Originally published in the Piedmont Business Journal, Spring 2011

Starting and running your own business can be a dream come true. It can also be a huge source of stress, especially in a challenging economy. Follow these five essentials to ensure the road to success:

    • Be the expert in your field.

Build credibility by being really good at what you do and continually advancing your skills. Take classes and attend workshops and trade association meetings, secure speaking engagements. Know your business inside and out. Research the latest tools, techniques, materials, and innovations to keep your business on top and your products and services fresh.

    • Create a unique identifier.

What are you known for? What do you want to be known for? This is part of your brand. Consider the following:

* Outstanding customer service
* Creative design (originality)
* Express service (same day or 24-hour turnaround)
* Affordability
* Reliability
* Exclusivity – high end

    • Advertise to your target market – not everyone!

Marketing is expensive, be sure that your advertising dollars are reaching your target market. Who are the folks most likely to purchase your product or service? What newspapers/websites do they read, where do they go? Be present where they are. Evaluate trends among customers. What do they have in common? If you’re not reaching your target market, reconsider your messaging to ensure that you’re attracting your desired clientele.

    • Leverage your time.

As business owners and leaders, we have many competing priorities. Where you spend your time is directly related to how much income you generate. To quickly assess a task, ask “is this the best use of my time?”

How visible are you to your customers and prospects? Are you buried under paperwork or otherwise sequestered updating your website or other advertising? Is that the best use of your time or is there someone else who could assist with those activities?

To save time, use automated programs to track expenditures and income; file hardcopy receipts once a week to avoid rummaging through a huge stack at tax time, and consider outsourcing specific duties like updating social network sites and filing.

    • Conduct quarterly reviews of processes and sales.

Regularly assess your business to be sure you’re on track and meeting your goals. If you’re not on track, make adjustments to get more clients, e.g., offer incentives, explore a new market sector, or partner with a firm that services the same sector with a different product.
And, make sure to maintain your positive attitude and good energy. A positive attitude is contagious and coupled with your excellent product or service will keep folks coming back for more. Integrate these tips and watch your business flourish. Good luck!