Business, Startups, Strategy

Small Business Mistakes – Lack of Unique Selling Proposition

In case you’re keeping up, this is the fifth installment in my Small Business Mistakes series. If you’ve missed the other four, you can read the Introduction, Failure to Validate, Misunderstanding Your Target Market, and Having No Marketing Plan. Just follow the blog to keep up and read the rest of the series as I post.

Every day we read about the latest innovative company or industry disrupter in Silicon Valley. But the reality is that most small businesses are merely competing against very similar businesses, usually in an already-crowded market space. This means, as a small business owner, you must tackle a big problem right off the bat; how do you convince your target market to do business with you rather than your competitors? It doesn’t matter if you’re a manufacturer, distributor, retailer or service provider, if your business model does not set your business apart from the rest, in a way that provides value to your potential customers, you can’t hope to take your share of the market.

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Photo by Andrew Wulf on Unsplash

Enter: The Unique Selling Proposition

First, let’s get the semantics out of the way. You’ll see the same or similar definition from many different sources using different terms; Unique Selling Proposition (USP), Unique Value Proposition (UVP), Market Differentiator, Value Positioning Statement, Elevator Pitch, and Elevator Speech are all basically versions of the same thing. The purpose of (whatever you want to call it – I’ll stick with USP) is two-fold; 1) to point out what makes your business different from your competitors, 2) in a way that matters to your target market. Only if you have both elements, will you succeed in differentiating your business and winning your share of the target market.

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Photo by Alexandre Debiève on Unsplash

Second, let me be very clear about a very important point; if you Google “Unique Selling Proposition”, the majority of results will define this as a “statement” that describes a business’ differentiators, etc. That’s true – it is a statement. But understand this: a USP is not merely a statement or tagline to place front and center on your website. A USP must reflect reality and be integral to your business model and mission; it’s the “Why buy from them?” for your customers. In other words, you can make up the prettiest sounding USP in your entire market but if you can’t deliver, it’s no more than a marketing ploy. If you say it then it better be true or you won’t last very long.

How Do You Formulate a USP and What Does it Look Like?

You can find tons of articles and books on how to draft your USP. One extremely thorough article by Tor Grøndsund, written in 2011 (with a follow-up in 2013) reviews 10 different templates proposed by various authors and scholars. I strongly advise reading both articles and putting one of the featured templates to good use. You’ll need to be able to answer the same basic questions to formulate your USP, no matter what format you use:

  1.  Who is your target customer?
  2. What is their specific need your business fills?
  3. What is your product or service?
  4. How does it fill that target customer’s need?

For example, in his initial article, Mr. Grøndsund features Geoff Moore’s Value Positioning Statement template, which I find to be the easiest and most straightforward:

For ____________ (target customer) who ____________ (statement of the need or opportunity)

our (product/service name) is ____________ (product category) that __________ (statement of benefit).

A USP could then read like this:

For small business owners (target customer) who need occasional legal advice (statement of the need or opportunity) Concision’s Subscription Service (product/service name) is a flat-fee monthly subscription (product category) that makes it simple to ask business and legal questions at a fraction of the usual law firm price (statement of benefit).

Again, remember, if the business does not live up to the USP, you have a real problem.

General Mistakes Made Regarding USP

Small business owners will generally make one or more of the following mistakes regarding their USP:

  1. Fail to formulate a USP
  2. Fail to focus on issues that matter to the target market
  3. Focus on the same or similar issues as the competition
  4. Fail to effectively communicate the USP

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Photo by Mark Rabe on Unsplash

MISTAKE #1 – Failing to Formulate a USP

Ask yourself why someone would do business with you rather than your competition?  What specific need do you fill (or pain do you alleviate) for your target market? Think about the reasons you started the business and why you thought people would be persuaded to do business with you. Did you think you could do it better, faster, nicer, etc. than the competition? You can’t expect to draw customers away from your competition unless you provide them with a reason that matters to them. This is especially true if it’s a bit of a pain for the customer to make that transition. Your USP must make it worthwhile for the customer to choose you over your competitors. What need does your business fill for your customers and what’s in it for them to do business with you?

