15 Small Business Lessons I Have Learned in 15 Years

Family portrait of a family, family businessman concept

In the past 15 years I have developed three successful small business.  When I started the first business, my oldest son (now a teenager in the image above) was the age of the toddler I am holding.  Below are some important business lessons I have learned along the way.

 1. Family is More Important than Business

This is perhaps the most important item on the list.  Your business will come and go.  But family is forever.  Your business is a means to an end—the end being to provide a living for your family.  Don’t ever lose sight of this.  Work hard, and then take time off to enjoy your family as much as possible.

2. Be Good to Your Customers

Put your customer first.  Seems like a simple lesson, but it is amazing how many businesses of all sizes don’t believe in this.  This means occasionally you will lose money on a deal.  But having happy customers who are satisfied with your product or service means returning customers who will come back down the road.  Unhappy customers not only don’t come back, but they typically discourage others from using your business as well.  If you do something wrong by a customer, make it right.

3. Train Your Employees

Providing ongoing training for your employees is crucial to long-term success; let me share a couple of insights:

  1. Skill set.  If you don’t train your employees, their skill sets will get dated—and so will be the service/product you provide to your customers.  Good training is expensive and will cost you money.  But the long-term payoff is huge because your employees will have better skill sets and will be better equipped to solve problems and make decisions.
  2. Efficient.  Trained employees are more efficient.  More efficient employees = more profitable company.

I have learned the importance of employee training the hard way.  Great talent at my companies went under developed and eventually left for employers who cared more about developing their employees.

4. Develop Your Leaders

This lesson learned is related to the one above.  Small businesses oftentimes have employees who excel at their job and so we make them managers.  Then six months or a year down the road we wonder why things aren’t working out.  The reason is leaders and managers need to be trained how to manage others.  Just because somebody is good at their job doesn’t mean they can manage others—the skill sets are completely different.  Small businesses need to take an active role in mentoring, coaching, training, and developing their future leaders.

5. Take the Cash

Collect your money as early as possible.  Devise collection systems and policies that allow you to collect your money up front.  You do not want to have AR that goes over 30 days.  This is an uphill battle when dealing with large customers and government who always want to pay you later.  You have to be pro-active on this.  Money is the grease that makes business engines run.

6. Hire People Who are Different Than You

A common mistake employers make is to hire people who are exactly like them.  Instead, you need to hire people who are going to complement and enhance your personality type.  If you are soft spoken and slow to make decisions, you might want to surround yourself with influencers and decisive personality types who are going to speak up.  You don’t need a whole team of individuals who are slow to make decisions—nothing will ever get done.  Likewise, if you are an opinionated person who acts first and thinks later (umm, I know somebody like this), then you had better hire some people around you who are going to slow things down and think things through.

I have found the DISC Personality system to be incredibly helpful in hiring people who are different than I am.

7. Train Yourself

Your employees need to be trained and so do you.  Business owners need to seek out training  and education opportunities.  There are vast amounts of training out there on marketing, leadership, sales, management, finance, etc.  You need to be a lifelong learner.  The more you learn, the more your business, employees, and family will benefit.

8. Don't Ignore problems

My business coach and mentor, Dave Tester, says, “Problems are not like fine wine.  They don’t get better with time”.  If there is a problem with a customer or an employee, take care of it.  Don't put things off till tomorrow.

9. Clean Your Bathrooms

I think clean or dirty bathrooms are a subtle reflection of the business owner’s attentiveness to the cleanliness and organization of his business.  Typically, if the bathrooms are clean, the rest of the business will be as well.     Dirty bathrooms are oftentimes indicative of a lazy, sloppy, or inattentive business owner.

10. Don't Let Donkeys in the Building

This is from an in-person training I did with Dave Ramsey a few years ago.  He was talking about his extensive interviewing process (four or more interviews, one with the spouse) to weed out the donkeys (from the thoroughbreds) and make sure they don’t get hired.  Donkeys and thoroughbreds don’t get along.  A team of thoroughbreds will not be happy if a donkey tries to join them, that’s just the way it is.

I, like many other hiring managers and business owners out there, have made the mistake of letting donkeys in the building.  Donkeys make a ton of noise and distract everybody from their job.  If you do accidentally let a donkey in the building, you owe it everybody else in the business to get the donkey out as quickly as possible.

11. Develop Systems

Good businesses have good systems.  The business owner isn’t going to be around to do everything just the way he/she likes it done.  But if you create a good system that is based on the way you want to see things done, then you can help ensure your employees are going to do it your way every time.  Read the E-myth.

12. Have Fun

You're going to be at work a lot.  In fact, you will likely spend more time with your co-workers and employees than you will spend with your family.  Find ways to make work fun.  A few things we have done:

  • Company-sponsored dodge ball team
  • Team lunches and barbecues
  •  Inter-division contests
  • Sales celebrations

13. Write Down Your Business Goals

Here is my own personal goal achievement formula:

  1. Make 1-2 goals at a time. Your goals should be simple to understand and explain.
  2. Write your goal down.
  3. Refer to your goal often. This helps ground you and gives you purpose and direction.

14. Use Technology

You can do amazing things with technology.  Take advantage of all the tools in Microsoft Office, your website, social media, etc.  Smart business owners leverage technology to help them provide a better product/service or decrease their cost.

15. Don't Use Technology

Sometimes you need to top pick up the damn phone and call somebody to make things happen.  Don’t rely on email or texts 100% of the time, even if you think you can.  There are few substitutions for being able to have a productive phone call, web meeting, or lunch meeting with your clients, employees, and other important business contacts.

Scott Galloway
Program Director