10 Great Tips for Small Business Owners (from Actual Small Business Owners)

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It’s tricky trying to figure out the right moment (or even how to build the right plan) to launch your own business—and finally realize a life-long dream. But as you weigh your options, it’s helpful to get the real scoop from small business owners who have been there, done that…and come out successful on the other side. Of course, success means different things for each business and founder, but it could mean picking the right banking platform or simply creating and sticking to deadlines. We chatted with a handful of successful startup founders to get their best tips on the must-do’s for getting your small business off the ground.

1. Make Sure There’s a Need for What You’re Selling

“Before you do anything else, be sure you’re solving a real problem. Test your value proposition with real people before spending a lot on your business. Don’t start at the solution and move backward.” —Kevin Gindi, cofounder of Cheeky

2. Sign Up for the Right Credit Card

“I knew I’d need to travel to meet with investors, so I signed up for a credit card that had travel advantage points and put everything I could on that credit card. Now I still travel essentially for free!” —Melanie Travis, founder and CEO of Andie

3. Have Your Elevator Pitch Down Pat

“Make sure you can say what your business is in one clear sentence. You’d be surprised how much work it takes to narrow it down to one that’s actually concise.” —Alison Cayne, founder and CEO of Haven’s Kitchen

4. Set—and Stick To—Your Own Deadlines

“Setting self-imposed deadlines is critical. We spent the first few months discussing what product we should launch with when we were starting Sagely Naturals and then realized that if we didn’t set a deadline for ourselves, it could end up taking years. Starting a business requires a lot of forethought, strategic planning and self-discipline. Setting deadlines is key for all of that.” —Kerrigan Behrens, CEO and cofounder of Sagely Naturals

5. Have a Three-Year Plan Prior to Launch

“A three-year plan means you know what you’re making, where you’re making it, who’s on the team and where the sales are coming from. That will lead to a three-year financial plan, which must include a bottom-up sales forecast. Don’t forget about cash flow and a balance sheet. You should have more than just a P&L (profit and loss) statement.” —Alison Cayne, founder and CEO of Haven’s Kitchen

6. Prioritize Consistent Communication

“Starting a business isn’t easy, and entrepreneurs can often feel lonely during this challenging journey. Having a close-knit community of entrepreneurs that you can share your experience with makes a big difference. I would recommend two things. First, start a private Slack group where you can openly and confidentially share tactical advice, tough experiences and, of course, big wins. Additionally, organize monthly breakfasts and have everyone make a commitment to attend. This regular meeting will provide not only an opportunity for face time but also the chance to foster a deeper level of connection and support.” —Fatma Collins, cofounder and CEO of Ten Little

7. Do Your Best to Stay Emotionally Level

“Starting a small business is a weight on your emotions, and the more in control you are, the more of a captain you become. Employees don’t operate well in mania, so you need to stay tough and keep your game face on.” —Margaret Wishingrad, Three Wishes Cereal

8. Don’t Underestimate the Educational Impact of a Good Podcast

“Being a business owner, designer, wife and mother definitely constricts my free time. Which is why I’m obsessed with podcasts. How I Built This is so inspiring—and sometimes stressful because it can be a reminder of how much I have to do. But it’s also motivating to hear how business owners I admire and respect overcame and triumphed within their industries. Similarly, listening to The Jordan B. Peterson podcast, about the importance of values and virtues, puts everything into perspective and makes me a better person and a better leader. I gain so much without investing a ton of time.” —Adina Reyter, founder and designer of Adina Reyter Jewelry

9. Be Clear on What the Members of Your Team Are in Charge Of

“Before I launched Sunday [a lawn care company], my wife, Kristy, and I started a company together called Quinn Snacks. We’re lucky to now call Quinn a success, but the early days of cofounding a business with your spouse can be challenging! Looking back, one of the most positive steps we took toward strengthening our workflow was defining our areas of focus. This is important for any two cofounders, not just married ones. We would continue to collaborate, but we siloed the parts of the business where each of us would have the final say. This helped reduce conflict, kept our business running smoothly and helped us move forward with big decisions.” —Coulter Lewis, cofounder of Sunday and Quinn Snacks

10. As the Saying Goes, Always Under Promise and Over Deliver

“This old adage actually holds a lot of water. Short-term, people will like hearing that their project is going to be quick, easy and inexpensive. Long-term, they remember how it felt when you delivered quality product ahead of schedule. I think it’s especially important for beginners to be careful about the expectations they set, because it takes experience to learn how supplier shortages, hidden costs, shipping delays and other issues can throw a wrench into your plans. Build time into your schedule for those contingencies. You’ll look like a hero if you don’t use it, and you won’t look bad if you do.” —Dan Gordon, owner and operator of Dan Gordon Printing

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Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...