Small Business Struggles

Becoming a small business owner is an incredibly rewarding experience. You have complete control over your schedule as well as how much money you can make, you can take time off whenever you choose, and you get to make every decision for your business. However, small business ownership is not without its struggles. Here are some of the things I’ve found out.

Don’t Expect a High Credit Limit

As a technology company, I need to be able to buy hardware such as computers online. And, writing software means that the $500 computer at the local store isn’t going to cut it. I want a high-end laptop. A laptop that will last for several years, run fast, and meet all of my high-tech needs. Of course, along with that comes a high price tag. That’s not a problem with my personal credit card. Years of solid payment history has yielded a good credit score, and a high credit limit. My business credit card, on the other hand, barely has enough to buy the accessories I need for my computer.

Everyone Wants a Job

Now that I own my own business, it seems that everyone wants a job. Somehow, as a small business struggling to find enough work for myself, I am expected to hire other people too and find work for them. Own a tech business? Now you can expect every teenage boy in your social circles to ask to be an intern for you this summer.

Human Resource Problems

Just hired your friend? Have fun with that! There’s nothing quite as awkward as dealing with performance issues or other HR issues when the individual is someone you’ve known for a long time. Now, you get to walk the fine line between running a successful business and protecting a relationship.

Hate Spam? Expect More!

As a business owner, everyone wants to sell me something. Whether it’s email, social media, or written correspondence, expect to receive even more junk mail. My favorite is when people connect on LinkedIn to grow their social network. Then, within minutes of accepting, you receive both a private message and an email to buy their services. Ignore that message? No problem – you’ll get another one tomorrow. Then, a week later, you’ll get a third message asking if you saw the first two.

Time is Valuable

As a business owner, you quickly learn how much it costs to perform tasks that are not billable. Marketing, social media, accounting, human resource management, website updates, and so many other tasks will require your attention – and none of them generate revenue. I’ve quickly learned to cut out the unessential so I can focus on what pays the bills.

Lots of Hats

I’ve learned just how many hats a small business owner must wear. Plan to be successful? You’ll need to know marketing, social media, accounting, human resource management, contract law, negotiations, and so much more. Oh, and that doesn’t even mention being an expert in the service you sell. Get a large hat rack – you’ll need it!

Final Thoughts

The last year of running my own business has been amazing. I’ve had financial freedom like never before and enjoyed the freedom to do what I want when I want. But that freedom hasn’t been without struggles. Business ownership is lots of work, and navigating the struggles has been part of the fun.

Social Media Etiquette

Social Media

Today, social media is increasingly being used as a tool for marketing and advertising. However, if done poorly, you run the risk of tarnishing your brand and being viewed as a spammer. Here are a few simple etiquette rules for social media.

Avoid Follow/Unfollow

Today, I was notified that I had a new follower on Instagram. After seeing that it was a local business, I decided to follow back. Trying to develop relationships with local businesses is an important aspect of my social media efforts. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I had an opportunity to visit their Instagram page. But when I did, I noticed that they had already unfollowed me. They had no actual interest in my content or in developing a relationship – they simply wanted to show me their products. This isn’t much different from spamming and does not present a positive view of your organization.

Create Content Not Advertisements

People are unlikely to follow you on social media to see what you have on sale this week. People want to see your personality, what your business stands for, and who you are. Of course, all businesses will occasionally create content that advertises their goods and services, but if that’s all you do, expect to be unfollowed. Social media is for growing communities – not a new tool to spam me with ads.

Stop Nagging Me About Services

On LinkedIn, in particular, this is common. Someone friends you and – wanting to grow your own circle of connections – you accept. Then, you get a private message about the services they offer. Viewing it for what it is – spam – you ignore the message. A week later, another message. Then a month later, a message asking if you got the previous message. Yes, I got them all. I chose to ignore them because I wasn’t interested in your product at this time. Additionally, I now am distrustful of you as I see you too are a spammer.

Like/Know/Trust

Want to develop your social media the right way? Use the like/know/trust model. First, users like you. They see your posts, enjoy your photos, laugh at your jokes. After a while, users feel that they know you. The’ve seen your stuff, they know what you stand for, and they feel that they understand you and your company. Finally, users trust you. They have seen you in action and know you’re knot a spammer. They recognize that you provide valuable content they want. They know you’re someone they could reach out to if they need your services. That’s the formula for success. You develop community and relationships, and people see you as a valuable asset instead of a spammer.