If you didn’t plan your business model around a USP, it’s not too late and if you make it a focus now it could make an enormous impact on your current revenues. Think about it. Be creative. How could you make your product or service more valuable to your potential customer? “Valuable” can mean many different things: more convenient, fun, emotionally-fulfilling, better price, higher quality, etc. Examine the different facets of your product or service. Can you tweak something that could make a big difference to the customer? You probably don’t have to change your entire business model or make huge changes. Think small. In many businesses, it’s the small things that make a huge impact.

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Look at Warby Parker for example. WP is an online shop (they have a few physical locations as well) selling non-name-brand prescription eyeglasses at a significantly reduced price. But WP also features many other small differentiators that even if the price different were not so significant, could possibly make a big difference to their target market. I recently ordered my son a pair and it was a fabulous experience. I decided to order online because I have a teenager and it’s hard to get him to take time out of his busy social schedule to go to the store and look at glasses. WP was appealing for several reasons (all of which were readily apparent by looking at their website). First, it was convenient; they allow you to choose 5 pair online to be shipped to your home, free of charge, to try on. They include a return shipping label so all you have to do is drop them in the mailbox after you make your decision. Second, it was the price; almost every pair of glasses is a flat $95 and they pay shipping fees. Third, was selection; although they only carry their own brand of glasses (no Ray Bans, etc.) the look and style of the glasses are identical to the name brands.

Once I made the decision to shop with them, it was the process after the sale that influenced me to shop with them again: a) the box the samples came in was so nicely presented and organized, b) they direct you to a video after choosing your glasses, that instructs you how to measure your pupillary distance by taking a photo and texting it to them and c) your glasses arrive in a neat little box with a nice case inside with a personal message and their brochure. WP’s brochure states at the top that they were “founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.” That’s pretty darn close to a USP. If WP were to use Geoff Moore’s template, the USP might look something like this: “For busy eyeglass wearers (target customer) who would like a convenient alternative for purchasing their glasses (statement of the need or opportunity) our online store (product/service name) offers mail-order eyeglasses in styles almost identical to designer brands (product category) that fit perfectly and cost less (statement of benefit).” But their USP isn’t a written statement front and center on their website, it comes through organically in each step of the process and in the business model (which better be the case whether your USP is in writing or not).

If you have not formulated a USP, get busy. You may already have one that your business incorporates daily but you just haven’t formulated it in writing. I’m not saying you need to splash your USP on everything but unless you write it down for your own benefit, you have nothing on which to focus your marketing efforts. Go through the template example above, think about what you already offer. If you truly offer nothing that differentiates you from the competition, you have a little work to do. What do you hear people complain about most regarding the competition? Know your competition well. Carefully research their website and/or physical locations as much as possible. Talk to their customers and find out where they excel and where they fall short. This should help you see any glaring shortcomings that you can use to your advantage. Their shortcomings should be where you put your best efforts. Implementing and communicating the USP to your target market will make a difference in your bottom line.

MISTAKE #2 – Failing to Focus on Issues That Really Matter to the Target Market

If you didn’t learn what your target market wants or needs during your research and validation process, you need to zero in on it immediately. If you focus on just trying to be “unique” without an emphasis on what matters most to the customer, you’ve missed the point. For example, you can dress your pizza delivery guys in pink tights and a tutu to distinguish them from the other delivery guys. But if your pizza sucks and your delivery is slow, all the uniqueness in the world won’t make up for it.

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Photo by Baptiste C David on Unsplash

To understand what the customer wants, you must understand your target market intimately. Who is your target market? What are the demographics? Are they college students? Empty-nesters? What matters to one of these markets may not matter to the other. For example, delivering pizza 24/7 may be extremely important to college students but not so much to empty-nesters.  But the more mature group might value a more sophisticated pizza menu, tip included in the price or “early-bird specials”. Know your target market and speak directly to them. Deliver guys in pink tights may not even hurt as long as you get the rest right! Your job is to figure out what the customer wants or needs that they are not getting from the competition – then provide it to them. Set your business apart from the competition in a way that convinces the customer to do business with you rather than the competition. That’s it.

