No one starts a business with failure in mind. Every entrepreneur wants to build something that's not only successful in the short term, but something that also lasts. Here's what every business needs to live long and prosper.
1. The business plan: start with a map, not just an idea.
Even as a solopreneur, you need to write a business plan. Why? Because it's just so, so important. When it comes to the essential parts of a business, the plan is the bedrock on which everything else gets built. The work you put into it (or don't) will be in evidence not just today, but tomorrow too.
Building a business plan involves mapping out every aspect of your company, from what you do and why to how you'll reach out to potential clients, and how you deliver your service or product to actual clients. This is why a good plan is so foundational to a successful business.
2. Who you serve and how: "How can we help you?"
Your plan establishes who you are and what you do. It should also zero you in on who you're best suited to do it for. This is one of the key parts of a business because if you don't know who you best serve, then you don't know who to market your company to them (more on that, below). Truly successful businesses know who they're talking to, and can connect to their ideal clientele on an emotional level.
Ever heard of a "unique sales position"? Your USP is your positioning inside your industry, the unique way in which you solve a problem specific to your customers. Finding that USP is part of building the customer service culture of your business. You need to be able to tell potential customers the problem you'll solve for them, and explain that you'll do so in a way no one else can.
3. Company culture: going from "me" to "we".
You might have started this business from your living room, plugging away at it evenings and weekends before you were finally able to quit your day job. Now? You need employees. This involves not just paperwork and taxes, but also organizational planning and learning how to let go of the reins a little bit. You're still the owner, but you're not the only hand on the wheel steering your ship, not anymore.
Bringing employees into the fold in a team-building way involves letting them feel invested in what they do and how. If they know their ideas and work have an impact on daily life (and the bottom line), they're more likely to work for the success of your business. Happy employees work better, smarter, stay longer and make your job a whole lot easier.
4. Marketing: telling the world who you are.
You can have the sharpest plan and the most courteous, well-informed staff in the world, but without marketing, nothing much will happen. Because if you don't tell people who you are and what you do, how are they ever going to know they need you? Smart, successful marketing is one of those parts of a business everyone knows they need but not everyone takes the time to really develop.
Smart marketing means creating a story that is true to your business and speaks to who you're best suited to serve. It's also clear, consistent and engaging. Sound like a lot? It is, and it isn't. Both your business plan and your USP are also marketing tools, informing your brand and how you tell it's story.
5. Accountability: money management.
We're not just talking about cashing checks. Managing your money is also about paying bills, dealing with overhead, payroll, taxes... Keep a firm hand on where your money goes, and how many hands it passes through along the way. You can have a boatload of business but still be leaking money if you don't have a consistent system in place.
Once that starts to happen, finding and plugging those leaks can be an uphill slog. Better to have your money management systems in place from the start. These include keeping track of when your bills are do, establishing who can deposit or withdraw funds and ensuring your online financial information is as secure as your IT gal can make it.
6. Customer satisfaction: how do you measure success?
If your definition of success centers on that bottom line, you can easily lose sight of one of the key parts of a business absolutely every company needs to last: customer satisfaction. Being profit-driven takes your focus away from providing the best service and experience for your customers, and losing sight of that will totally affect that bottom line.
Return business and recommendations are what make your business. Not having those can break it. Even if you provide the world's best product and you have zero competition, if you have unhappy customers, you're in trouble. Because you will, eventually, have competition. And those unhappy customers will be the first to check them out.
7 Flexibility: adapting to customer needs.
In the long run, a business needs to remain aware of its customers' needs, how they might be changing, and be flexible enough to adapt and evolve to meet those needs. Relevancy means staying current and staying in motion. Getting locked into "we do things this way and only this way" serves no purpose in the long run, and will hamstring your business' growth.
Don't be afraid to add to or even move away from your core founding services or products, as demand dictates. A business that changes strategically, with its customers' needs in mind, is one that has what it takes to be around for quite some time.
Heather Adams is a creative content & copy writer specializing in business storytelling.