American small businesses are enjoying an overall positive uptick. As noted by Forbes, U.S SMBs entered 2016 with stronger sales growth, improved profitability and upward hiring trends. This doesn’t come as a surprise following a recessionary economy where both owners and employees are eschewing the notion of traditional stability and are instead blazing their own trail or leaving their unique mark on business culture. But here’s the thing: while a dream and the dollars needed for startup costs will get you on the road, staying the course for SMB success means cultivating the necessary traits to run the day-to-day operations of your business. Here’s a look at six skills you need for long-term effective operations.
Find and Nurture Your Company’s Future Leaders
Business vision and strategy remain your top-tier priorities to ensure that your small business stays competitive, but ignoring the operations side of your organization will quickly sink any ability to gain market ground. As a result, it’s critical to nurture — or adopt — specific operational skills, starting with the ability to hire the right talent.
Think about it like this: despite your best efforts, you can’t do everything, all the time. Eventually you need a vacation, time off for health issues or childcare needs or to simply take a step back as the business expands. As a result, you need to develop effective hiring procedures that identify candidates with leadership potential. Don’t be afraid of social media — both Millennials and Generation Z search for jobs this way — and look to prioritize particular traits, which, according to Entrepreneur, include:
Sussing out leadership potential, meanwhile, can often be accomplished through unique interview questions. For example, try asking candidates to solve a particularly difficult — or interesting — thought experiment. Give them a time limit and then ask about their answer. See what they say. What was their approach? Do they blame you for an unfair question? Were they thinking outside the box? This gives you solid insight into their character and how they handle the prevailing challenge of leadership: having to make unpopular or “unfair” decisions.
Work Toward Balance
Ideally, everything goes according to plan for your business. Funding is easy, sales ramp up steadily and you can quickly hire new talent. But the chances of this actually happening are, unlikely. You need to find the balance between patience and urgency. When do you stop to wait and see what develops and when do you need to make quick decisions that will ultimately make or break your business?
Your best bet here is delegation. Put the work in and delegate day-to-day tasks among trusted staff and then let them deal with any issues that arise. This keeps you from making hasty decisions based on knee-jerk reactions to standard business hiccups. For issues that fall outside the purview of your leaders-in-training, urgency may be required. Take them on a case-by-case basis and evaluate their impact to your bottom line.
Embrace the Stress of Running a Small Business
If you run a small business, you’re likely under a lot of stress. It’s the nature of the game and no matter how good you get at managing the component parts of your organization; it’s always there. As noted by ZDNet, it’s possible to reduce some aspects of your stress, such as the need for effective technology on a budget, by implementing cloud-based services that provide powerful computing services without the need for substantial tech know-how. But there are some stressors that come with being a small business owner — from opening a new location to rolling out online services or developing a new product — you can’t avoid to positively impact your market. If stress isn’t something that pushes you to be your best and helps you create or innovate, this part of operations can be incredibly taxing; it may be worth partnering with a provider or consulting agency to help share the burden.
Create a Culture of Accountability
Successful small business owners didn’t get there by chance — they earned their reputation from the ground up by being the best at what they do, understanding the market and setting critical goals. To ensure long-term business operations meet this same standard, you must be able to hold your team accountable for specific goals or to adopt new processes that will promote growth. Business 2 Community puts it simply: SMB owners have the skill to sell their product, service and vision. This makes them experts, and makes them the standard-bearer for their entire organization.
As a result, you need to draft clear sales and service goals and hold your team accountable for their completion. While give-and-take is both positive and rewarding — new employees may have great ideas to help boost business — you get the first and last word. Get comfortable holding your team accountable to help drive success.
Be Prepared to Turn on a Dime
Things have changed. Suddenly the market you helped identify and build is undergoing transition, shifting away from brick-and-mortar stores to online purchasing and socially-driven decision making. What do you do? One option is to double down and hope your reputation brings customers back, banking on your experience to carry the day. The bad news? Chances are you’ll get left behind. Instead, you must be ready to turn on a dime when the situation demands it and re-imagine your business model even if it means losing a perceived competitive edge. Think about it like this: your agility and passion got you into the market, and remains a critical trait to ensure effective operations.
Continue to Innovate
Take that thought a step further and you encounter the need to implement new processes and procedures as required. Inc.com calls this skill “curiosity” — a curiosity about what your competitors are doing, what technologies they’re using and how other companies (both in your sector and outside it) are finding new customers.
For example, you might consider implementing a VoIP-based telephone service that lets you integrate traditional, computer-based and mobile phones, monitor calls and even implements enterprise-like automated answering services. Or it might be worth cultivating a more active social media presence to engage with customers in real time and discover what they’re looking for from your business. Another option? Bringing on new staff with new skill sets, such as the socially-conscious Generation Z, to keep your business current.
You’ve done the work, put in the time and gotten your small business off the ground. Now it’s time to dig deep and adopt the operational skills you need for long-term success. Learn to look for leadership, find a balance as you manage stress, hold your team accountable and innovate to drive your business forward.