MISTAKE #3 – Focusing on the Same or Similar Issues as the Competition

Perhaps you haven’t noticed but I certainly have. There are several common elements I see small businesses “list” on their websites as differentiators but usually without taking the extra steps to make them an integral part of their business model or formulate a USP: a) price, b) convenience, c) service, d) selection, e) friendliness f) speed and e) experience. Anyone can say they have the friendliest staff or the best service, etc. but when everyone is focusing on the same adjectives, unless your business is the one that really backs up your claims, it means nothing. Again, take Warby Parker for example; they state their objective is to “offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price…”. I paid $95 for my son’s WP glasses and paid no shipping. I’d say that’s pretty “revolutionary” when to replace the Ray Bans he lost would have been $475. So even though they focused on price as their primary differentiator (which could be the same for a few competitors), they can back it up big time.

Additionally, if your business and every other business in your category are going after the same target and touting the same “differentiators”; they aren’t differentiators! Remember the unique in USP. Providing unique value will always be superior to simply living up to your claims…what if everyone in your category is living up to their claims as well? Come on – put your creative thinking cap on! Fill a need in a way that really matters to your customer.

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Photo by Luke Palmer on Unsplash

To illustrate, let’s look at an entire category of small business; tire stores. A quick Google search for “tire stores” led me to the following businesses. Although none of them really had a stated USP on their websites, each did focus on at least one “differentiator”:

Pep Boys – Selection of services

Discount Tire – Selection of products

Goodyear Tires – Price (price match, rebates, online discount)

Pro Tire – Shuttle Service

Not a lot of creativity or differentiation here other than Pro Tire. And instead of just using the word “convenient” at least they show a photo and describe how they are convenient. Their shuttle service really does differentiate them from the competition. But let’s try and put that in a template:

For tire buyers (target customer) who have somewhere else they need to be (statement of the need or opportunity) our automotive and tire service center (product/service name) provides a shuttle service for your convenience (not really a product category) that keeps you on schedule with the rest of your day (statement of benefit). Remember everything doesn’t have to fit perfectly into a template and many times it won’t.

Try this type of experiment in your own business category. Take a look at your biggest competitors. What is their USP? If they are not actually stating a USP, what differentiators are they focusing on? Do you focus on the same?

 MISTAKE #4 – Failing to Properly Communicate Your USP

Read the articles I referenced above. Study your target market, thoroughly evaluate your competition and their USPs, understand your product or service and how it provides a unique value to your customer. Play around with the different templates mentioned in the articles. Make an effort to differentiate your business and put it in writing in a way that can be communicated to your potential customers in a clear and articulate (if not eloquent) manner. Run your final USP by some objective folks – perhaps customers. Then work with your marketing team to put it in play throughout your marketing efforts. Shout it from the rooftops and make it so!

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Business, Employment Law, Regulatory Compliance, Startups

1099 vs Employee; Take the 10-Question Quiz in my Newest Legal Guide

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Small business owners are often faced with the decision to classify a worker either as an employee or an independent contractor. Unfortunately, these employers frequently and incorrectly classify workers as independent contractors when they should be classified as employees as. The reason for misclassification usually boils down to economics; small business trying to save money anywhere they can in order to increase the bottom line.

It’s been my experience that most small business owners a) don’t understand worker classification, b) depend on the wrong people to advise them and c) don’t understand the potential consequences of misclassification.

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Based on this experience, I wanted to create a guide to help employers learn the factors to consider when classifying workers, the reasoning behind these factors and why it is so important to get this right. In my free legal guide, The Great Worker Classification Dilemma; Employee or Independent Contractor?, you’ll receive:

  • An easy-to-understand list of factors used by the IRS, the Department of Labor and South Carolina courts to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor,
  • Examples of situations that could arise from misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor,
  • A simple comparison of the money saved by classifying a worker as an independent contractor to the potential money lost, if that worker was actually an employee, and
  • A 10-Question Quiz to help you determine if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.

