Building Toward an Exit

Most people start a small business because they have a set of skills and want to profit from those skills. Photographers are a prime example. You’re good at creating photographs, so you start a photography business. It should be that simple. However, being a successful business owner, the person working on the business, involves a different set of skills than being a photographer, the person working in the business.

That said, you can be successful as both a craftsperson and an entrepreneur, especially if you follow some business best practices. Business strategist and author Barb Stuhlemmer specializes in helping small business owners build more profitable, more sustainable businesses with an eye toward eventually exiting the business on their terms. To engineer a profitable exit, or just run a better business today, she recommends a few fundamental optimizations to your business practices. These can help you generate consistent income, build a long-term clientele, and make your business appealing to both customers and (perhaps) future acquirers.

“Success in business requires having a good plan, referring to that plan, and adapting that plan for changing circumstances.”

Barb Stuhlemmer
5 Things Every Business Owner Should Know

Planning is imperative. Do you actually have a business plan? If so, have you looked at it in the last 12 months? Do you use it as a guide to where you want to go? “Success in business requires having a good plan, referring to that plan, and adapting that plan for changing circumstances,” explains Stuhlemmer.

Marketing is a must. Base your marketing on the five Ps: People, Product, Pricing, Place, and Promotion (see below). Make sure you understand your target markets, speak to them directly, communicate within a definable brand image, and encourage sales by pricing according to the value you provide.  

Consistency builds trust. “Doing something once may get you noticed, but doing something over and over creates credibility,” says Stuhlemmer. This applies to your marketing, the services you offer, the client experience you provide, and the quality of your delivery. When you establish a consistent level of service that your clients can depend on, they trust you more, they tend to purchase more, they are more likely to return, and they are more open to transferring their trust by referring you to others.

Systems reduce stress. When we’re stressed, the quality of our work declines, our health suffers, and our creativity drains out of us. To alleviate stress, create processes. Remove the anxiety of having to remember every step every time you do something by building systems that enhance efficiency. Great systems add to the quality of your products and services, improve productivity, make it easier to train people, and reduce errors and their associated costs. “If you want to be really great at your business, you need to build systems that ensure you are hitting the mark every time,” Stuhlemmer advises.

Vision meets values. If you can define your core values, it’s easier to understand what motivates you. Translating those values into a defining vision for your business keeps you connected with your work. It makes it easier to hire the right people (i.e. those who share your values) and train them under a set of guiding principles. It leads to consistency and makes you a better leader, because it allows you to share your vision and bring other people into leadership positions. It also makes it easier for people to choose to work with you because they see your values show up in your marketing. 

These foundations will help you create a business with inherent value that goes beyond your skills with a camera. With strong values, efficient systems, and a solid plan, the business becomes bigger than you, and the possibilities for your success open up exponentially. 

Building a Business Based on the 5 Ps of Marketing

People. Find a niche and focus on it. A common misconception of what’s known as “niching” is that it means focusing on one type of person and not selling to anyone else. Niching actually means understanding your core market and focusing on that market. Do your research. Understand your specific audience and how to appeal to them.

Product. No matter how great your product is, there will be other people who have it, other ways to deliver it, and other markets for it. You need to have a product that’s interesting to the people you’re targeting, and you need to be able to explain it in their language.

Pricing. Align your pricing with your value. It’s important to price yourself according to your skill, your deliverables, and the overall experience you offer your clients. Remember: Underpricing is as bad as overpricing. Charge what you’re worth.

Place. Make sure people can find you. Relate your place to whom you’re targeting. If you have a physical location, make sure it’s a place clients can access easily and feel safe visiting. Whether you have a storefront or studio or not, optimize your digital presence so you are easy to find and contact online.

Promotion. If people don’t know about you, they can’t buy from you. Create an identifiable brand image and map out a strategy with multiple touch points. Marketing takes repetition, so make sure you rinse and repeat.

Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.