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This month I’m celebrating my 15th anniversary in business and thinking back on all I have learned. If you want to learn the secret to becoming an entrepreneur and running a thriving small business, I share here five things that will help you succeed. I have met thousands of business owners around the country, and there’s more than one way to do everything. But there is a mix of common factors that contribute to success. Business is slightly more of a science than an art and begins with mastering the fundamentals. Here are some of my best lessons.


1. Always Know Your Numbers

Before you quote a price, form a partnership or do a deal, make sure you know your how much profit margin is in the deal. This might seem obvious, but it’s not. It’s important to determine whether or not a project is worth your time. When I was early in my entrepreneurial journey, I put together some basic pricing. It was one-size-fits-all pricing. In fact, when I started reviewing the numbers, I was barely making a 25 percent gross profit margin on any project, practically paying people to do business with me. Not to mention there were overhead, taxes and contractors fees before I could cut my own check. Your pricing should include the cost of materials, cost of labor and packaging, and a percentage of your overhead costs should be spread across every sale. If you don’t know the numbers, it won’t be long before you’re out of business.


2. The Customer Is Always Right

There will be times when you mess up an order; it happens to everyone. The key is that you fix it. Take the time to go the extra mile and make sure that the customer leaves your business with a smile. Respond promptly to customer complaints and act like treating them well can earn you money, because it can. Here are some essentials on giving good service:

* Don’t ignore or argue with customers. Welcome feedback.
* Solve the problem in one interaction.
* Empower your staff to solve problems.
* Thank customers for the business; nobody owes you anything.
* Over-deliver on service.

3. ABC: ‘Always Be Closing’

“Always Be Closing,” is terrible English, but it is a catchy phrase for remembering that new business won’t just consistently come to you. You must ask for the business. Be sure to recognize new opportunities and seize the moment. Here are a few examples:

* Have a 30-second pitch ready to go.
* Be politely persistent. Follow-up on schedule.
* Always ask: “So how can we work together?”


If you use the “Always Be Closing” mantra, you’ll take advantage of every opportunity.

4. Niche to Get Rich

Customers want to hire people who specialize in solving their business problems. When you start out in business, there are two things you have: limited time and limited resources. It’s best to spend your time marketing to a target you can actually hit. Pick a niche market, and own your niche. If everyone can use your product or service, no one will. When you’re the new business, you’ll need a few strategies for getting the prospects’ attention:

* Have marketing materials that speak to your niche target audience.
* A product well-packaged is half sold.
* Figure out where your niche hangs out in social media and join the conversation.


 5. First Impressions Count

You can’t bring your A game in your B suit. How you look and how you speak sends a message to the customer. If you’re selling high-end merchandise you need to look the part, and so does your website and product line. People are hesitant to spend money when the look of your business brand image and your pricing are not consistent. Invest in your appearance; you are selling yourself as much as your product or service. As you build your company, invest in your business brand, too.


Hopefully these tips will put you on the path to long-term business success.

Melinda Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady, is CEO of Quintessence Multimedia. Emerson educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. She also publishes a resource blog and is the best-selling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months. Follow her on Twitter.

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