To read, print or download the guide, go to my Resources Page and click the link – you may find something else on the page that could help you. Of course, if you have any questions about this or any other business issue, please let me know. I’d love to talk!

Business, Startups

Small Business Mistakes – Failure to Validate

This is the second post in my Small Business Mistakes Blog Series. Click here to see the Introductory post with links to more than 40 great small business resources like podcasts, books, sites and more. I will post at least one in the series each week until I get through all 10 on my list – so stick around!

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Move Over Passion

Many people romanticize being in business for themselves to such an extent that they lose all common sense and perspective. And with so much in the news about Silicon Valley IPOs and billion-dollar exits it’s not that surprising that people think one BIG idea (and of course a garage or dining room table) is all it takes to be the next Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg. So, instead of trying to strategically solve a problem for a target market at a price they’ll be willing to pay, these uninformed folks focus only the dream.  Of course, it doesn’t help to constantly hear the feel-good phrase of the decade; “go with your passion and the money will follow”.  Newsflash: passion is, of course, necessary when starting a business (or you’ll die of exhaustion and frustration) but passion alone won’t build a viable business.  Every prospective business owner needs to take a breath after they come up with that great idea (inhale; exhale slowly) and validate the idea with their target market.

What is Validation?

Validation is the process of vetting your idea to be as sure as possible it has the qualities of a viable business; a) the fulfilment of a desire or a need (solve a problem or resolve a “pain point”) that many people have, (b) at a price they are willing to pay.  If you fail to do either, you will not be successful.[1]

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Failure to validate causes many small businesses to fail. Let’s look at Tony, for example. Although he’s never played a single hole of golf, he came up with what he thought (and his entire family thought) was a brilliant idea for a product; a pocket-sized leaf blower for golfers to move leaves from the ball’s path.  He paid a company $10,000.00 to make a prototype, paid a manufacturer for an initial order of 1,000 at a cost of $15 each, set his wholesale price at $19 and paid $4,000.00 for a booth at a golf industry show.  And he was stunned when he didn’t get a single order. What went wrong? He didn’t validate his business idea. Are leaves even a problem on a golf course? If so, is it something that causes a problem for enough golfers who are willing to buy a product to deal with it? And if they are willing to buy such a product, what price are they willing to pay? Tony could have likely saved himself at least $30K by making one phone call to a serious golfer.

How Validation Works

Validating your business idea is a bit like using the scientific method of forming a hypothesis, conducting an experiment, and analyzing the data to draw a conclusion.  After validating your business idea, you can also use the validation process for other business decisions that impact your market (e.g.: product add-on, new model, tagline, logo, packaging design, etc.).  There are different methods of validation but the point is to elicit honest and open feedback from your target market and draw your conclusions as to the viability of your business idea…before spending a lot of time and money.  If you ask the right questions or conduct the right experiment, this feedback should enable you to reach a conclusion about your idea, which will inevitably lead to one of three actions; (1) pursue the idea as-is, (2) modify the idea and re-validate or (3) ditch it altogether and come up with a new idea.

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Validation Methods[1]

Industry Research –  The very first thing you should do is search the internet to determine whether your business idea or product has already been implemented.  If it has, can you do something slightly different or improve upon it in some way?  Research the industry, vertical markets, ancillary products or businesses, etc. and see if there are different opportunities.  Look for trends in the industry – can you predict something others may not have seen?  Are there regulatory changes that may occur soon? Another new product that may bring about industry changes you could leverage? I cannot stress enough that you should learn absolutely everything you can about the industry you’re thinking about entering. You won’t regret learning too much but you could certainly regret not learning the few facts that would have made an enormous difference in your business.

