I have been working with small business owners for more than 30 years; some are very successful, and some are not. I realized that the successful businesses shared some common characteristics. Below are some of the traits and must-haves that made these businesses thrive.

Do what you enjoy.
What you get out of your business in the form of personal satisfaction, financial gain, stability and enjoyment will be the sum of what you put into your business. So if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, in all likelihood it’s safe to assume that will be reflected in the success of your business — or subsequent lack of success. In fact, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, chances are you won’t succeed.

Become known as an expert and get involved.
The more you become known for your expertise in your business, the more people will seek you out to tap into your expertise, creating more selling and referral opportunities. Speak at local organizations to educate them on your business and what sets you apart. Write articles and/or blogs, send newsletters and get involved in the community that supports your business. You can do this in many ways, such as pitching in to help local charities or the food bank, becoming involved in organizing community events, and getting involved in local politics. It’s a fact that people like to do business with people they know, like and respect, and with people who do things to help them as members of the community.

Build a rock-solid reputation.
Business has never faced the type of moral challenges that it faces in today’s global economy. Everyone is struggling to be more successful, to meet expectations for the next quarterly earnings or to compete effectively. The temptation to cut corners, omit information, and do whatever it takes to get ahead occurs every day. Sadly, the theme becomes highly infectious, and soon people actually start to feel like lying a little, stealing a little, or deceiving others is just “a part of the business.” These practices erode the trust that needs to exist between employers and employees, between business partners and your customers. A good reputation is unquestionably one of the business owners most tangible and marketable assets. You can’t simply buy a good reputation; it’s something that you earn by being honest. Without trust, the business will not be able to compete effectively and it will eventually fail.

Have a plan.
Planning every aspect of your business is not only a must, but also builds habits that every business owner should develop, implement and maintain. The act of business planning is so important because it requires you to analyze each business situation, research and compile data, and make conclusions based mainly on the facts as revealed through the research. Business planning also serves a second function, which is having your goals and how you will achieve them, on paper. When you are working for yourself, you have to be accountable to yourself since you no longer have a boss who holds you to those expectations.

Perfect time-management skills.
You only have so many hours in a day, and each one of them needs to be productive. At the end of each day, you need to review what you have accomplished to make sure you are on track. You don’t want to be wasting valuable time on tasks that are not generating revenue.

Marketing and customer loyalty.
Business owners are faced with the challenge of marketing to potential customers effectively while also retaining their existing customers. Smart phones, social media, texting, email, twitter and other communication channels make it easy for businesses and individuals to get out their messages. Figuring out the right marketing channels is key for businesses to be successful in the future. Where are your customers and how do you best reach them and what is the right message? Once you get a new customer, how do you keep these customers when they are constantly barraged by competitors of all types, sizes and locations, trying to convince them that they can do it better or provide it cheaper? Identifying what your customers want and doing a better job of giving it to them will make all the difference in your company’s future.

Cash, borrowing, and resource management.
Cash is king! We’ve all heard this maxim and it is truer today than ever before. A healthy profit may look nice on your financial statements, but if capital expenditures or receivable collections are draining your cash, you won’t be able to stay in business for long. Too often business owners fail to focus enough on cash flow generation. In order to head off this problem, businesses must either be adequately capitalized and must shore up cash reserves to meet all obligations as they are needed and to handle downturns and emergencies that may arise. Cash management becomes even more important during recessionary times when cash is flowing more slowly into the business and creditors are less lenient in extending time to pay.

Cheryl O’Neill Gowen is president and CEO of Alternative Funding Options. She works with business owners seeking cash flow from non-traditional sources, drawing on more than 30 years’ experience in banking, financing and staffing. Contact her at: cgowen@altfundoptions.com.

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