If you really want to be a success, you should be constantly seeking to answer these questions.
If you run your own business, you’re probably no stranger to the occasional sleepless night.
But will the problems you’re stressing over really have an impact on your future success? You need to talk to real people, not just friends who politely tell you your idea is great.
These are the five questions that should be keeping you awake at night, according to experts and business owners.
1) Do I know what my customers really want?
Knowing what your customer wants is not the same as offering them what you have.
You need to do some legwork at the beginning and show people your idea, online entrepreneur Delia Timms says.
“If you get the concept wrong and you don’t hit the genuine needs of the market, you won’t be able to grow your business.
“You need to talk to real people, not just friends who politely tell you your idea is great.”
She says thanks to technology, it’s much easier to find the data you need by using tools such as online questionnaires or Facebook surveys.
2) What’s my business model?
The type of business model you choose could make or break your business, particularly in that crucial first year.
You need to think carefully about the lead time between the date an order is placed and when payment hits your bank account, says Steve Sammartino, author of business survival guideThe Great Fragmentation: and why the future of business is small.
“Before you know it, it could be five months between order and payment.”
When it comes to deciding between profit and cash flow, always choose cash, Sammartino says, because if your debts get called in before you receive payment, you’re in trouble.
“You might be making a profit but you can still go broke,” he says.
Sammartino says the most successful business models require some form of upfront payment.
“If you have something of value, people will be prepared to pay upfront.”
3) How do I hold on to my employees?
Salaries and bonuses are important, but if your employees don’t feel appreciated and recognised, the chances are they’ll move on.
RedBalloon chief executive Kristie Buchanan says factors such as professional development, recognition and a flexible work environment are just as important as money when it comes to employee happiness.
It doesn’t have to be hard to make your employees feel appreciated.
“It can be as simple as saying thank you,” says Buchanan who also heads Recognise Every Day (RED), an employee recognition program to help other companies improve staff retention.
“If you have a formal program, you need to recognise your employees with something that’s meaningful to them, whether that’s a handbag, a skydiving experience or a handwritten card.
“You can’t have a one size fits all approach.”
4) Who is going to do all the work?
Business owners worry about how they are going to wear every hat in their business, Australian Businesswomen’s Network CEO Suzi Dafnis says.
This is especially true for small business owners who don’t have the resources to bring on staff right away.
“The key is to do what you are best at and leverage as quickly as possible, the roles which do not produce income,” she says.
“Your job is to plan and grow the business, to provide leadership and head up systems, not to be involved in every little detail.
“It’s easy to outsource jobs and bring in help without the overhead of an office or salary.
“Start by outsourcing small jobs and gradually increase from there,” she says
5) How do I attract the right clients?
You need a good filtering system when it comes to taking on clients, particularly if you are in an industry where long-term contracts are the norm.
If you don’t set expectations upfront, you could end up with high-maintenance or difficult clients who are a drain on your time and energy, Dawn til Dusk Publicity director Sarah Findlay says.
Behaviours such as consistently making unreasonable demands or not paying bills on time fall under the “high-maintenance” umbrella.
“People always talk about how important it is that your employees fit the culture of your business, but it’s also true of your clients,” Findlay says.
What if you do get a client who is not a good fit?
Fire them nicely, she says.
“You need to plan your exit strategy.”
Plant a seed in their mind that you’re not the right person to help and let them decide for themselves, she says.
“This way the relationship can come to end without any hard feelings.”