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Tips From the Top: Small Business Owners Reveal Their Secrets to Success

written by: •edited by: Carly Stockwell•updated: 11/20/2015

Starting out on your own business venture can be a daunting experience. With so much to think about you might find yourself wondering if you made the right decision, especially when you are confronted with numerous hurdles before you can even get started.

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    So, if you are considering quitting your current role and starting your own business, what should you take into account? Here, business owners discuss what they would have done differently and offer some sound advice for those who are about to set up shop.

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    The Importance of Adaptability

    Jared Carrizales, founder of US based online marketing firm Heroic Search, believes that the ability to be able to change course and adapt to different circumstances is one of the most important things someone starting out in their own business should remember.

    He said: “A poor business owner thinks reactively, a great business owner thinks proactively. Understanding problems before they become problems will put you ahead of most small business owners in operation. That same mentality will allow you to surge ahead when competition is on your heels.

    “At the end of the day, it all depends on you. You need to understand profit margins, churn rates, scalability, and your most productive work hours. No one is going to figure that out for you and unless you understand what those measurements/thresholds are right away, you're going to dig yourself a hole that it's going to be difficult to get out of."

    Starting up your own business is more than creating a website and ordering business cards. You need to consider everything from the basics, such as licensing for your business name, to locating a premises to work from.

    When considering if he would’ve done anything differently, Jared reflected that he would: “…choose my first employee/partner more intelligently. I think it's easy to go wrong here, but it's worth the due diligence to make sure that you're a good match. Regardless of their role, they're going to be your right hand, so ensuring that they're up for the task is well worth it."

    It’s imperative that any new business, especially one in its very early stages, chooses people who share the same vision as the founder to ensure targets are met and work is completed to a high standard.

    “We currently have three full time team members, as well as an additional two part time members. Growing has been hard to get right. It's a classic ‘chicken before the egg’ scenario - should you hire first, or get the additional client first?

    “In our experience we've always hired first before getting the client. This allows us to ensure a smooth on-boarding process (as opposed to scrambling), and lets them get to know the business before taking control of a client's presence." Jared said.

    It’s also important that a small business works out how best to target its demographic in the early stages. This means testing out marketing techniques and discerning what method brings in the most response. Many small businesses start out by driving all their efforts into social media, which more than likely involves setting up a Facebook page and promoting their products through it.

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    From Deviant Art to Successful Business

    Many self taught artists and crafters can be found on the social media site, creating pages that are initially liked by their friends, who feel obliged to show support. They then accumulate more likes as time goes on and their work is shared. One such example of this is self taught artist Andy Tolley, who created his Facebook page after family members urged him to get his work out there and seen by more people.

    After initially starting out on Deviant Art, a specialist artist website, Andy quickly discovered that people enjoyed seeing his drawings of big cats, Marvel characters and famous people and within a couple of weeks he was being contacted by followers, asking about commissioning pieces. While he still works full time, and his drawing business is undertaken on the side, it could be easily expanded upon to become a full time way of making money now that the important groundwork has been laid.

    As a business, he has worked out where the biggest response comes from and utilised it to expand his reach. Many of his images are now viewed about 500 times when posted which, considering he only has 267 followers at the time of writing, is a great example of how social media and the right marketing tactics can really help small businesses to expand their horizons.

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    A Passion for Pets

    Kayleigh Petrusevičius, owner of dog walking and pet care company Walk this Way, spent £3,000 on marketing when she first started out but only landed two clients as a result. “It's very frustrating but, as the saying goes, word of mouth is best, as people trust their friends or families recommendations. But unfortunately you can't speed up word of mouth or control it!" Kayleigh said. “My website and Facebook page also helped me, as I encouraged my clients who have an account to leave reviews on there."

    Kayleigh said that what she loves most about working for herself, and running a small business, is that she gets to meet a wide array of people and that she now has “…some great (new) friends, however there are some people who treat you purely as staff. This shocked me to start with but you have to put into perspective that you are providing people with a service so try and be as polite and helpful as you can and don't take anything too much to heart."

