Being a small business owner in the United States is hard work. No matter what comes your way, you and your employees are all you have.
Some factors are beyond your control and can make the brass ring harder to grab. The 2017 Allstate/USA TODAY Small Business Barometer, a study that combines federal data with a national survey of nearly 2,800 small-business owners, finds that the ease with which small business owners can get the commodities they need has gone down considerably since the 2016 Barometer release. Meanwhile, unemployment continues to fall, which means more people are finding jobs — a good thing for the economy, but also a reason hiring good staff may be a challenge right now.
Despite these headwinds, the nation’s small business owners are incredibly optimistic about the future, with a nationwide optimism score of 92 out of 100 on the Allstate/USA TODAY Barometer. Seattle is not far behind with a score of 88.
So, what’s the secret to small business success? Seattle entrepreneur Paul Vogel, 48, owner of an Allstate Insurance agency with offices in the University District, says small business owners improve their chances when they do a combination of these five things:
- Adapt to changing surroundings and demographics. Technology, neighborhoods and people’s tastes and needs all change. Your business should roll with the times, Vogel said.
- With more high-rise buildings and condos going up in the neighborhoods he serves, meaning fewer cars, Vogel has adapted by marketing car insurance to the whole state. He also altered his product for apartment dwellers who do have cars, offering protection from incidents in parking garages and lots, rather than driveways.
- Get involved in the community. Among the best things you can do to gain the trust of your neighbors and visibility for your business are volunteering for local charities and contributing to local causes. Vogel coaches little league baseball, soccer and basketball, and he volunteers for the Boy Scouts and at local Rotary Clubs. “By being in the community, we really get to network with folks who could use our services,” he said.
- Hire the right people. Whether it’s from friends, peers in your industry, or even the competition try getting referrals for new hires from people you know and trust, Vogel said. Send along the job description and tell them the type of person you’re looking for. Because these contacts know your business well and have likely vetted who they put you in contact with, a referral is far more likely to be someone who performs well and meshes with you, your employees and your customers.
- Build relationships with customers. You’ll build loyalty and trust in your products or services. Vogel and his colleagues make phone calls to get to know their customers, while other small business owners he knows host customer appreciation events like barbecues and picnics or mingle with their customers at community events.
- Know the lay of the land. Stay up-to-date on city government programs and policies that affect your industry to ensure your business has everything it needs to succeed. Many municipalities have email alerts you can sign up for. When Vogel turns in his tax forms each year, he makes a habit of checking in with city government to see if any insurance commission laws have changed. Vogel emphasizes that a successful small business is not just measured in company earnings, number of loyal customers, and name recognition. It’s also measured by the quality of life you and your employees enjoy.
“When I started my career, I never thought I’d employ a half dozen people, like I do now,” Vogel said. “I want my company to succeed so I can give the people who work for me the ability to buy homes and have families and, in addition, have flexibility to enjoy time with their families — as though the people who work with me were also self-employed.”
Thunderbird School of Global Management Alumna Dana Manciagli '84 is the author of "Cut the crap, Get a job". With her 'Career Mojo' column, Dana is the sole syndicated career columnist for the Business Journal nationwide. Her remarkable profile includes a career in global sales and marketing for Fortune 500 corporations like Microsoft, IBM, and Kodak. She has coached, interviewed and hired thousands of job seekers. This article was originally published on her website.
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[This article has been reproduced with permission from Knowledge Network, the online thought leadership platform for Thunderbird School of Global Management https://thunderbird.asu.edu/knowledge-network/]