourself, every day, to make sure you’re not falling into one of these traps. The most successful teams are happy teams, and you want a happy, successful team!

 
 
Fact: you need teamwork. In order for any organization (a place of business, your family, a charity, etc.) to run successfully, its members need to understand the concept of effective teamwork.

And therein appears the essential word: effective. It’s one thing to say you are running a team, but it’s quite another to run that team effectively. Here are a few ways to make sure your team is truly living up to its potential.

1.) Have clearly defined goals. In order to get the most out of your team, you need to have a clearly defined goal that you are working toward as a group. In addition, it’s important to be specific. “Increase efficiency” sounds good, but it’s a horrible goal because it could mean anything. “Increase the amount work orders processed between 3:00 and 5:00 pm” on the other hand, lets everyone know exactly what they are working toward and what will be considered a success. If they found a way to increase the amount of work orders processed between 10:00 and 11:00 in the morning, for example, it would be increasing efficiency, but not in the specific way you might want it to be increased. 

2.) Break up the work. Delegating one specific task to one person and another specific task to another person lessons the burden of the problem. It takes a huge, intimidating obstacle and turns it into many small, manageable obstacles. Plus, it gives each person a part of the solution that they can be accountable for.

3.) Hold frequent meetings to review progress. If a specific person is unaware of the progress being made by other members of the group, they can start to feel like they are doing all the work, even though they are still in charge of a single component. Having meetings to discuss progress gives team members a chance to see the progress of the issue as a whole. 

Furthermore, frequent meetings allows the team to see what is working and what is not, and provides a chance for people to offer valuable input. 

4.) Do the little things. Like any job, working on one thing for a long period of time can be grueling, so try to lighten the mood occasionally. Think you aren’t there to bring your employees donuts and juice when they should be happy they simply have a job? Fair enough, but this isn’t an article about how to spoil your employees, it’s an article about how to get the most out of your team. Little things go a long way, so suck it up and bring in some muffins once in a while. 

5.) Celebrate successes publicly. Did your team accomplish the goal? Let everyone know! Announce it in the company newsletter and list the team members that made it possible. Have a company celebratory pot luck and let participating team members wear matching T-shirts to stand out. When the team gets to take credit for the solution, it makes them more eager to solve other problems, and when team members are publicly praised for their work, it makes other members of the company eager to participate in solving the next company issue. 

 
 
Starting a business is tough, and keeping a business going can be tougher still. Not only are you in charge of everything, but you are also responsible for everything, which can feel like quite a burden. Don’t worry though; it’s all going to be all right. All you have to do is make yourself into the best businessperson you can, preparing yourself for dealing with the trials and tribulations that come with being your own boss. Here are three Essentials:

1.) Have a clear set of goals and values. Knowing what you want is essential of any business plan, but understand what you are willing to do to get there is an entirely different story. The area of business ethics seems to be quite an unspoken “guideline” to many companies, but the truth is it’s a component of doing business that’s extremely paramount.

Take my friend, for example, who runs an ice cream truck. All of her ice cream product comes from Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream, a locally owned and managed business. If she were to buy her product from Costco or Walmart, she could absolutely get it for a lower price (thereby increasing her profit ratio), but the quality just wouldn’t be the same. It’s worth it to her to serve only the best ice cream available, which has kept her customers coming back year after year.

Before you go into business, make sure you know where your values lie. That way, when a decision comes up that needs an immediate answer; you won’t have to waste valuable time deciding between the right option and the option that doesn’t mold with your business values.

2.) Communicate often and clearly. Any group of people, whether it’s a business, a family or just a close-knit group of friends cannot function properly without effective communication. That means make sure your clients and employees have a clear understanding of everything that is going on and everything that is required of them. Give customers frequent updates (when their product is set to arrive, how that architectural drawing they hired you to do is coming along), and give employees clear-cut instructions.

And don’t forget the most important part of effective communication: listening. It’s vital that you are listening to your customer’s wants and needs and your employee’s concerns and ideas. A successful business is an evolving business, and the best way to make sure you’re an evolving business is to have an open line of communication.

3.) Nip problems in the bud. It’s incredibly important to catch problems as they arise. Have there been some issues with your product arriving on time? Sit down and figure out if a different shipping schedule needs to be put into place. Is there an employee with a bad attitude? Bring them into your office and take care of it. Maybe they are going through a difficult time at home, or maybe there has just been a misunderstanding that needs to be straightened out. Either way, it’s important to make sure small problems don’t turn into larger, more significant (and more damaging) problems. 