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In-Person Interviews – Most business people agree that face-to-face personal interviews are the very best method for validating your idea.  Skype or video conferencing can also be used, but the point is to see your subject’s expressions and body language and video is not the very best method for this.  If you’re communicating over the phone or by email, some of the commentary can be lost in translation.  First, come up with a list of 20 to 30 potential customers (your target market, not family and friends) to approach for an interview.  Of course, there’s a benefit to interviewing potential customers; they may love your idea and become your very first customers.  Research and think through the questions you’ll ask. They should central in determining the true need for your business or product and the price people will pay.  Keep the interview short (10 minutes max) and be sure to follow-up with a personal handwritten thank you note (they took time out of their busy day for no reason but to help you, so you can take 5 minutes to handwrite a note rather than send a less formal email).  Keep an open mind during these interviews. You’ll do yourself no favors by ignoring feedback, criticisms or relevant questions. Do not try to make this about convincing yourself the idea will work. It’s better to realize at this stage that you need to change course than after you’ve spent months and thousands of dollars on a losing proposition. Additionally, please don’t worry about an interviewee stealing your idea.  Even though they may think it’s a great idea, they’re unlikely to have the time nor the inclination.  Asking a potential client (who’s doing you a favor) to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement is not something you want to do.

Landing Page and A/B (or “Split”) Testing – If you don’t have the time for personal interviews, or you’ve done the interviews, have good reviews and want to take your validation to the next level, you can do so by using a landing page.  A landing page, used in this context, is just a one-page website that tests the viability of your business idea.  It’s one thing to get positive verbal feedback on your idea but to have real customers sign up for future information, click through to learn more or commit to buy something in the future is much stronger evidence that you have a winner.  A great landing page must have an eye-catching call to action (for signing up or getting more info, etc.) and once activated, you can see how many potential customers you snag (conversion rate). This should provide enough information to determine your next step.  Additionally, you could test two different calls to action, taglines, business names, etc. on the landing page by setting up an “A” landing page with one option and a “B” landing page with the other and measure the conversion rates against one another.[1]  This type of testing is best done at this very early stage without investing a lot of money before making such critical decisions.

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Pre-Selling – You’ve heard the old saying, “put your money where your mouth is”. Pre-selling does just that. Of course, this method will only work for certain business ideas, and only if you can reach your target market, but it’s a sure-fire way to validate.  If you can get people to buy your product, a subscription, a coupon, etc. in advance, you can solve a lot of problems up front. As seen in this article by The Teacherpreneur (Jarrod Robinson), you can actually raise the funds needed to build the product, by selling in advance.  But the Teacherpreneur also had a built-in audience with his blog, Podcast, and other endeavors, so this could be a bit more challenging if you have to pay for advertising.  Of course, there’s always Kickstarter.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – This term was popularized by Eric Ries who wrote The Lean Startup (a must-read, by the way).  In simple terms, I would say that an MVP is a version of a product built with the least amount of effort, time and money to get it in front of the target market as soon as possible for validation or feedback to enable the builder to modify the product as necessary.  Per Ries’ website, “A core component of Lean Startup methodology is the build-measure-learn feedback loop. The first step is figuring out the problem that needs to be solved and then developing a minimum viable product (MVP) to begin the process of learning as quickly as possible. Once the MVP is established, a startup can work on tuning the engine. This will involve measurement and learning and must include actionable metrics that can demonstrate cause and effect question.”[1]  In his book, Ries explains the way his tech company ended up using this methodology.  But the same principles can be used when starting even the smallest of businesses.  If you want to open a bakery, perhaps you could perfect your cake recipes at local church bazaars or school bake sales and ask for feedback from customers.  Or, if you wanted to be a photographer you could make photos for free and get feedback until you perfected your craft.

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Ask for Help

Remember there are vast resources (See the end of post #1 of this series) out there to help you at every stage of the game. You don’t have to do this alone. Your local SCORE chapter or SBA are great resources. You’ll also find most established business owners are happy to answer questions, meet with you, suggest other resources, etc. There are also numerous local business coaches, consultants and advisors, including Concision. Also, see the Google Ventures Guide to Research for some great insight on validation, etc. And please get in touch if you’d like to discuss your business idea (no charge) or need other resources and just don’t know where to start. And keep watching for my 3rd installment in this series very soon.

