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.  

 
 
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