At one point or another, we may have all dreamt of working for or owning a Fortune 500 company alongside other big names like Walmart, Exxon Mobil, Apple, and General Motors. With a rapidly changing economy and shifting mindsets towards what it means to be successful, however, people’s professional and employment goals are quickly adapting.

Striving to become or work for a multimillion dollar company is an honorable and stimulating goal, but it’s not for everyone. No one can tell you the “right way” to have a job or provide for yourself and your family. Maybe you want to be your own boss, create your own hours, work with a small staff, or be more involved in business practices instead of working for someone else. If a mom-and-pop shop, brick-and-mortar store, or even an online boutique is more up your alley, these tips can help you pursue your dream.

How to be a Successful Small Business Owner

1. Know, first and foremost, that it won’t be an easy walk in the park. Being your own boss sounds like a dream come true, but people rarely think about the nitty gritty of what it takes right of the bat. We don’t often see the endless nights entrepreneurs are awake, working tirelessly to ensure their business has customers to stay alive and thrive. The key to getting through this is to not give up. The first few weeks, months, and even years may be a struggle to break even (let alone make a profit); stay persistent, remember what your goals are and why you’re doing this, and keep working hard.

2. Plan, re-plan, and then plan again. You want to do your best at avoiding any nasty surprises. This will involve planning, strategizing, and calculating until you have all your bases covered. Do your best to think ahead regarding any industry challenges (Is the industry you want to get involved in a profitable one? Will it be around in the next 10 years?), financial problems, hiring hiccups, location troubles, product difficulties (including manufacturing, shipping, and quality), and service requirements (What do you have to do to make your customers happy and keep them around?).

3. Protect yourself and your business. Starting a business with your best friend may seem like a great idea… Until you two disagree on something and no one is legally protected. Consider your ethical, financial, and legal liabilities to both financial institutions you may have gotten loans from as well as your co-founders and employees. And while starting a business with a first handshake may feel good, make sure you have everything on paper. Draft contracts between yourself, business partners, lenders, staff, and anyone else who is involved in your business. Oral contracts can me valid but they are nearly impossible to prove, and the last thing you want is to ruin a relationship over a business misunderstanding or disagreement.

4. Develop goals that are more than just financial. While it is important to strive towards making a profit and keeping overhead costs low, that isn’t what will ultimately keep you interested in pursuing your business long-term. A company’s sustainability often comes down to the drive and fulfillment of the people who are steering the organization. Owning a business is a long-term (often lifelong) project. There will inevitably be obstacles to overcome and countless setbacks. You need more than just money driving you to keep going and do better.

Why Small Businesses Fail

Before you get started, learning from the mistakes of others is another important lesson all entrepreneurs need to heed. There is no point in making the same error someone else has already painfully made if you can avoid it! Especially if that means the survival of your business.

1. Poor Planning: You can’t except your business to succeed without a carefully laid out business plan. This means thinking about and accounting for everything from finances and marketing to business management and both short- and long-term strategies.

2. Bad Hiring: Small businesses are particularly depended on strong, reliable, hard-working employees. This may mean taking the time to search for and interview candidates instead of just hiring your family or friends.

3. Ineffective Marketing: Marketing your business is how customers will find out about it. You can’t just rely on word-of-mouth, having a company Facebook page, or a stale and ineffective website. Enlist the services of a marketing professional if you have to, even if that means paying out-of-pocket for the first few months. It will be a worthwhile investment.

4. Wrong Location: For brick-and-mortar shops, location is everything. You want a clean, welcoming, centrally-located store that serves as an inviting and engaging spot for current and potential customers.

5. Lack of Funding: It’s easy to underestimate how much capital you’ll need at the start for things like equipment, inventory, utilities, staffing, labor, and more. As part of your planning process, be sure you you thoroughly calculate your startup and operating costs.

While there are still countless busy professionals who work hard for large companies and corporations, the United States has seen a steady rise in entrepreneurs and small businesses. As of 2016, there were 28.8 million small businesses which accounted for 99.7% of US businesses. According to the 2017 SBA United States Small Business Profile, small businesses employ nearly half of the American working population and have created over 1 million jobs. And in the midst of dying department stores, retail chains, and strip malls, small business survival rates have been increasing. Entrepreneurs and small businesses have not only helped create more jobs but have also contributed to strengthening the United States economy. There are plenty of good reasons to start your own business for yourself and your family too; seeing the direct results of all the hard work you put in, being financially stable, not having to answer to anyone—and most importantly—being dependent on yourself.

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