What tips do you have for running a successful business
 
 
In today’s fast-paced business world, effective communication is everything. Without it, things can fall apart in a heartbeat. Combine that with the stress of today’s economy, where many employees are terrified of losing their jobs, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster. So here are a few ways to ensure effective communication is taking place in your place of business.

1.) Listen. Yes, this means you are going to have to stop interrupting. By far the most important part of effective communication is listening to the other person. So many people are already forming ideas in their heads of what they want to say in return before the first person is done talking that they are missing out on important information. Give the speaker your undivided attention; it will be easier to make an informed decision when you have all the information anyway. 

2.) Have some perspective. This tip could also be called, “Know your audience.” Understand that it can be particularly difficult for an employee to communicate with their boss. Regardless of how warm or welcoming you attempt to be, you are still going to be at least slightly intimidating to your subordinates. Understanding where they are coming from will help you understand what they are trying to say, even if they are having a hard time getting it out.

3.) Be clear. One of the most important parts of effective communication is the communication part. Nothing is going to be resolved if you can’t actually articulate the information. Rambling for 20 minutes is only going to waste everyone’s time, so before you get started it might help to write down some bullet points, the main concept and a couple examples to help you illustrate your point (keep in mind you don’t need to use every example). Keep the information as short and simple as possible.

4.) Be open to ideas. Communication is a two-way street. If you ask for feedback and then become defensive with each critique, no one is going to want to voice their opinion. Likewise, if you need ideas for a project but laugh at the first idea to come your way, you’re going end up with very few ideas to look over. More so, understand that you don’t know everything. There are going to be ideas and concepts that you aren’t going to come up with. Someone else is going to have a brilliant idea once in a while, and don’t you want that person to be able to come to you when the genius strikes?

5.) Be genuine. No one wants to talk to a robot. Showing that you have a sense of humor and a warm heart will go a long way in making others feel comfortable around you. I’m not advocating an inappropriate amount of self-disclosure here, I’m just saying that it’s important for others to understand that yes, in fact, you are a fellow human being.

What are your tips for effective communication?

 
 
While you may think this seems like a topic that is only applicable to small business owners, think again. What about your daughter that’s in Girl Scouts? Or your son that will be selling coupon books around town in for his baseball team? What about that fundraiser at work you’re throwing? No matter what walk of life you’re involved in, knowing how to increase sales when you need to is quite a valuable skill.

1.) Have a goal. Simply saying, “I want to sell as many cupcakes today as I can!” may seem like a good idea, but you’re probably setting yourself up for smaller sales numbers. Instead, create a realistic goal that you would like to achieve, and then break that down into smaller goals. For example, maybe you’d like to sell 100 cupcakes by the end of the bake sale. That means, if you’re going to be there for 4 hours, that you need to sell cupcakes per hour. This smaller goal will let you know if you are on track to make your larger end objective or if you are falling off the pace.

2.) Create an incentive. Sure, just the small fact that you’re bringing in money by selling your product seems like a great incentive, but adding a different dimension, like making it a competition could really up your game. Going back to our bake sale example, maybe you have two tables set up. So create a competition between the two tables. Whichever tables sells fewer cupcakes has to take the other table out for lunch after the sale.

3.) Try to upsell. A classic example of an upsell is “supersizing.” They’ve already bought the product (maybe it’s an electronic device), so an upsell would be asking, “And do you want the two year warranty with that as well?” If you aren’t attempting to upsell, you’re missing out on quite a bit of business.

4.) Be good to your customers. Someone who sells a crappy product will only be in business for so long. The fact is, if customers feel like they’re being duped, they may give you a chance to prove otherwise, but it’s very rare that they would come back after being burned. So make sure to treat them right. Don’t push a product on someone that they clearly don’t need, and don’t push a product on someone that clearly can’t afford it. The end goal isn’t to sell as much as you can in one shot, the end goal is to make sure your business is in good standing with the customer so that they’ll think of you next time they need a similar service or product.

5.) Increase leads. You aren’t going to have much business if you don’t get out there and make a name for yourself! As a writer, it’s pretty unlikely that I am going to find work through people stumbling across a random article of mine. Instead, it’s much more productive to reach out to potential clients, inform them of my services and explain how I can help their business. If you run a carpet cleaning company, for example, don’t just put your number in the phone book, reach out to local property management companies and ask if they will recommend you for services when tenants move out. Every little bit helps.

How do you increase sales in different areas of your life?