[1] “Methodology.” The Lean Startup | Methodology. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

[1] See this article for a very in-depth look at using landing pages for validation

[1] This article in Entrepreneur Magazine reveals how 9 different entrepreneurs validated their business

[1] For a great article on business ideas by Paul Graham (co-founder of Y Combinator), see How to Get Startup Ideas.

Business, Growth, Startups, Strategy

Introduction to Small Business Mistakes Blog Series

These days it seems everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, launch a startup, buy a franchise or sell something online. Entrepreneurs, startups, venture capitalists and Silicon Valley are in the news daily. Startups, small businesses and entrepreneurship are very often the topic of news stories and television shows and new blogs and websites spring up daily dedicated to helping you make your fortune with that next great innovative idea.  But what’s the difference between a small business and a startup and who the heck qualifies as an entrepreneur by today’s standards?  Steve Blank, (the Silicon Valley entrepreneur considered to be the father of the Lean Start-Up methodology[1]), has said that entrepreneurs start businesses that will fit into one of 6 categories: “lifestyle business, small business, scalable startup, buyable startup, large company, and social entrepreneur”.[2]

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When people talk about startups, they’re usually referring to what Blank calls the “scalable startup”.  These startups usually pop up in places like Silicon Valley and New York.  Think Google and Facebook or more recently Uber and Airbnb.  The entrepreneurs that start these businesses are not thinking locally, they’re thinking globally.  They’re not just hoping to send their kids to private school, live in a gated community and take nice vacations.  These guys are making big pitches to venture capitalists and launching scalable companies with their sites on making piles of money through an IPO or a huge exit. [3]

Even though the Silicon Valley types get most of the press, most entrepreneurs’ start new businesses that easily fit into the small business startup category.  But the word “small” doesn’t do many of these organizations justice. The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) defines small businesses as those employing fewer than 500 people[4]. I don’t know about you but a business with 499 employees doesn’t sound so small to me.  The impact of small business on the U.S. economy is certainly not small; they make up a full 99.7% of all businesses with paid employees in the US and employ 48% of the private workforce.[5]  In South Carolina the numbers are almost identical with small businesses employing 47% of the private workforce.[6]  Impressive numbers, right?  If we looked no further, you’d probably think small businesses in general must be pretty successful.  But, if you’ve ever taken a college statistics class you know numbers don’t always tell the whole story.  The SBA reports a less-than-rosy picture for individual businesses, which shouldn’t be overlooked by would-be entrepreneurs.  Approximately 20% of small businesses in this country fail within the first year of business and by the fifth year approximately 50% will throw in the towel.[7]  But because there are always new businesses opening to take the place of those closing, the overall economic impact isn’t as great as the financial impact on individual owners.

So it seems the trick is to remain standing through that first year, follow with at least 4 successful years after that and keep on rollin’.  Simple, right?  You might think so if you’ve never tried it. There’s no formula to guarantee your business’ success, but if you avoid the mistakes I’ll discuss in this blog series you’ll certainly decrease your odds of failing.

Success is Tricky Despite Help Available

Successful business leaders write books and blogs, hold seminars, record podcasts and volunteer to be mentors.  Academics research, study and report small business data to give us the big picture.  Numerous national and local associations and organizations are dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.  So why is it, with so much information and assistance available (much of it completely free) to help small businesses succeed, the chances for survival remain grim?  The reasons are probably as numerous as the businesses that fail, but common themes do persist. According to Michael Gerber, in his best-selling business book, The E Myth Revisited, most people who go into business for themselves assume because they know how to perform the “technical work”[8] of a business (e.g.: accounting, baking cakes, designing buildings), they will intuitively be able run a business that offers that product or service.  However, as Mr. Gerber points out, nothing could be further from the truth and it becomes evident to these folks pretty soon out of the gate.  People quickly learn there’s much more to know about running a business than making the product or performing the service.  Functions like marketing, accounting, human resources, customer service, sales, purchasing, logistics, etc. cannot be overlooked but often are as people get caught up in their dream of business-ownership.  Even the smallest businesses must understand and plan for these functions in a way that will lead to success.  And while there’s no way to prevent all possible mistakes, educating yourself by taking advantage of the vast number of resources available (See Resources below) will give you a much better shot at success than if you don’t.  So, in no particular order, in the coming weeks, I will write about 10 of the most common business mistakes and how you can avoid making them.

