I have seen several variations on this advice in recent business-management articles (the quote is from an Inc.com slideshow on the habits of ineffective managers). The sum takeaway is “People, not numbers, make your business; focus on relationships for long term success.” Which I agree with whole-heartedly.
What I actually want to talk about here, though is the implications for the single-person business. How does “invest in people and profits will come” apply to the one-(wo)man shop?
The answer is surprisingly simple. As a one-person business, investing in your staff means investing in yourself.
- Educate yourself: Don’t overtax your hours stressing over the bottom line when you are trying to build a business. Instead, focus on being the best you can be: educate yourself. Spend at least an hour a day learning. If you try to do too much and leave no time for learning, you will not improve your skills and your business will stagnate.
- Network: Get to know people in your field, but also get to know other business owners in your geographic area. You’re going to need an accountant; you may also need distribution channels, business partners, cross-marketing opportunities, etc. You may need your computer fixed on short notice. Local business relationships can be vital to filling these needs.
- Keep your eye on the prize: Focus on providing top quality service/product 100% of the time. Profits are great, but if you are not providing a consistently excellent product, the profits will be short term. As a one-person business, you cannot afford to make a quick buck and move on.
- Build within your means: Do not fall into the trap of trying to build too much too fast. A one-person business is relatively efficient, and you have a lot of control you will never have again once you start hiring employees or partnering with other people. While you have that control, take the time to build a solid foundation. Understand your bookkeeping, and have a good system. Develop good contracts, and use them. Build slowly so that you can build well.
- Know when to invest in others: To allow yourself the time and space to learn, network, build and still focus, don’t be afraid to subcontract. Subcontractors come with fewer hoops to jump through than real employees in terms of taxation, benefits, consistent hours, and so forth, and they can be a fantastic way to bring in skills that you don’t have (or don’t have time for). If hiring a marketing consultant to handle your website lets you focus on your real skills–the core of your business–that is a good use of time and money. You don’t need to learn everything, and trying to do so is not a good use of your time.
Are you a one-person business? What investments in yourself have you made recently?