I was honored to join Jason Trimiew, Head of Supplier Diversity at Facebook, at Facebook’s global headquarters back in February. In honor of Black History Month, Jason invited four small business owners to join in an inspiring conversation about building a business for impact. Check out the video here for insider tips and behind-the-scenes stories told by Dwight Jackson from Metro Contract Group, Keba Konte from Red Bay Coffee, and Pam Isom from ICE Safety Solutions.
I encourage you to watch the video for great ideas from all the inspirational entrepreneurs on the panel. For now, I’m sharing my seven tips for creating a BIG impact with your small business. I’ve seen these tips work for thousands of small business, and I know they will work for you, too!
Going Back in Time
My husband Wil and I started Smart Simple Marketing in 2006 to support small businesses with digital marketing and training. Since 2013, we’ve also been helping enterprise companies—like Facebook, Google, Instagram, and LinkedIn—do a better job of partnering with and supporting small businesses. When small businesses owners use products and services the way they were intended, they can provide better service to their clients—and everyone wins. We love helping entrepreneurs succeed.
Entrepreneurship has had an incredible influence on my life. As a fourth-generation entrepreneur, much of what I’ve learned about how to make a big impact with a small business I learned from my family. For example, in the 1950s, my great-grandfather wanted to build a building where people of color could have a safe, comfortable, and affordable place to live. He couldn’t get a business loan, something to which many of us can relate, so he did what we would now call a crowdfunding campaign and built the building with his own hands.
His oldest child is my grandmother, who started a cheesecake business out of her home and eventually became the first black woman to be inducted into the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. Later, my parents launched a tax business the year I was born. My dad had a full-time job and every reason in the world not to start a business, but he did. When he passed away, he still had the same clients that he had when I was born. I guess you could say I have entrepreneurship running through my veins. Although each of these businesses was small, I grew up watching them have a big impact on their community, and now, I help small businesses create a big impact every day.
What impact do you want your small business to have in your community, your industry, or the world? Whatever it is, here are my tips to help you make the difference you want to make:
1. Take “can’t” out of your vocabulary.
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to say the word “can’t.” My parents would tell me to “take can’t out of your vocabulary.” As such, that word doesn’t exist for me, which means I don’t see obstacles as a business owner. That doesn’t mean they don’t happen; we face challenges all the time. However, I see every problem as an opportunity.
When a challenge comes up, I don’t think, “I can’t get through this.” I say, “Okay, let’s deal with that,” and I move on to the next step. I’ve watched generations of business owners with no Internet, no social media, with nothing but their business sense and desire to help others create unbelievable opportunities. So, I don’t let anything stop me. As we grow our business and support our customers, this is my first piece of advice: see your challenges as opportunities.
2. Help your customers in every way you can.
My great-grandfather, grandmother, and dad were adamant about one thing. If it’s in your power to help someone, then there’s no question about it, you have to do that. Today, Wil and I carry that philosophy with us into every relationship that we have. In our business, that means we listen carefully to understand very clearly where our clients need help. Then, we solve those problems.
After more than thirteen years and working with thousands of small businesses, we have a reputation for achieving excellent results; we’ve even won multiple awards because of the work we do. This is because we love helping our customers. When you’re dedicated to helping your customers, you’ll build loyal customers for life.
3. Solve problems they don’t see.
We’re always looking for ways to help small businesses solve problems they don’t even know they have. For example, small business owners might have thousands of dollars in new business sitting on their desks in the form of business cards. We’ll help them craft a follow-up strategy that graciously reconnects them with prospective customers. Alternatively, an enterprise company’s management may need help understanding how to best connect with small, minority, or women-owned businesses. We will organize and analyze their data to show them where they’re missing the mark and how to plug the leaks in their marketing and sales funnels.
We’re always looking to uncover opportunities that our clients don’t see, such as a strategic partnership or reaching out to a new target audience. We help our clients see ways they may have missed to meet and exceed their goals. When you give your customers what they don’t know they need, you provide more than a solution to their problems; you open up a whole new world of opportunities.
4. Focus, specificity, consistency.
I’ve coached hundreds of small business owners, and I know that entrepreneurs tend to have a thousand ideas and not know which one to focus on first. Our team is very familiar with this experience, which is why I recommend making these three words your mantra: focus, specificity, and consistency.
- Focus is critical because you’ve got to pick one idea first (you can work on the other ones later!)
- Next, specificity around how you solve problems for your customers is what sets you apart from the competition.
- Finally, and most importantl, is consistency. Being consistent motivates you to you keep showing up with your focused, specific offering.
If you can reign yourself in and focus on those three words, your business will grow exponentially—I can guarantee it.
5. Network strategically.
Something that every small business owner can do, regardless of what product or service he or she sells, is have conversations that create opportunities. Strategic networking means putting yourself in the right place with the right people. It doesn’t have to be a traditional business event, and it definitely doesn’t have to be expensive. Networking events are happening all the time, and they are a great way to start building business relationships. Depending on your business, the best networking opportunities could be at a community gathering or even an event at your kids’ school. Sometimes, you might need to travel to where “your people” are.
The key is finding the people who are interested in your product or service and making sure you are in that room. Be prepared to talk confidently and specifically about the problems you solve, and then follow up promptly and consistently. Whether you run a one-person business or a large organization, the opportunities are limitless when it comes to how networking can help you grow your business.
6. Build your success story, not someone else’s.
Sometimes, we entrepreneurs get caught up in what other people are doing. We look at another business’s exit strategy, for example, and think we should follow their example. It’s essential not to get caught up in trying to live another person’s dream. You don’t want to wake up one day and say, “How did I get here? This isn’t what I wanted.”
I recommend beginning with the end in mind. Decide what success looks like to you. You have to honor your vision for your unique business. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Success looks different for every person. Make sure you are building your success story, not someone else’s.
7. Stay positive.
There’s never a dull moment in the life of a small business owner. Ups and downs come with the territory. There will be times when business is flowing with ease, and times when things don’t go your way.
For example, we recently signed an agreement with a client for a project that would last several months. Just as we were about to begin, the project was canceled. In those situations, I think it’s imperative to take a moment to process it and acknowledge what’s happened. However, don’t sink into a pit of despair by asking too many questions about what you could have done differently. Definitely, don’t frustrate yourself or your team by worrying about what will come next.
Instead, put your energy into how you’re going to bounce back and keep moving forward. Look past the challenge as quickly as you can without letting yourself slip into catastrophic thoughts. Focus on specific, positive next steps you can take, like offering a special promotion or creating an outreach campaign.
The Ripple Effect
Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs and throughout my career of helping small businesses become successful, I’ve repeatedly seen how a small business’ success affects their community. When a small business is successful, it affects everyone around it. When a small business owner succeeds, her family, friends, and everyone she knows become more successful as a result of this ripple effect.
In the U.S., there are more than 30 million small businesses. Women own about a third of those, and people of color own a significant number. From the impact of each one of those businesses, communities thrive, and legacies are built.
As you dream about the impact you can make with your small business, I encourage you to aim high. Who are you serving? What problems are you solving? Where do you see your business in one, five, or ten years? Then get to work following these tips to make it happen! With dedicated focus, specificity, and consistency, anything is possible!
We want to hear from you! Tell us about your business and the impact you’re making, in the comments below.
YOUR ACTION PLAN FOR THE WEEK:
- Think of a challenge your business is currently facing. How can you reframe that challenge as an opportunity?
- Define the problem/s you are solving for your customers.
- Write down the vision you have for your business in one, five, and ten years.
- Identify a networking event to attend in the next month. Remember to look for events that will put you in the right place to meet the people who will help you reach your goals.