SMALL BUSINESS RESOURCES I RECOMMEND:

Government Resources

SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives – one of THE best online resources available; find a mentor, sign up for free webinars, watch recorded webinars, sign up for live events and courses on demand, etc.)

The Small Business Administration (a wealth of free information, statistics and advice)

The SC Department of Commerce Publication Directory (publications on everything from Aviation to Workforce Training)

SC DOC Focus on Small Business (the SC DOC’s latest publication – filled with good information)

SC DOC Resource Finder (tell them what you need and they will find the resource for you)

SBA Profile on SC (statistics regarding ownership, income, jobs, etc. for SC small businesses)

SBA Office of Advocacy-Research and Statistics (all other statistics of interest)

US Patent and Trademark Office (trademarks page)

US Patent and Trademark Office (patents page)

Learning

Udemy (learn anything from Java to Body Language for Entrepreneurs, free or very reasonable)

The Best Blogs, Online Magazines, etc.:

Harvard Business Review

Wall Street Journal

Inc.

Entrepreneur

Fast Company

Wired

Forbes

Fundera Ledger (great list of additional resources and great articles on the site as a whole)

Note – I just found this article today on Fundera; The 37 Best Resources for Small Business News – a great list of resources!

Podcasts:

How to Start a Startup (amazing podcast from the people at Y Combinator)

Unemployable (I know, they could have worked on the title but this show has great advice for freelancers, coaches, consultants and entrepreneurs)

The $100 MBA (good, practical business advice in all areas from different types of businesses)

Startup (lessons learned from other startups)

Smart Passive Income (really informative – as the title says it’s all about building passive income products and marketing those products)

Mixergy (stories from entrepreneurs about successes and failures)

The Tim Ferriss Show (the guy who wrote “The 4-Hour Workweek” – examines what it takes to be a top performer in all different professions)

Great Apps for Staying Informed:

FlipBoard (follow all sorts of topics and magazines – a wonderful resource)

Feedly (read your blog feeds)

Audible (I can’t sit still long enough to read a book these days so I LOVE this app – use on your commute, workout or chore time to your advantage and listen to a business book!)

Books I Personally Recommend (all available on Amazon and Audible and probably the library):

The Art of the Start 2.0 by Guy Kawasaki

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie (should be mandatory reading in high school!)

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

The Innovator’s Dilemma

Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Best Business Books of All Time (according to almost everyone and all on my “to read” list):

Purple Cow by Seth Godin

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Good to Great by Jim Collins

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson

ENDNOTES:

[1]Steve Blank Entrepreneurship and Innovation.” Steve Blank. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

[2]Why Governments Don’t Get Startups–Or, Why There’s Only One Silicon Valley.” Xconomy. N.p., 01 Sept. 2011. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Frequently Asked Questions. N.p.: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, June 2016. PDF. (However, for purposes of government programs, and contracting, there are specific industry-level definitions here: Table of Small Business Size Standards | The U.S. Small Business Administration)

[5] Frequently Asked Questions. N.p.: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, June 2016. PDF.

[6] Small Business Profile, South Carolina, 2016. N.p.: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, n.d. PDF.

[7] Survival Rates and Firm Age. N.p.: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, n.d. PDF.

[8] The E-myth Revisited Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. N.p.: Bloomsbury Qatar Fndtn Pub, 2014. Print.