When I started Metal Mafia twelve years ago, my entrepreneurial knowledge came primarily from watching my parents and grandparents run businesses growing up, and my own experience as an employee at other people's companies. Along the way, I learned a lot of other important lessons that I think are tips everyone getting started should know to get a leg up right out of the gate. In no particular order, here are some of the tips that have helped me either save money, save time, or save heartache over time. All of them can help grow your business.
1. Get an American Express Card. This is not a plug for them, but some valuable advice an entrepreneur friend of mine gave me before I set-up shop. I have since exceeded my credit limit without needing advance permission, stretched my funds further by paying in 45 days instead of 30 interest free, and trimmed travel expenses because the card rendered certain car rental insurance obsolete, reduced airline fees, and provided a concierge whenever I needed something special I could not access on my own.
2. Ask for remnant space when advertising. Publications often end up with last minute cancelations--and when they do, they need to fill them fast. If you have ad art ready, you can save a lot of money by negotiating for last minute space.
3. Hire for what you see, not what you are hoping for. I always want to see the best in people, but the reality when hiring is that the best you will get from a potential employee is evident in the interview. Never con yourself into thinking an applicant will flourish with your help. You can teach and train, but you can't transform.
4. Learn how to do every job in your company yourself. Need to take great photos of your products? Learn lighting and do it a few a times on your own. Need to make financial decisions for your company? Don't rely on an accountant. Read a book or take a class until those confusing numbers become clear to you. Ditto for EVERY other role in your business. If you can do it yourself, it's hard for anyone to overcharge you, advise you incorrectly, or hijack your business.
5. Don't forget the power of paper. Digital marketing is great, sure, but direct mail is an awesome weapon. No matter how addicted customers are to email, Snapchat, and Youtube, there is a place for printed material as a sales tool. Catalogues, postcards, flyers, etc, remind people of the things you tell them about digitally and give them a chance to mull over, savor, and imagine how those things can fit in their life in ways that digital retargeting, banners, and Facebook appearances can't.
6. Take the smallest trade show booth possible, but send your best salespeople. You don't have to go big to impress clients, but you have to make the most of every encounter. You will get the desired ROI time and again if you send your most focused salesperson, armed with the desire to communicate and a simple and clear display, for far less than the cost of a giant booth full of bells and whistles, but devoid of engagement.
7. Don't trust anyone. Always have checks and balances in place to ensure that what you think is happening really is. It only takes putting one wrong person in place, missing one small opportunity, or making one shortsighted choice to put your business on the ropes. Vet people carefully, ask hard questions, and always check in with your gut instinct.
8. Make payment easy, but make sure to get paid. Set your business up to accept every type of credit card. Sign up for paypal, bitcoin or whatever else you want. Happily accept cash. But whatever you do, get paid at the time of sale. Unless your business is actually a bank, turning it into one for clients is a surefire way to bring it down. No matter what the circumstances of a particular transaction, you need to get paid in order to keep your enterprise afloat.
9. Cash flow is king. If your company's cash is tied up in anything--inventory, accounts receivable, investments, etc--no matter what industry you are in, you are at risk. Keep your eyes on your cash at all times: understand where it comes from, how it gets spent, and the ways outside forces can change those two things at any time.
10. Create a reserve fund. If you build a percentage (no matter how small) into every sale that gets allocated to a reserve fund you will find that you are never beholden to big banks, outside investors, or even market whims. Having your own back-up fund is not just wise, it's liberating. Companies with cash call the shots. Ask Apple.
11. Study other industries, not just your own. Knowing your competition is important, but it can only tell you about things you already have a clue about. Real innovation comes from looking outside your industry and trying things that no one in your space has thought about doing.
12. Always be selling. Attending an event to acquire a new skill? Learn who else is learning with you and ask how your business can help theirs. Meeting with a confirmed client? Find out if they know any other companies that could benefit from your products. Going over annual numbers with your accounting firm? Ask if they have any other clients they would consider introducing you to. Every interaction is a chance to sell what you do--don't miss out on a single one.
13. Make employees care about your money the way they do about theirs. Create a system that pre-loads a bonus account for them. Assign a dollar value to the deadlines and expectations they are supposed to meet. If they miss them, deduct from the bonus account. Send a monthly or weekly statement of account so that they see whether their money is holding steady or diminishing--and are forced to hold themselves accountable when necessary. No one likes to lose money--and helping employees to understand their actions have a direct impact on both your business's and their bottom lines is a powerful tool.
14. When you sell your product or service, sell how it will be used, not what it does. A prospect never buys anything for its attributes, he buys it for its benefits. Make those clear and your product will sell itself.
15. Say what you're going to do, and then do it. Customer loyalty comes from customers trusting you. Trust doesn't happen overnight, but you can fast track their trust by being reliable. If you can ship their order the same day it's placed, say so. Then make sure that happens. And once it does, find a way to make sure they notice.
16. Don't be afraid of customer feedback--especially the kind that says your company has to do better, more, or differently. Customer advice, unlike that of coaches, consultants, and competitors is free. Seek it out, evaluate it like it's true, and then act on it. No matter how much it hurts or what kind of change it implies, it's better to know and have the chance to act on it than to bury your head in the sand.