We have been in business for over 11 years now. Over that time period, we have made some great decisions that have led to successes and also some terrible decisions that have led to failures.
Lately, I've been racking my brain reviewing the key business decisions that we have made over the years. Those decisions that really changed the business. Those decisions that you don't regret, but that you are incredibly happy you made.
Stop! Wait, don't give away the secret sauce!
Believe me, if sharing our key business decisions helps you, I will be ecstatic.
There is nothing on the list that is earth-shattering. There shouldn't be any surprises. In hindsight, it's easy to understand why these key business decisions were good decisions that in the end, allowed our business to be more successful.
When I originally made the list I had about 10. Then I thought things through a little more, combined some ideas, and whittled it down a bit.
Below is a review of the six key business decisions that we have made thus far.
1. Start a blog and embrace inbound marketing
When I was just getting going with SLC Bookkeeping it was my dad that told me to start a blog.
I hated the idea of blogging. I thought the concept of it was dorky. I was totally against it.
But I did it anyway. I started a blog and it was one of the best business decisions I have made.
Around the same time, we started our blog, we also started using Hubspot when it was just in its infancy and still in Beta. That really propelled us into the land of inbound marketing.
Success didn't happen overnight with blogging and inbound marketing, that is for sure.
And that is why I think there are still non-believers in both blogging and inbound marketing. It takes a long time to get good results.
However, the potential with inbound marketing is massive.
Most business owners want instantaneous results. They try shortcuts like hiring an "SEO Expert" to do it for them. And when they don't get instantaneous results they go back to the old way of generating leads.
I will attest to this, we wouldn't be the same business we are today without blogging and inbound marketing. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I would have persevered this long.
Today all of our leads come from either website inquiries or referrals.
2. Letting other employees make strategic decisions
What was arguably the most impactful key decision that we ever made was not made by me, the owner/CEO, but rather an employee.
I'll get into the specific decision in number 3 below. For now, I just want to focus on the point that other employees need to be allowed to make key decisions.
Running a business can be extremely stressful. It can be lonely.
As a business owner don't feel it is 100% your responsibility to make every key decision.
That is a burden that nobody should have to bare. Additionally, that in and of itself would be a bad strategy.
Some of the best feedback you will get is from the people down in the trenches handling the day to day work of the business. And if you give those people a channel to voice their opinions and give feedback you may get some awesome ideas.
It is important to let your employees know that it is ok to question internal business processes and strategy.
It is ok to challenge the status quo.
As a business owner, it is your job to listen to feedback and support those ideas you believe in.
As your business grows you will realize how important it is to specialize. When you think of specialization in your industry what do you think of?
A sales channel?
A software expertise?
An industry specialty?
Those are all great examples of specialization.
Let me tell you why I'm such a big fan of specialization in business.
Specializing in business is a great move because it allows you to focus on something very specific and also disqualifies you from working with some people or businesses.
When you first start your business it can be enticing to make your services as broad as possible so that you can work with as many people as possible.
As you grow you will soon realize this approach is not scalable.
Newer businesses tend to try and work with too many businesses and offer to many different services. They are always chasing a pot of gold trying to come up with new sales offerings.
This strategy often leads to a mediocre service.
Specialization leads to high-quality products and services because you are focused on doing just one thing, but being better than anyone else at it.
I'll tell you a quick story about our specialization that also ties in #2 above because another employee championed this idea.
About three years ago we were really growing pretty quickly and working with lots of different businesses. We were primarily using the desktop version of QuickBooks at that time.
Our COO, Alex Viau, came to me one day and said that we were doing it all wrong. Our model wasn't scalable, at least not to the level he aspired to.
Alex insisted that we switch to a completely cloud-based bookkeeping system by embracing QuickBooks Online. At the time, the general consensus at our firm was that QuickBooks online was not that great, and the desktop version was the superior product.
At the time, less than 5% of our clients were using QuickBooks online and we disliked the program.
However, Alex had a compelling argument for moving to a cloud-based system. After I fully listened to him I completely supported the move.
