Welcome to a three-part series by Obsidian PR on “Asking the Right Questions: Getting the Answers You Need to Run a Successful Small Business.“
It sounds too easy, right? Ask the right questions and magic will happen? Yeah, we understand the cynicism about simplicity. But consider this – answers are knowledge. Knowledge is power. By having the right information from the very start, you’re in a position to make better decisions, lay a firm foundation and build something you’re proud of. Think of answers as real-time GPS for business strategy.
In future posts, we’ll address asking your team members and your clients the right questions. But for now, let’s start at the beginning. And if you’re far from the beginning of founding your business, don’t worry. Many of these questions will still be quite valuable. It’s never too late to adjust course and create a business mission and environment that is fulfilling on every level. Let’s begin.
You’re at the base of a mountain. Actually, let’s back up. You’re THINKING about climbing a mountain while lounging in your living room watching reality TV late at night. Your particular mountain in this metaphor is founding a business. Taking that leap of faith that’s been nagging at your gut for a while now. Long before you suit up and take the first steps on the ascent to the dream, the rigorous mental and physical preparation begins. There are no shortcuts. There are no fast tracks. Would you attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro without months and months (if not years) of prep? No, you wouldn’t think of it. (Side note – if you are interested in what it would be like to actually conquer the Seven Summits or attempt it, check out our amazing client Tom Lawrence on his blog about his climbing adventures.
Back to founding a business. You must start with asking yourself some very important questions before you step foot on your mountain. You’ll save yourself time and a lot of heartache if you don’t forget this valuable phase. Let’s be clear – this isn’t about doubting oneself or giving yourself excuses to NOT do something. It’s the opposite. It’s the means to the end. It’s the base camp to the summit. Let’s explore what that might look like.
Why am I even thinking about this endeavor? What does it mean to me? What does it represent? What will it achieve for me?
There are so many entrepreneurs out there, and each has a different story about why they chose to start a new business. They were tired of their old job. They didn’t want a boss anymore. They were fired and had no other choice. They felt they had a unique skill set or solution to offer the market. They yearned for more financial growth and freedom. They wanted to better control their professional destiny. They wanted more time with family. They wanted a different lifestyle. They wanted to make a difference. Your story and your why might be included above, and many could apply. And there are so many others. What’s important is that you know your why and let it guide you because it could easily get lost among late nights and long hours, capital concerns, growth decisions, hiring and the organization’s culture. Always go back to your why.
Do I have the skills and knowledge to go into this kind of business and be successful at it? Am I an expert or is this something that just seems fun? Even if I do know my trade, do I know how to build and run a business?
Knowing how to bake is one thing. Baking for the masses is another. Making a product people clamor over and will pay a premium for is another. And running a bakery is something otherworldly. We’ve all been there. We taste the most delicious snickerdoodle (or coconut cupcake or doughnut or macaroon) or on the face of the planet. We enthusiastically encourage that purveyor of deliciousness by saying something along these lines: “Go open your own business. These will sell like hotcakes and you’ll make millions. Trust me!” But a scrumptious product doesn’t a good business model make. Yes, it’s absolutely a necessity to know your trade (baking, PR, wealth management, law, you name it), but so much more is needed for the recipe to work. Good business planning regarding scalability, costs, marketing, sales model, etc. has to be strategic and early. And it’s OK if you don’t know everything about running a business. Find trusted partners who can help. See below!
I don’t know everything. Who can help me? How do I make this a success? How can I ensure I don’t make rookie mistakes?
Finding trusted partners early on – before one cupcake is baked or before one building is designed – is imperative. Depending on your business focus, these partners could vary. But most will need bankers, accountants, attorneys, wealth advisors, PR/marketing firms, employee benefits firms, etc. If bricks and mortar locations are vital to the model, then so are real estate agents, architects, general contractors and engineers. Some entrepreneurs will need more intensive counsel with business coaches and specific industry advisors. Even if you’ve been in your sector for decades, these components are essential to creating the right trajectory. You don’t have the luxury – even despite zero cash flow – to avoid these partnerships. If you use money as an excuse, maybe rethink your capital position or your ability to go into business at all. These are not the shortcuts to take.
How do I grow? When do I bring on employees?
Many small business owners make the mistake of delaying role delegation and team growth. They try to do it all and be it all for too long, which actually handicaps smart growth. At first, it’s widely expected for an owner to be a Jack- or Jill-of-all trades. I’ve been there too. But at some point, you must weigh how your expertise and time should be leveraged and when it’s time to hire others to do everything else. If you’re best at the operational side, who will grow your business? If you’re amazing at prospecting, who will lead the team? At some point, something’s gotta give.
Who do we want to be? What is our company culture and brand personality?
This topic is a little trickier and is quite nuanced, to be honest. Many entrepreneurs have a laser focus on what they want to achieve as a business (revenue, market reach, etc.), but do most think about a purposeful shaping of a brand or company culture early on? Probably not; it’s icing or an afterthought. But it soon becomes at best a most defining characteristic or at worst a liability if not paid attention to and nurtured. These elements should permeate audience communication and internal operations. And for a small business, a brand and culture both start with the owner. And it’s not something to simply “establish” and move on. As soon as you think you have a handle on it, you try to grab the “cloud” of culture and brand only to find out they are more complex and elusive than you ever thought and can’t simply be engineered and herded upon demand.
Obsidian Public Relations is a die-hard team of 13 professionals who specialize in disciplines across the PR spectrum. We seamlessly intertwine the brainpower of strategy with the muscle of tactical execution. Our firm – built on the power of providing excellent communication insight for our clients – was founded in Memphis, Tenn., in 2006 by Courtney Ellett. As the largest PR firm in the region, Obsidian now serves more than 40 clients across the United States. In 2013, our firm was named Small Business of the Year by the Memphis Business Journal, and Obsidian won the coveted VOX award for the best public relations tactic of 2012 given by the Public Relations Society of America, Memphis chapter, for work on behalf of Southern College of Optometry.
If you have questions about Obsidian or public relations in general, don’t hesitate to email us at email@example.com.
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