Do Unto Others

The golden rule applies to social media just as it does anywhere else. When you’re engaging in social media efforts, ask yourself how you would view another business if they used the same tactics. If it’s not favorable, don’t do it.

Return on Investment

During the past year, it has become increasingly obvious to me that many people don’t understand Return on Investment (ROI). Looking back, I realize this was not something I learned about until a businessman explained it to me. At its simplest, return on investment is exactly what it sounds like – the amount of return that an organization receives on their investment. However, this will be viewed differently based on the type of organization an individual works for – government, non-profit, or for profit entity.

Government Organizations

Government is the simplest to define as they have no ROI nor are they interested in ROI. This is not intended to be cynical, it’s just true. Regardless of your political affiliation, you can point to government programs that are riddled with waste. Why? Because government entities are not required to prove their programs work. We, the taxpayers, are forced to pay taxes regardless of the success of the programs we are asked to support. Deep inside, this is how we all want to work – we don’t really want management to access the value we bring to an organization, we simply want to be paid more.

Non-Profit Organizations

Non-profit organizations are a little more focused on ROI. However, their definition is far less stringent than a for-profit organization. For the non-profit, ROI is simply the appearance of value. Since non-profit organizations receive donations from individuals and entities, they only need to convince donors that their programs work. Even if they don’t, many will still give money to support the cause even when there is no ROI. Just like broken government programs, we can all point to non-profit organizations that continue to operate even though they are having no positive impact on the mission they support.

For Profit Organizations

Finally, we have for-profit organizations. In these organizations, everything is measured based on cost and benefits. ROI is simply the value something generates beyond the cost. This is absolutely critical for corporations. If money is continually invested in ways that generate less revenue than they cost, the business will quickly go bankrupt. If you want something, present your request based on the return on investment. Feelings and preferences have no place here. Can you directly tie your request to a financial reward? If not, don’t bother asking!

Why should you care?

The type of organization you work for will determine the ROI model used. Understanding that model will help you know how to argue for a raise, get a new computer, purchase additional tools, etc. If you work for a for-profit organization, decisions will be guided by how much money the business will get back from what they spent. If you can argue that your suggestion will yield more than it costs, you will be far more likely to see your request granted. However, if you argue based on your preference or feelings, you will likely find that your request is denied. Likewise, arguing that you bring substantially more to the organization than you are paid is the single best way to argue for a raise.

The Value of Communication

Phone

Throughout all my time in the workplace, I’ve heard employees at various levels complain about management. Workers always want to blame management for all the problems that end up derailing a project. Or, as a business owner, I hear other business owners complain about how poorly their projects are going with their clients. This is the status quo. Blame management and stay in your safe space without working to fix the problem. Or, maybe you’re on the other side of the equation… maybe you’re a manager or a business owner complaining about how the resources working on your project aren’t accomplishing the goals you had established for the project.

I don’t think the problem is management, or workers, or other businesses. I think the problem is much simpler… poor communication. I know this is true in my business. Some clients are eager to communicate with me. We have weekly meetings, discuss progress, determine if direction should be changed to better meet organization objectives, and spend a little time developing our professional relationships. Other clients simply can’t be bothered. Their schedules are too busy for even a weekly phone call. Which projects do you think go smoother?

Maybe you disagree. Maybe you think that resources should focus on accomplishing the mission assigned to them. Maybe you don’t want to spend time communicating with them. What impact does that have? When dealing with software projects, lack of communication can be catastrophic. You may tell explain a new feature to me, but I may misinterpret your request. Or, maybe your request wasn’t actually what you needed but I delivered exactly what you asked for. In either instance, both time and money has been wasted to move in the wrong direction.

Fortunately, the solution really is simple. Schedule time to communicate with the people on your team – both internal and external, senior and subordinate. Ensure that everyone understands the objectives of the project and provide frequent feedback as the project moves forward. Listen to questions and concerns and work with them to find a solution that best resolves any issues. If you want to achieve the most from any project, this is a necessity. If not, you’ll still be complaining about the same things next year.

Control and Responsibility

Over the past decade, the deep rooted traditional business methods have taken a shift, arguably for the better. In the Information Age where almost anyone can find out what they want to know, it’s much harder for businesses to feign values. People quickly become aware of any inconsistencies between what the businesses say they stand for and what they truly are. The same applies to company culture.

