Guest article provided by: photographybymisty.com
It can be a lonely and scary world starting and growing a small business. However, it can be a lot more fun and a little less intimidating if you are not too proud to step out and seek help. With a little guidance, a trustworthy group of friends, mentors and mentees on your side, and a thirst of knowledge, a passionate entrepreneur is sure to win the long game.
Building a sustainable business has been a slow journey for me (partially because being a wife and a mom were my priorities). But here we are, almost 21 years later, feeding the mouths of my contractors’ families, helping them build houses, and providing them a safe and enjoyable environment to grow themselves (and my business, too).
I’d like to share with you the top 5 things I did to grow my business:
1. Joining the local chamber of commerce. One of the first things big and small businesses alike do is join their chamber of commerce – it’s the thing to do, right? Yes. However, many small business opt not to rejoin the following year. Why? They did not see the ROI. Neither do most of the big businesses, however they can afford just to throw money at the chamber for the sake of community relations. So does this mean joining a chamber is pointless? Nope.
Merely handing over your credit card is pointless. So what’s next? Every chamber is different. With the Plano Chamber of Commerce, we have a Friday morning business interchange meeting. It is a great place to get to know, like and trust other small business owners and the goods and services they offer. That’s who people do business with – those they know, like and trust. For instance, I would not buy promotional products from a phone solicitor. Instead, I trust my chamber peeps.
Our local chamber not only helped me grow my business, but they helped my husband and I raise our children. What? Yes, it’s true. My kids worked some of their first jobs with fellow chamber members, and countless friends provided goods and services which benefitted my family. I could go on for hours. Still to this day, my fellow entrepreneurs help my now-adulting children navigate life and their own businesses.
It is not a one-and-done effort. I attended at least 3 times a month for years. And I was a giver. Don’t just skip around the room, dishing out business cards. No one wants to do business with that guy. I was known for taking notes throughout the meeting. Someone having a gala? No, I did not work for free. Instead, I would give gift certificates for them to auction off. I would sign up to participate in 5Ks benefitting non-profits, I would give a shout out at the next meeting when I used someone’s services. This way of marketing shines a positive light on you, even if you don’t say a word about your own business.
I rarely attend Friday mornings any more. Instead, I attend the Women’s Division (where both big and small businesses are in attendance), serve on a committee where we orchestrate stellar programming for small businesses and also serve on the board of directors. As your business grows, your marketing choices will shift and develop as well.
2. Hiring help. YIKES! Not only was it one of the smartest steps I’ve taken, it was one of the scariest. How can I afford another person when I can barely afford myself? Something magical happens when you become responsible for another person. If you have children or a fur baby, think about how you all of a sudden had to step up your game. You did it, right?
Every time we bring a new person on board, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Yet, it works out each and every time. Not only does my business grow, we are helping someone else grow, and I personally grow, too. As business owners, we are great at our trades, but are we great at every aspect of our businesses? More than likely, no. For instance, are you a phenomenal writer? Do you enjoy paperwork, Excel spreadsheets? You get the idea. Not only may you not like doing these things, but you also might be costing yourself money and time.
Here are a few of the experts we have in our business and why:
- A CPA firm – the last thing I want is to be in trouble with the IRS
- An administrative assistant – I cannot afford to get bogged down, wading through 100s of daily emails, creating sign-up links, publishing blogs, etc.
- A photo editor. Wow, the day a potential photographer leaned across the interview table and said, “I can tell you don’t think I’d make a great photographer for you, but what if I said I could be your editor?” I thought God dropped an angel down from Heaven. Although my photographers and myself do enjoy editing, there are no more all-nighters spent editing images.
- An SEO expert. Trying to keep up with SEO is a full-time job. Great news, there are people whose job is keeping up with ever-changing algorithms. Gracias a Dios!! Just be careful. So many people claim to be experts, and the services can be pricey with long contracts. BTWay, it dos take several months or even a year or more to start seeing results.