    Walk this Way started as a business after Kayleigh’s job at Woburn Zoo became too expensive to maintain. “Due to wages being so low and a 60 mile round trip to work each day, I couldn't afford to work there anymore sadly." Kayleigh said. “I just wanted a job with animals but that gave me more financial security than Woburn. My mother suggested setting up my own business providing pet care services, as it combined my desire to be outside with my love of animals. My parents have been self employed for a long time so they helped me a lot to start up."

    Kayleigh believes that patience is the most important thing when it comes to running a small business: “To start with you will not earn a lot. It took me around a year to build up my client portfolio, so be prepared to have to work an additional part time job alongside your own business to start with. But over time you will get there just with patience."

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    A Turn for the Worst Becomes a Turn for the Best

    Graphic designer Gary Curtis, owner of the company Zero Six Design, was forced into self-employment due to redundancy in 2014, but now says he wouldn’t change how things turned out. Working from home, with his Schnauzer puppy Travis to keep him company, Gary can now invest his time into projects he has personally chosen. He is now definitely in his element when it comes to his career path and is expanding his client list regularly.

    “You need to have a strong, strict work ethic." Gary said, when asked what people should consider first, when deciding whether to start their own business. “Make sure you work on projects quickly and to the best of your abilities. Do that little bit extra, if possible, people notice.

    “Also, what is your goal when starting your business? To make more money, have more spare time, work on better projects? It's important you have these things in mind and stick to them. They are the reason you started after all."

    For a one-man band like Gary, it’s important that he gains the respect and trust from his clients, to continue working on and expanding the business. “Make sure you are available to take calls. Make sure you respond to emails. It sounds basic but it is human nature to let things slide sometimes," he said.

    Gary also stressed that working for yourself requires more self-discipline than if you had to turn up to an office at a certain time and, as a result, it’s imperative you don’t let yourself slack just because there’s not a big boss breathing down your neck.

    “Make sure you are at your desk working in the morning and ensure the work space is as nice as you can make it. You will enjoy working in it more." Gary said. “I have always preferred to get things done early and stop those 'employed style' late nights. Likewise, you should enjoy the moments you have when you are not busy. Don't panic and enjoy having some freedom outside the working hours. Enjoy being your own boss."

    When it comes down to it, though, there are some things Gary would change about how he initially went about setting up his own business: “I would have sorted out my marketing before starting." He confessed.

    “As my business grew slowly, both working full time and freelance, marketing never seemed important. Doing it once you are up and running and busy is tricky and it always becomes secondary to the actual work. It's worth having [a marketing plan] in place, in case you lose a client or want to attract new business.

    “Invoicing was [also] my biggest slip up. I would be so into doing a good job and getting the work done that I forgot to invoice afterwards. It's important!"

    When it comes to marketing your small business, Gary recommends that you never forget the importance of word of mouth recommendations. “I cannot stress how important that is." He said. “People in business want a good service and stress free relationships. If you do a good job for one, often they will help friends and business partners by touting your service.

    “Secondly, get your online presence spot on. Make it have depth, to look like you have plenty of experience, and make it all match up and gel together. Make it simple to use too, a good website will often sell your business for you. New clients often mention my other projects as 'the sort of thing they are after'."

    If after all that you’re still in need of some inspiration, Helloprint have created a small business start-up guide designed to walk you through the opening few months of a burgeoning business venture, which you can take a look at here.

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    Key Takeaways

    There are many lessons to be learnt when it comes to setting up your own business and you might find that you’ve made a mistake down the line but no start up is going to run completely smoothly. There will be problems to overcome and issues to rectify but this is a great way of testing your ability as a small business owner and a chance to experience the real world of being your own boss.

    Plan well, market yourself properly and, most of all, enjoy having the freedom to take on the work you want to do, when you want to do it… then expand from there!

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    About the Author: Alex Jones is a freelance writer based in the UK. Specialising in current affairs, his work can be found in a number influential publications including the Huffington Post and the Daily Record.