Over the last decade, I've learned from small business owners across the world. But the first small business owner I learned from was my Dad. He still runs a one-person consulting business from our dining room. Like many small business owners, my Dad taught my brother and me how to be resourceful. He showed us, too--cutting our hair in the kitchen, growing fruits and vegetables, and never hiring anyone to clean our house or yard.
He was happy keeping his business as a one-man shop. It let him be present in our lives and teach us about hard work.
While he taught me to be resourceful, he also told me what he didn't do-- specifically, invest in growing his business. If his objective was to grow his business, he says he would have made different decisions. In the same amount of time he spent cutting our hair, he could have earned more than enough money to pay for our haircut.
Which would have been good for growing his business (not to mention my high school social life).
Many small business owners I talk to tell me they want to grow. But like my Dad, they won’t spend the money to invest in growth. Here are five areas where I've observed spending their time saving money instead investing their money in growth.
1. Pay for payments. Accepting a credit card costs more than accepting cash (generally 1-3 percent). But credit cards also drive incremental sales. And they’re faster to handle than taking cash and checks to the bank.
2. Accept losses. Few business owners would frisk every customer walking in the front door. Yet many online business owners do exactly that online. As an example, a few years ago an eBay seller told me he stopped selling to buyers in Florida because one of them ripped him off. He later told me had over 100,000 good customers. He was making an emotional decision based on one action instead of a rational one. And he was turning away thousands of customers. You need to balance the risk of shoplifting or online fraud, but not at the expense of hurting your overall business.
3. Hire help. Like my Dad, many small business owners are the CEO and the janitor. They don't need to be. If your business is growing then consider where you are most valuable and where you can find help. You likely don't build the storefront for your business or construct the servers where your website runs. Think about other areas where you aren't core to the operation - and find a service provider or an employee to help. You may even discover new business opportunities in the extra time you spend with customers or running the business.
4. Hire the best employees, not the cheapest ones. Once you've made the commitment to hire help-- hire the good ones, even if they cost more. This may mean full time employees versus temporary workers or more experienced ones. Of course, there's an extreme, and I've passed on prospective employees due to salary demands. But I've often heard that the best employees are worth 10 average ones.
5. Invest in marketing. “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." - John Wanamaker. Even the best marketers waste money. The good ones look at the glass as half full and keep investing (and refining) because it helps their businesses grow. Thankfully, the technology for tracking ROI keeps improving. But whether tomorrow or in 100 years, the best business owners know they’ll need to invest to grow even if it means wasting some money.
If your objective is to teach your kids resourcefulness, well, I can't argue with that. If your objective is to grow your small business, then invest in it.