How many hats do you wear?
I am lucky enough to work closely with a lady that has a great sense of humour – and boy, does she need it! As a director of a small business she has many roles to perform, being pulled from pillar to post and jumping in and out of several areas of responsibility in any given day. She told me not so long ago that she did actually operate an office ‘hat policy’ at one time. Close to her desk was a coat rack, and on that coat rack she kept 3 or 4 hats. Depending on which hat she was wearing (or not) at any given time other members of staff knew whether or not to disturb her, and what she was working on. A little bizarre, and eminently impractical – but she assures me it did work well at the time.
OK, so I’m not talking about actual headgear in this post, I’m speaking metaphorically…
Whether you are starting up, a solopreneur or running a small business, you’re going to need a whole lot of diverse skills to give you the best chance of success. Either that or very deep pockets to enable you to outsource these vital roles.
What are the roles you need to fulfil, and how can you make the most of having more enthusiasm and determination than actual hard skills?
Having worked extensively with small businesses and startups I am able to identify these 5 key functions that you are going to need to perform.
Office Manager / Personal Assistant
Any small business owner knows that their chief administrator is worth their weight in gold. They are the person who makes all the other people, jobs and roles work together. Their tasks can cover a multitude of diverse areas, they are the oil that keeps the engine running. They organise, oversee, research, review and make happen all the smaller things that support all the larger roles – and without which these jobs would probably not be possible. So having sung the praises of these valuable and under-rated angels, what happens if you just cannot afford to employ one of your own?
The responsibility falls to you. Yes, you. You need to get and be organised. You need to look to the detail, not just the bigger picture. You need an awareness of all the factors that go together to make each success possible. You need to take care of the small stuff, not just focus on the main item.
If you are not the most organised of people, fear not, there are a multitude of tools you can use to help you. These are just a few:
Todoist : to-do lists by day/date, by type and prioritised.
Trello : virtual planning boards.
Evernote : jot pad, screen clipper, bookmarker, list maker, idea repository – probably one of the most useful tools in your arsenal.
Google Calendar : synchronised across all your devices and recognised by virtually all appointment makers from webinar registrations to email meeting requests.
Traditionally Sales and Marketing have been lumped together in one role.
Stop right there! They are two very distinct (although clearly related) jobs. The role of your Marketing Manager (that’s you, by the way) is to create awareness for your company, product, service or brand. They need to put your name in front of prospective clients and customers, influence them to see you as the go-to provider, create a desire for your commodity, educate people as to why they need it and you in particular, reflect your values and what you stand for, assure of the best and smoothest of services, and generally make people feel warm and fuzzy about your company, product, service or brand. That’s a whole world of requirements with no pre-set formula for assured success – to the uninitiated the whole practice seems like alchemy. And then there is the ‘how’ and ‘where’ these things are done.
Thankfully you can do enough of these things yourself, and well enough, to generate enough income until such time as you can afford to pay someone else to do it for you.
There are a plethora of online resources that can help you hone your inner marketer.
Reading and subscribing to these sites are a good place to start:
You may also wish to undertake some free online learning, take a look at the courses on these sites if you are looking to learn (rather than get qualified):
Uh-oh, technical stuff! Well… not necessarily. You can run a business with as little as a laptop computer and a telephone. Obviously it depends upon what your business is, but more often it is how you use it rather than what you have that counts.
Almost anything that you may want to do as a business can now be done online. The advent of the Cloud signals the end of high outlay software, in favour of subscription-per-user services – from CRM (Customer Relationship Management) to accounts, design tools, collaboration systems, printing… the list goes on.
The key to finding the right service for you is research. Do not have an idea that you want something and then lunge at the first one you come across! Find out what others in your position use and recommend. Think carefully of what you want to achieve and check meticulously that your chosen solution(s) will do this for you. [I have lost count of the number of times I have come across business owners who have committed to a 12 month oo longer contract for service, only to find that it doesn’t really do what they wanted it to do – and now their hands, and wallets, are tied.]
If you are looking for hardware, visit a generic (unbiased) computer store and ask for their opinion. If you are looking for an accounts solution, ask the advice of accountancy firms who cater specifically for small businesses (you probably won’t be doing your annual tax and accounts yourself and will need professional help – so it is best to install a day-to-day book-keeping system that an accountant will be able to extract the necessary information from once a quarter). You get the picture… Be sure to always ask why that person recommends that service – it may be their reason is not actually relevant to your business at all.
Then there is always information online. Try not to be swayed by cheap deals and blatant advertising hype – far better to follow online publications, social media channels and other places that talk about the pros and cons of tools designed for people like you, to do the things that you are specifically trying to do.
Well, we’ve touched on that a little already. But I will reiterate: if you need to submit proper accounts and tax statements you really should use the services of a qualified accountant – unless you are one yourself. However, there is absolutely no need to employ one of a permanent basis – there are so many more accounting software solutions available now, both installed software and cloud based, that even the least numerically inclined among us (and that includes me) can keep regular books for income and expenditure.
Try not to be sold on an expensive solution that has more bells and whistles than you will ever ring or blow – some are designed to be used by professional accountants, whilst others are designed specifically for you and I. Again, do your research!
But finance does not just mean book-keeping. You really must have a grasp on cashflow – many small business’s Achilles Heel. Keep on top of your bank statements, have a good awareness of outgoings that will be coming up to prevent nasty surprises, and never rely on payments coming in! Sounds bleak I know, but after time money is your next precious commodity. Keep records. Draw up realistic budgets. Don’t have your head in the sand, but keep your financial eyes open at all times.
See? A different role altogether from Marketing.
Assuming your marketing efforts have paid off you will need to swap over to your Sales hat. Now, here’s a thing, nobody but nobody responds well to the hard sell any more. Whether you are selling directly to consumers or to other businesses, buyers have evolved over the last few years. These days buyers are already better informed by the time they appear on your radar – and they want to keep the belief that they are making the decision to buy all by themselves. In other words: people no longer like being sold to.
Today’s sales people need to be negotiators, influencers, friends, advisors, teachers, supporters and assistants. Your sole goal is to part the customer or client from their money. (Mercenary, but that is why any of us are in business!) You need to know your target buyers, how they think, how they behave, what they like (and what they don’t). You need to speak their language (metaphorically), reflect their aspirations, live their dreams, deliver their desires. Sales has gone all ‘psychology’!
Again, reading and research are the keys to honing your techniques – plus practice! Sometimes trial and error is the only way to find out exactly what is right for you. Techniques employed by another person doing the same job in the same industry as you may not work for you – we are all different people, so find a technique that suits you and the way you speak and operate. Nothing brands a salesperson as ‘sleazy’ more than being disingenuous.