If you believe the statistics you hear, including those from the Small Business Administration (SBA), 34 percent of new small businesses don’t make it past the two-year mark. Ouch.
For those who do, another chunk will falter in the three years that follow. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that approximately half of all new businesses can’t keep the doors open long enough to celebrate a fifth anniversary. Double ouch.
A few years back, I recall a Hudson Valley boutique owner friend of mine crossing that meaningful five-year mark. She was reluctant to cheer loudly and hold an event, figuring the 10-year anniversary would mean even more. Having watched her launch and grow her business, and knowing all the sweat, tears and joys along the way (and I’m certain I only knew a fraction of them), I wished she would have done it up big.
My firm is celebrating this same mini-milestone, marking our fifth anniversary in business and I promised myself, not only would I celebrate, I’d share some things I learned – five to be exact – to help others who might be at the early stages of entrepreneurship or contemplating hanging their own shingle in spite of all the dismal statistics and naysayers.
Invest in yourself early on
The way you see yourself, or your business, becomes the way others see you. Establishing a clear brand early on, consistently living that out through every touchpoint, from website and social media to collateral and photography, establishes trust. Plus, nothing more strongly proclaims your belief in yourself than an investment in yourself. That company that builds its website on a cheapo do-it-yourself platform, skimps on the business card, lacks professional headshots or avoids investments in technology tells me through their actions that they want my money (or my faith as a customer) but aren’t even willing to put their money where their mouth is. If you can’t spend on you, why should anyone else?
Take calculated risks
When a business has achieved a measure of success, it should be willing to go bigger or prepare to stay small – and rapidly lose market share. One of the best things I did was hire employees as soon as I could, including ones with serious skillsets and the pay grade to go with it. These smart folks brought fresh ideas and enormous energy to our brand, but also helped us help more companies, which meant we could grow.
Bill Raveis, one of our agency’s early clients and the owner of William Raveis, a CT-based residential real estate firm and the largest family-owned one in the Northeast, once famously talked about being in his first office, above a supermarket, and realizing that the furniture wasn’t going to make him any money. If you remain as you are, you won’t have the extra hands to make extra products and, if you’re in a service business, your ability to earn will be tied to your own 24 hours in a day, versus the 48, 72, 96 or more you’ll have when you add the right people to the mix. Plus, as Raveis said, the furniture won’t make you any money.
Know when to say no
Not every customer is a good customer. This was a challenging lesson to learn, but the demanding, underpaying or underappreciating types take valuable time and bandwidth away from the clients who get it and deserve a company’s loyalty and unbridled creativity and enthusiasm. Shedding those who are not a right fit, or referring them along to those who are, is a short-term loss for a major long-term gain.
Ditto working with others who don’t embody your firm’s values. There are plenty of people out there who are aligned with what you’re looking to build and the sooner you surround yourself with those people (and bid a cheerful adieu to those who do not), the firmer you’ll stand in your values and the closer you’ll get to achieving your dreams.
Use marketing and PR to tell your brand story… again and again
I share this tip not because I run a public relations and communications agency. I know it works from watching companies for more than 20 years use storytelling as a way to differentiate from competitors, better explain the services they offer or what their organization can do for others, or otherwise get in front of decision-makers, whether they are consumers or CEOs. Used effectively, a steady, smart sharing of information can change minds, change hearts and change actions. It can inspire, educate and move mountains.
This kind of work is not an overnight proposition. The other day I came across a list of attendees from a speaking engagement I led three years ago (I was heading back to do one for this same group, making it my third time delivering a talk there) and I came across the attendee list. I was taken aback when I realized that four people on that list of 30-something were current clients of our agency, but three had only begun working with us in the past one to four months.
The lesson? Sharing a story is something you need to do, over and over, in talks, in writing, in news coverage, in marketing materials and more. Persistence pays, even if it comes three years, not three months, later.
Stop and celebrate
Remember that story about my friend the boutique owner? I vowed to celebrate all of the successes along the way, whether it’s a New York Times story secured for a client, a television news segment for another or watching a team member at our firm graduate from a leadership training program. The opportunities to celebrate wins should not be reserved only for key anniversaries, but for the many mini-milestones small businesses accomplish every single day.
Last, but not least, let’s cheer each other on. Running a business and growing it over time is way more enjoyable when there are others on the journey celebrating with you.
Filomena Fanelli is the CEO and founder of Impact PR & Communications, Ltd. (www.prwithimpact.com), an award-winning public relations agency based in NY’s Hudson Valley and serving clients throughout the tri-state area. Fanelli can be reached at 845.462.4979 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.