When it comes to running a business, my best advice to any new owner, founder or executive of a company is to listen to as much advice as you can and use apply what is most relevant to your scenario. When I first started Isolator Fitness Inc., I made mistakes like ignoring my customers’ needs, hiring based on impressive resumes alone, and hyper-focusing on profit margins. After hearing other new entrepreneurs’ stories, it turns out those mistakes are pretty common. I’ve since patched the errors from the early stages of my company, but in an attempt to help pave the path for other new founders, here are my three main takeaways.
Define Your Company
When you first start out, you may be tempted to base yourself off of your products, what they are, and how well they are made. After all, isn’t that what makes you stand out? You may even find yourself defining your company or your success based on your competition. This is a mistake. At Isolator Fitness, we used to pay attention to the success of our competitors, but we’ve learned that this way of thinking forces us to be reactive instead of proactive.
Now, we focus our attention on our customers first. We understand and value their influence on our company’s success. By paying attention to what our customers are saying about our products in online reviews, emails and social media, we’re better equipped to meet their demands. Leveraging email newsletters and pop-up surveys throughout the website, we are able to tap into which products they’re most interested in.
Before you can define or redefine your company, you must know who your customers are and what they want from you. Otherwise, you’ll always be reacting to market trends, rather than creating them. Social media is one of the best ways to engage with customers in a two-way conversation. Once you have built a customer base, be sure to check in with them periodically. Give them a chance to review current products and offer their input on improvements or ideas for future products.
Hire Character and Personality
Don’t underestimate the impact of culture fit. How well new hires mesh with their peers is just as important as their skill sets, no matter how impressive they may be. Skills can be taught and learned, but by the time a person makes it to the professional world, their personality and character traits have already well been established. A person who fits in well with the company but is lacking a few minor skills, however, can be taught to improve on those areas.
When I interview potential employees, I think of it as a balancing act. Of course, I want a candidate who mirrors my company’s values, but I also need people who have the basic skills and knowledge required to do the job. I make sure anyone who wants to (or needs to) learn new skills has access to the proper training, but they must also bring something to the table as well.
Working through a recruiting agency may seem like the easier option, but while your company is small enough to control the hiring process yourself, it’s better to have a personal handle on who you’re bringing into the company. Before any hiring decisions are made, have a few members of your staff who will be working closely with the new hire meet with them to test for culture fit.
Focus on People, Not Money
As business owners, we naturally focus on the financial side of business. We understand that, without money, we can’t make products or employ people to sell those products. In short, we believe that unless we focus on money, our company will fail.
However, you should prioritize two things over money: your customers and your employees. Build products that meet your customers’ needs and wants rather than high-grossing products that seem to be selling well in other niche markets. Focusing on what your current customers are already asking for is the best way to gain sales and increase profit margins. In my communication threads, I want to know what my audience is seeking from Isolator Fitness so that I’m better equipped to satisfy their specific requests.
The second group of people you should focus on is your employees. Without your team behind you, your business would likely crash and burn, so it’s important to respect them. Listening to my team ensures that I will always have good people behind me to produce, package, market and ship the products that supply our profit and pay the bills.
Money may be at the forefront of your mind, but you need to make sure that you’re keeping people in the No. 1 spot. After all, without customers and employees, you’re just another person with a pipe dream. I would recommend holding weekly meetings with your team you can make sure that projects are on track, your staff is up to speed with your expectations, and your team has time for creative collaboration. By following these steps, you should be well-equipped to move your business forward and mitigate any unforeseen obstacles.