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8 Rules for Running a Successful Business

written by: Heidi Wiesenfelder•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/13/2010

You've made the decision to become an entrepreneur and start your own business. What do you need to know to run your business effectively and be successful?

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    1. Establish your vision, mission and values.

    In order to run your business successfully, you need to be clear on what you are striving for and how you will get there. Your vision statement clarifies how your business or the world will look if you are successful. Your mission statement describes the general methods you will use for accomplishing that. And your values establish your guidelines for decision making regarding your business operations and interactions. When you need to make difficult decisions, review your vision and values and make sure that your choice is in line with them.

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    2. Set business goals.

    As a new entrepreneur, you may find it tempting to just get going and do whatever you do. While this does work for some business owners, more often this approach does not lead to long term success and a sustainable business. Depending on your style and your business, you may establish very detailed goals for each area and level of your business, or you may set high-level goals such as number of client meetings to hold per week or amount of income you need each month. Either way, be realistic but hopeful in setting goals and then follow through with achieving them.

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    3. Track your progress.

    Image by arinas74 via stock.xchng As the old saying goes, you cannot control what you cannot measure. Determine how to measure your business performance, and then do so on an ongoing basis. You should always have a current sense of how your business is performing financially, and of the efficiency and effectiveness of your people and processes. Only by tracking your business performance will you be able to assess your progress and identify improvement needs.

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    4. Treat feedback as a gift.

    As a business owner, you will have countless opportunities to find out what others think about your products or services, your business processes, and the way you interact with people. Treat this information as a valuable gift, even if it seems like criticism. Any insights into how your customers, employees, or the public view your business can help you determine what is working and where you have opportunities for improvement.

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    5. Demand and model accountability.

    Hold your employees, business partners, and vendors accountable for setting expectations and meeting their commitments. Model this behavior by holding yourself accountable, in turn. Be sure you can meet your commitments to others, and provide proper communication when obstacles arise that put delivery of a service or product at risk. Others will respect your frankness and prompt communication and you will develop strong business relationships that will serve you long term.

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    6. Separate business and personal finances.

    Get a separate bank account and credit or debit card for your business. It may be tempting, particularly for sole proprietors just starting out in business, to use one set of accounts for both personal and business expenses. This makes it very difficult to track your business finances appropriately and can cause trouble as your business grows. It is easier to separate your finances from the beginning than to try to break them out after your business is in operation for a while. Also, some agencies view having a dedicated business bank account and books as evidence of legitimate business activity.

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    7. Seek continuous improvement.

    It is not enough to just set goals once, measure your progress toward reaching them, and then assume you are successful. James Ray, one of the experts profiled in the movie, The Secret, says "If you are not growing you are dying." He is referring to individuals, but this is true for businesses, too. Always track your business performance in key areas such as profitability, growth, employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction, and watch for opportunities to make improvements.

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    8. Balance current business with seeking new business.

    Running your own business presents many challenges, one of which is the ongoing need to balance the work you are currently doing for clients and customers with the need to continue marketing and seeking additional business. Do not fall into the trap of getting so busy with one that you neglect the other. It is okay to focus more on one or the other at any given time, but have a plan for when you will resume marketing after a period of heavy project work, or when you will get back to actually managing operations after dedicating substantial time to recruiting clients.