Making Your Small Business Big & Why It's Mostly a Mind Game
I work daily with small business owners who are not only looking to establish or grow their business, but are also willing to share how they've overcome the obstacles in their path to success. It's touching! And learning the ropes myself, I am always on the hunt for good advice from a salty veteran of the boundless, deep, and at times turbulent Small Business Sea (okay, maybe their saltiness is from sweat and tears rather than water). Lately, I've been e-hanging with the lovely Mandy Thompson of eponymous Mandy Thompson Art brilliance. (New site incoming; I promise.) She - like many of my clients - is a fount of knowledge about how to build a small business and it turns out, what she told me matches exactly what others have told me time and time again. Your biggest limitation to growing your small business might be you, or more specifically, your belief in yourself. So I'm going to share what I've been telling myself with the guidance and support of the small business gurus around me.
BE YOUR OWN CHEERLEADER, PUBLICALLY AND PRIVATELY.
Oh boy, this is a hard one for me (both parts of it) and I'm sure that's true for a lot of other people too. Publically, it's hard because we're raised to be nice and not brag, but realizing three things can really help:
1. People are happy for your success.
2. You didn't luck into it. You worked for it.
3. Word of mouth sometimes needs to start with your mouth.
And since this is full disclosure, I will fully disclose: the "privately" half of this is even harder for me. It's easy to draw every situation out its ugliest conclusion in my head and trust me, I do it. But stastically speaking, it's not possible for everything to go as badly as it could every time. (And some people say I'm not an optimist! Bah.) I am making a conscious daily effort to not defeat myself in things I haven't even started. Not everything will work out, you can be sure of that. But you can also be sure that some things will work out. You just have to start them.
DON'T BE SURPRISED THAT PEOPLE LIKE WHAT YOU DO.
Okay, or at least don't show that you're surprised. Have you ever complimented someone on something like an article of clothing only to have them say, "Oh, this old thing?" or "Really?" Not only is it not graceful, it's not grateful either. It makes you, the complimenter, regret saying anything. So I've been working on my reception of business related compliments, whether it comes from someone who was just introduced to my work and likes it or from someone who seeks me out to say something nice. I always say thank you - that's an automatic reaction, of course! - but I have to balance choosing my next words carefully and still making it feel authentic for the complimenter. (I'm a stoic person, so I'm hard for people to read genuineness in sometimes.) Here are a few times that I didn't totally botch receiving a business related compliment from a stranger:
"Thank you so much! No, really, it means a lot that you like it. I love getting feedback."
"That's very kind of you to say. I worked hard on it, so it's nice to know people like it."
"It's funny that you should say that! That's one of my favorite things about the project too."
You're not only accepting the compliment, but you're also engaging the complimenter and encouraging them to express further opinions. Coincidentally, becoming better at accepting compliments has also gotten me some of the most honest, thoughtful constructive feedback too. If you can take them saying something nice, they're also more likely to tell you what didn't work about it for them. That knowledge is just as important, but much more difficult to get. Win/win!
VIEW YOURSELF AS A PROFESSIONAL AND OTHERS WILL TOO.
This is where specifically Mandy's insight hit home for me. Her gist was that when you respect yourself and your business, others will follow your lead. If you pitch, price, or poise yourself as an amateur, that's what people will take from an interaction with you. Set the tone; don't stumble into it. How can you do that? It depends on what you're lacking right now. There is no "one size fits all" here. You need to review what you're doing and where you can improve, but here are some ideas:
1. Answering confidentally when someone asks you what you do and having your elevator pitch ready if you want to follow up or they ask you to explain it.
2. Charging a fair price rather than trying to win every job; requiring a deposit if it's customary in your industry.
3. Having professional-looking marketing tools like business cards and a website that you are proud to share. (And your contracts shouldn't look a hot mess either.)
BUILD THE FOUNDATION TODAY FOR WHAT YOU WANT TOMORROW.
So you're going to get there; you're going to believe in yourself, encourage others to believe in you, and act like the professional you are. But once you're there, will you have what you need? There are small business practices that are best to start at the beginning, even when it might seem like you're jumping the gun. Not only do you have to start somewhere and "practice makes perfect," but some of these take time to grow - just like your business. I'm talking about social media follower counts, mailing list signups, and blog archives. Need somewhere to start? Here are a few of my favorite tips:
SOCIAL MEDIA - Focus on 2 or 3 accounts that make sense for the type of business you do.
Facebook: word of mouth, reviews
Instagram: visual, lifestyle
Pinterest: how-to, community connections
Twitter: networking, branding building
Youtube: interactive, personality showcasing
MAILING LISTS - My favorite is MailChimp and they offer their service free for up to 2,000 subscribers for your business. Think about maybe adding a Hello Bar to your website in concert with your mailing list to encourage signups. (It's pretty and effective. Me likie.)
BLOG ARCHIVES - If people like what you have to say, they'll read more...if you have more. Plus, it takes time to develop your blog image branding, writing style, and what your blog focus should be.
You can always follow Pickles & Oliver on Pinterest for up-to-date tips for social media, blogging, design, branding, and small business success. I hunt down all the best advice from the pros and curate it for you in one place.