Embracing QuickBooks online meant we only needed to work in one software program, not four. It was going to systemize our entire business. Furthermore, it was going to disqualify us from working with specific businesses.
Is that a good thing? Absolutely! In fact, I would rank this as one of the most strategic businesses decisions we have made to date.
It took guts and insight into where things were going.
We've further niched in by focusing on specific industries like bookkeeping for restaurants.
Specializing in specific software in specific industries has made us extremely scalable and has allowed us to grow at incredibly fast rates.
4. Accepting electronic payments only
For years and years, we only accepted checks. We were a slave to the Accounts Receivable game, as I'm sure many of you are that are reading this.
Furiously checking the mail for payments only to be disappointed. Wondering how we were going to make the next payroll and causing unnecessary stress. Wasting hours and hours of time following up with customers only to hear the expected "check's in the mail" line.
What a waste of time. And for what? To save 3% on merchant fees.
So foolish back then.
Anytime someone tells me they can't afford the merchant fee, I always tell them they can't afford to not take on the merchant fee. Do you have any idea how much time and money you are wasting on trying to collect AR? And then when you pull on your line of credit to cover your shortage do you eve consider that.
For anyone who refuses to take credit cards I just tell them to raise their prices by 5% and only accept credit cards. If they say they can't raise prices I just tell them to get better.
It's no business secret that you wait on paying your vendors (accounts payable) for as long as possible and collect on your open invoices (accounts receivable) as quickly as possible. That is business 101.
My advice is to not accept checks. Establish your acceptable payment methods and stick with it. If your customer doesn't like it don't let them be a customer.
When a restaurant that you frequent tells you they don't accept Amex to you negotiate? No, you just pay them based on one of their accepted payments. Imagine if you tried to pay your restaurant bill with Bitcoin and then got into an argument with the manager when they refused to take it?
Standardize your acceptable method of customer payments and don't sway from it.
5. Highlight our culture
I had no idea how important the culture of a business was until we were pretty far along.
Failures really open your eyes. Failures teach you valuable lessons you will never forget.
If I had to rank the overall importance of culture in your business I would definitely rank it in the top three. Sales would definitely make that short list. Other ideas that pop into my head are marketing, overall strategy, business processes etc.
So, why does culture matter so much?
Because it sucks working with people that you don't genuinely get along with.
Employees that truly align with your culture are happy. They are advocates for your business. They will go above and beyond without being asked to do so. They will always put the business first.
When you are hiring what ranks highest on your list? Experience? Education? Who they know?
Based on my experience, I could make a strong argument that cultural fit is the most important thing you should be considering.
When we started hiring, naturally we kind of sucked at it. However, one thing we had learned was to always learn from every failure.
When we looked back on all of our hiring failures they all had one thing in common. They were bad cultural fits.
When we really looked at it and were honest with ourselves we just thought, "Of course, they aren't one of us. They don't fit."
Then we got pretty serious about hiring the right cultural fits. We got super picky in the hiring process. If they didn't fit culturally we didn't hire them. Period!
It didn't matter how desperate we were. How short staffed. How long of hours we would have to put it. We had learned our lesson.
Hiring the wrong person is way more expensive than hiring nobody.
The correct move is to wait for the right person.
Hire for cultural fit and train the right person.
6. Saying no
Saying yes is addictive when you are a new business. It's like a drug.
You want to have a successful business so badly, that you say yes to everything.
And then eventually you realize you can't deliver on everything you promised. You can only get so big saying yes to everything. You start feeling abused and helpless.
And that goes for everyone you do business with: customers, employees, and vendors.
You don't say no to be a jerk, you say no to be honest and stay true to your business model.
Don't let a customer negotiate prices with you. Don't let a customer suck you into providing a service that you don't.
Don't say yes to every employee request that is ever asked of you.
Don't let vendors call all the shots. Work with them to establish a great working business relationship.
You need to say no sometimes to stay on track. Otherwise, you get abused and everything ends up on your plate to deal with.
Don't make "no" your default answer, but certainly don't be afraid to say it.
What do you think? What are some of the key business decisions you have made during your career?
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