Small-business success secrets

From shoe repair shop to florist, and from online marketing agency to web-based import company, all American small businesses have a few things in common. They all started with an idea, and an act that was equal parts faith and courage.

Starting a new business is always exciting – and daunting at the same time. And while the scales may seem more heavily tipped toward daunting in the current economy, many experts agree now is a great time to turn your great idea, faith and courage into a new business.

But before you make the leap, it makes sense to get some advice from successful entrepreneurs who have already walked the path you’re preparing to travel. Online resources like American Express’ OPEN Forum can help you learn from others’ experiences before you take the first steps toward starting your own business.

Like Virgin Group founder Richard Branson says in his article on OPEN Forum, “Because starting a business is a huge amount of hard work and requires a great deal of time, you better enjoy what you’re doing.” In addition to enjoying yourself, you should accept some truths about running a business, including:

* You will run your own business, but you won’t necessarily be without a boss to answer to. Your clients and customers will become your “bosses.”

* It may take up to three years before your business turns a profit.

* While you might have worked as much as 50 to 60 hours a week when you worked for someone else, you’ll likely work even harder – and longer – when you work for yourself.

Still, keep in mind that small business success is possible, even during a recession. In fact, small business expert Susan L. Reid believes, “As a small business owner, this is the time you’ve been waiting for. Now it’s time to position you and your business for post-recession success.” (Read her full article on Post-Recession Success at OPEN Forum.) Today’s business giants like Microsoft and FedEx were both started during times of recession. No matter how different your business is from theirs, or from any other successful startup, some business advice is universally beneficial for entrepreneurs:

* Before opening up shop, be sure the community you’re locating in has demand for your product or service. Is there room for your business? Or have your competitors saturated the marketplace?

* Be wary of taking on too much debt to fund your startup. You can have a great product or service, the savvy to deliver it to a waiting public, and a feasible revenue model in place and still run into cash flow problems.

* Maintain the mainstream. Sure, a handful of companies have found a home in quirky niche markets, but many more have failed by being too specialized to appeal to a broad customer base.

* Stay focused on your business core. Avoid getting distracted by attractive opportunities that can take your attention away from what your business is really all about.

* Keep expenses under control. Startups need to cut costs any way they can, so forego the fancy office furniture and hologram business cards. Down the road, when your business takes off, you can afford to be more indulgent.

* Make smart hiring decisions. Look for employees who not only have the work qualifications to move your business forward, but who also share your vision.

* Take advantage of low-cost or cost-free digital marketing. For example, products like SearchManager by American Express OPEN can help you easily and cost-effectively manage your online search marketing efforts.

* Stay on top of billing. Falling behind on billing your customers means waiting longer to get paid.

For more advice on how to start a business, and for information on products that can help your small business succeed, visit www.openforum.com.

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