It’s not enough to have a good idea (or even a great idea).
It’s not enough to really want to run your own business.
It’s not enough to have financial backing.
It’s not enough to have support of friends, family, and/or colleagues in the field.
It’s not enough to have a customer base waiting for your product or service.
It’s not enough to be driven by ambition/hopes/dreams.
It’s not enough to have the appropriate training/qualifications/experience.
Believe it or not, you can start, and run, a successful business without many of these factors. When I started in the yarn world, I didn’t have:
- Financial backing
- Contacts in the field
- Training or qualifications
Neither did Tony. Neither did some of my good friends and colleagues, who I respect and admire.
But what we did have made up for what we lacked. These are the factors that seldom get talked about, but that you really CANNOT do without, no matter how many more obvious advantages you have got:
- Respect for the customers
- Good communication skills
- Willingness to learn
- Modest expectations
- A strong work ethic
Let me go through these one by one, and explain what I mean.
I’m listing this first, because to me, it is the most important of all qualities that you bring to a business. You have to be honest first of all with yourself. You have to be aware of your own faults and weak areas, in order to build your business in a way that will work for you. And you absolutely have to be honest with your customers/clients. No matter what your business field is, you cannot succeed without a strong element of trust between you and your customers. This trust has to be earned. I cannot emphasise that strongly enough.
Respect for customers:
This is also paramount, and without it, you won’t feel the need to be honest in your dealings with customers. If you have respect for them, you will be aware that they are intelligent, hard working people, just like you. You won’t try to palm off shoddy goods or services on them. You will respect their wishes, their feedback, and the gift of their custom. You have competitors, and your customers could just as easily spend their money with them. If they choose you, show gratitude. Treat them with kindness and dignity. It’s an old maxim, but no less true for that:
The customer is always right.
Good communication skills:
Whatever your field of business, you cannot succeed without being a good communicator. Your customers/clients have the right to know exactly what is going on. This is especially important if your business is web based. You do not have a shop/office that they can walk into to get your attention. If you rely on emails as your primary way of communicating with customers, then be conscientious about answering them. Sometimes things come up, and there are delays, but in general, it’s a wise policy to try to answer emails/messages within 12-24 hours. Even if that reply is a brief, thank you for your message, I will get back to you fully in the next day. Yes, this will mean that you are answering emails on weekends and evenings, but you know what? Suck it up. That’s the price you pay for the convenience of running a business from your own home/chosen location. Don’t EVER tell customers that you are too busy to answer them, that your inbox is being deluged, that they can’t contact you in X manner, because you will no longer respond. If you can’t keep up, get help. Don’t keep your customers waiting. It’s bad manners, pure and simple. People are basicallygood, reasonable, understanding, and decent. When you have problems, just tell them. All they ask – and have the right to expect – is to know what’s going on. You’ll be surprised how much wiggle room most people will be willing to give you when you need it, if you just let them in on what’s happening.
I don’t suppose you’ll find this one in any How To Get Ahead In Business manual, but it’s an important one, nonetheless. If you have humility, you will be aware of your limitations. You won’t bite off more than you can chew. You won’t take on projects that you are unable to complete.
You also need humility for when things go wrong. And they will. You need to be able to recognise where you were at fault. You need to be ready and willing to apologise. Let me say this again:
The customer is always right!!!
Yes, there are successful businesses out there who are unethical and don’t show integrity. But are they really successful? If you act without integrity, your customers will find you out. They will tell others. Yes, you may be able to have a quick turnover of customers, always finding new innocent ones to palm off shoddy goods/services/practices on, but eventually you will run out. And you’ll be left with no business to speak of, and no self worth or conscience too. Don’t be tempted to shortcut the challenges of business by acting without integrity. It’s NOT worth it.
Willingness to learn:
There will always be so much to learn. New skills, new challenges, new opportunities. Fresh mistakes to be made and learned from. You will never truly be an expert in your field. The moment you think that you are, you’ve lost the plot. Again, this comes back to humility. Admit that there will always be someone who knows more than you, that has more experience than you. Ask for help, for guidance. Be willing to learn, to grow, to adapt. This is especially important in a poor economy climate. It can mean the difference between having a business, and losing a business.
I can’t tell you how many businesses I’ve seen flounder and crash because of having excessive ambition and grandiose ideas. I’ve even worked for some. When people go into business with raging ambition, and not much else, they waste good opportunities, and pursue poor ones. They throw money at everything, and then wonder why the business cannot function. They spread themselves far too thinly, far too quickly. A classic mistake is branching out, before your initial business is established. Don’t do it!!!!! It never, ever, ever works. Think small, especially at the beginning. Concentrate your energy and time and money on one thing.
A strong work ethic:
Working for yourself is challenging. Running a business is hard. The buck stops with you. You can’t evade responsibility, or hard work. If you want to work a 37 hour week with paid holidays, you need employment. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing! There are times when I think longingly of how simple life would be if I worked for someone else. When you run your own business, it does impact on your whole life, and even more so if you run it from your home. You will have to be willing to make sacrifices, a lot of the time. You will probably have to work far harder for your income than you would if you were in employment. There are perks, and I couldn’t actually go back to working for someone else, so don’t get me wrong! But there’s no getting away from the fact that you have to work very hard, and that’s still the case if you have employees. So, you need a strong work ethic, you need to be self motivated, and you need to be willing and ready to push yourself, no matter what is going on in your personal life.
Your business is like another member of the family. You have to be committed to it, for better or worse, for richer or poorer. It will go through very bad times, where you want to run away from it and from all your responsibility. You can’t. Simple as that. You have to see the bad times through, just keep doing what you have to do, and be patient. Every day is an investment. If you have the right attitude, if you are totally committed, when problems come up, you will be ready to look for solutions, instead of looking for a quick get-out.
Running your own business is an absolute privilege. I wouldn’t change it, for anything in the world. It has enriched our lives, and shaped them too. I am grateful every single day for Posh Yarn. I have made many mistakes, had many difficult times, but I’ve learned so much too, and had some wonderful times. I don’t pretend to be a business expert, but I do have some experience now, and I’m willing to pass that along. I find it more frustrating than I can possibly express, when I see people in business making stupid mistakes, acting rashly, treating their customers with disrespect or unethically. If my little bit of experience and perspective can help one person to run their business more smoothly, more successfully, then I’m glad to share it.