3. Continuing education. Here are just a few of the ways you can continue to learn and grow:
- Continuing education classes at your local community college.
- Industry conventions.
- Books – Audible or good-old-fasioned paper and hardbacks. Audible is a gem – I don’t really believe in multi-tasking, but listening to a book can be done while exercising, walking your dog, cleaning the garage . . . Ask other business owners what books they would recommend. This is also a great ice-breaker instead of the usual, “So, what do you do?” how about asking, “What’s the best business book in your library?”
- Local seminars and programming with your chamber and other chambers and business organizations.
- Podcasts. Ahhhh… not only can you learn from other people’s mistakes, but you will also discover you are not an island. People have made worse decisions and have encountered equally debilitating obstacles, yet they triumphed. You can, too.
4. Business partners. Not literally. Those who invest time and valued resources – not finances. A few examples of the “investors” I use in my business:
- Joining a mastermind. Though I paid for my first mastermind experience, I received a good deal, as a local business coach was offering a beta test. There are those which are free, but, more than likely, you will not take it as seriously if you do not have skin in the game. You must make the commitment to show up every week/month, do your growth work, contribute to the group with positive and honest feedback and suggestions. It is most advantageous if everyone in your group is within a similar stage as your business. Call me crazy, but if you cannot afford a MM at this time or are a little unsure, do what Napolean Hill did, imagine a board of directors into existance.
- Goldman Sachs’ 10KSB program – a $30-40,000 value, which is absolutely free. Just know, it is an incredible offer, but hold on to you bootstraps – the growth work is intense.
- Be a mentor as well as a mentee. It is imperative to have someone in your trusted circle who is not afraid to speak up when you are about to make a poor business decision. And, no matter where you are in your journey, you do have wisdom to aid someone else. Trust me, you will get as much from them as they get from you.
- Hire a business coach. What, you can’t afford one? Just like help in your business, you can’t afford not to have a coach. If you lean in, listening (taking notes and action) with a positive mindset, the coaching will begin paying for itself. More than paying for itself. Do your research – just like a personal trainer or professional photographer – they are everywhere. And there are more bad than good apples in the industry. Ask for references, do your homework, ask for success stories which you can vet.
5. Google. Yes, even with all the above players on my side, if I could give Google a big wet kiss, I would. Strange I know. And, no, I do not pay for Google Ads. However, after a continuing education class with my mentor from afar (I listen to his podcast and sign up for his classes whenever we are attending the same conference), GAds may just be my next big spend. How do I get the big G’s attention?
- I ask my clients for reviews. Be fairly certain they will leave a great review before asking, then word your ask something like this, “If you had a 5-Star experience with our team, we’d love for you to leave us a review. Feel free to include a picture from your time with us.” We also provide a link. The more steps it takes them to write a review, the less likely it’ll happen. (My pest control guy leaves a card with me. On it, there is a QR code.) Be sure to reply to all reviews – good and bad. Google likes givers, not those who just receive. When responding to a less-than-5-Star review, either apologize, explain (but not excuse) yourself, and/or offer to make it up somehow. And a few 1, 2, 3 and 4 Star reviews keep it real. No one believes a perfect record.
- Blogs, blogs and more blogs. Writing blogs not only helps with SEO, but they paint you as an expert, make for great collaborate efforts and can sometimes result in free stuff.
- Link to websites who link back to your site. For instance, I can link to the Dallas Cowboys on every blog and page on my website, but if they don’t link back, Google could care less. On the otherhand, if Elena Stewart links to Photography by Misty, and PBM links back to ES, we are a G match made in Heaven.
Experience tells me if you take some or all of the above actions in your business, you will not only flourish faster than you ever imagined, but you will skip many painful mistakes and be oh-so-much smarter than your friendly competition. BTW, I beg of you not to become obsessed with your competition. Instead, embrace a healthy relationship – get to know one another, be referral partners and just occasionally creep on them.