To note one thing in particular, the difference between a business that stands out as genuine versus the alternative comes down to looking at how control and responsibility are at play. A business feigning values will often have a structure of controlling more than they should, while shirking responsibility for mistakes onto those who fall lower on the totem pole. Rather than accepting a lack of sufficient leadership, they often play the blame game in an arrogant attempt to avoid displaying vulnerability or weakness.

Fortunately, in looking at the structure of Talixa, I see quite the contrary. Our business is exceptional at delivering quality through the services we offer, yet I see selflessness from our leadership and the other team members. Rather than trying to micromanage and control every part of the business, we each have lanes suited to our skills and experience as well as having a plethora of opportunities to excel. Since responsibility is shared across the board, team members are not afraid to admit to their flaws and work together to develop and grow. By filling in our gaps and working for the good of the team and the community, we are better equipped to scale as a company.

Hardly anybody likes when people pat themselves on the back, though. As far as I personally am concerned, I can’t take credit for the company culture and the success we have seen. I can, however, speak on behalf of the wonderful people that are also a part of this team and working to bring new industry and growth to our community. The more I get to know them individually, the more I am blown away by their willingness to serve. Where does your business or employer land on this spectrum of control and responsibility? If your business is community driven at its core, we’d love (insert shameless “Happy Valentine’s Day” plug) to develop a relationship with you.

Title Inflation

My first job as a computer programmer was for a small software company. Our tech department consisted of only a handful of people. I functioned as developer, QA, tech support, and network administrator. When I left, we had three programmers. As the person with the most time in the organization, I had the title ‘Senior Developer’. At the time, it sounded great. However, it would be more than a decade before I would have another title suggesting my status as a more senior level engineer.

During the last few months, it has become apparent to me that title inflation has really gotten out of hand. I read an article last week that Javascript Developers want to be called UX Engineers instead. The bulk of programmers are not great at interface design – developers use logic, interface designers use feeling. It’s a left brain/right brain thing, and few people are actually great at both.

Likewise, everyone wants to be a Full Stack Engineer today. Sure, plenty of people can do all parts of a project – from the HTML frontend to the backend and the database. However, very few are actually experts at all of the above. Most Full Stack Engineers are really just jack-of-all-trade sorts who have not mastered any particular part of the process.

I see even more title inflation when I look at small business owners. Everyone is a Founder or CEO – yet few, if any, of them have employees or revenue to command such a lofty title.  Or better yet, people claiming the title Director of some department or another yet having nobody underneath them. You’re only fooling yourself.

What have I learned from all this? Titles are meaningless. What really matters is what a person has accomplished. If you had to prove to someone that your title was appropriate, could you do so? On your resume, can you provide several bullet points to validate your title? If you cannot, you will be disappointed when the next organization you work for gives you a title inline with your actual skills.

Goal-Oriented Design

When building anything, keep the end goal in mind. Too often, businesses fail to consider the importance of big picture thinking when starting a new project, especially regarding an intentional design process. In designating specific tasks or planning out projects, most would focus on immediate results. However, in looking at a company like Amazon, there is such an emphasis on long-term growth that their team is looking seven years out and planning accordingly.

Jeff Bezos is noted for saying that when people compliment him on current growth, he can’t help but be amused, because the next few quarters of sales were already determined for the most part by the planning and processes designed years ago. Similarly, in looking at the long-term nature of building out a sustainable income on a platform like YouTube, very few businesses want to hop on board, knowing that they would barely make any money initially. The same goes for other Social Media platforms, though I’d contend that a lack of understanding of how to leverage these platforms is a contributing factor as well.

Ironically, the type of work that pays out well in the short term doesn’t scale very well. In addressing goal-oriented design, one of the biggest upsides comes from knowing that the growth ceiling is often much higher despite taking a bit longer to see returns. We’ve all heard it said that slow and steady wins the race, yet too many times businesses take an overly aggressive approach to increasing company revenue. We can’t really blame them, but what we can do is make better choices for ourselves to change the narrative of how success is achieved in business.

Do What You Want*

So many businesses today are doing what they DO NOT want and confusing it as the right thing to do. Maybe they feel like they need employees to follow the 9-5 workday to achieve success. Perhaps they are doing things just to “fit in” with other businesses, and at their own expense. Even still, most businesses that I’ve encountered have some aspect of their work that adds no productivity or value, yet they continue to “go about their business” anyway.

However, I need to be clear… the asterisk in the title is there for a reason. The message conveyed is both good and right in its true nature, not to be confused with or distorted into a message of business driven by greed, hedonism or self-gratification. So long as a business’ goals and core values promote good in an ultimate and absolute sense, it’s hard to go wrong. Simply consider how each decision relates back to the mission and vision of the company.

Personally and vocationally speaking, my efforts are focused on helping other businesses, organizations, and individuals to do exactly what I’ve suggested. If we don’t want to do something, we’re certainly not going to be capable of doing our best work. We can put on a good show and do enough to get by, but the world would be so much better if every business and every person was operating at peak potential for the sake of making the world a better place. Let me know what you’re doing that you shouldn’t be, and I’ll do my best to help you do more of what you want* in any way that I can.

Leverage Networks

Over the last several months, my mission has been to focus on company scalability. As a community minded individual, implementing a business model that would encourage Talixa to grow only when we help others do the same has always been a priority. I would argue that this is the reason we saw so much growth so quickly. In April, Talixa transitioned from a part-time company to a full-time company. By July, we had enough projects to keep us booked full-time through the end of the year.

Initially, those were my goals. My work revolved around doing whatever I could to ensure that the company was an asset to the community. As we’ve brought on more team members, I needed to redefine what specifically I could do to allow Talixa to become an even greater asset to the community. What I’ve realized is that I need to make myself available to the rest of the community so I can see more of our community reaching their potential, through Talixa’s infrastructure.

Tom never needed me to help him grow his company. I firmly believe that. However, in looking at what happened as a result of my decision to be a part of the company’s growth, I realized that the element of collaboration, transparency and accountability could explain the rapid growth. When other people can see what we’re working on, we can get the necessary feedback to make the right decisions to position ourselves for sustained growth.

With all that said, Talixa Software & Service, LLC is offering a brand new service… one that I’m particularly excited to share. As far as social media is concerned, our community overall does a fantastic job of utilizing facebook to spread the word and market the products and services that are locally available. However, I have seen very few people utilizing twitter to its fullest potential. People like Elon Musk (Tesla, Space X, Boring Company) are utilizing twitter to accomplish unbelievable things and reach the masses, despite claiming that it is the most difficult platform to conquer.

I have been in the process of tearing the platform apart, breaking down every bit of information I can understand, in order to come up with a process to leverage our local networks and scale our community, catering to our strengths and capitalizing on them. Our business model has worked incredibly thus far, so I don’t intend to change it at its core. Talixa will only scale by helping our entire community do the same. For this reason, we have created twitter business packages to deliver exceptional value, and the reason we can offer the service at the most competitive price is because we’ve created a win-win scenario… a blue ocean.

If your business is on twitter, send us your twitter handle (e.g. @TalixaSoftware) and we’d be happy to give you some extra exposure through our twitter, even if you aren’t actively tweeting content. If your business isn’t on twitter, make an account right now! Otherwise, you’ll miss out on the huge potential to accomplish immeasurably more than you’d expect. If you’d like to learn more about our service, check out this link: bit.ly/2MuMPoF

If you have any questions or feedback about what we’ve ventured into, please reach out! We’d love for you to be a part of what we’re doing and reap the benefits alongside us.

Know Your Numbers

As a US based tech company, if someone were to ask which language we would use to be able to communicate with the most people around the world, “English” would probably be the expected answer. While English is second only to Mandarin Chinese (the most spoken language in the world), communicating nonverbally through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) would serve as a more universally effective method. Regardless of whether the person on the other end of the conversation can speak the same language, anyone can relate through numbers.

In business, numbers are considerably more important. From margins to revenue and analytics, companies live and die by their numbers. Some of my favorite businesses have closed, not due to a lack of quality in their product or service, but because they failed to understand how to properly manage and utilize numbers. Sadly enough, companies with millions of dollars in revenue can still have little to no profit. Likewise, companies can often easily fail to deliver on the value proposition of their product or service.

As I continue to help Talixa develop and grow through refining our business processes and my own social media processes (specifically twitter for the time being), I constantly am looking to see what the numbers can tell me. Experimenting is one of the best ways to learn, because it leads to a wider range of experience. Individuals, businesses, and organizations can develop and grow simply by taking action upon an understanding that numbers are a priority.

Looking for advice based on anything I’ve said? I’m happy to give it, free of charge. Reach out using any of these methods:

DM Talixa on Twitter: twitter.com/TalixaSoftware
Message Nick on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/nick-gordon
Email Nick: nick@talixa.com