What are the most important things to learn for a successful business?

When you’re running a business, the number of things you have to learn to make it successful can feel overwhelming. And you have to continue learning about whatever it is that you do, so you can keep getting better at it.

I don’t remember anyone at school (or even business school) teaching me about VAT exempt supplies to the EU, or the future pacing technique to use in copywriting. Yet both of these came in pretty handy last week. One preventing me from overcharging a client from Paris, and the other helped make my email tips more useful and exciting.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about this. Here are my top picks for the most important things to learn to have a successful business. They’re in order of importance; you’ll see why in a minute. That’s future pacing in action.

1. Get more out of every day

I’ve definitely learnt the hard way that it’s very easy to waste my time because I didn’t apply productivity principles. If you learn about productivity, you get more done, making time for you to learn everything else. This creates a virtuous circle, a kind of compound interest on your time.

A great place to start is Graham Allcott’s book, How to Be a Productivity Ninja, which is crammed full of great tips. I’ve used lots of them and taught many of them to my clients.

Productive successful business owner looking at calendar

2. Online marketing

For small businesses, learning the key skills of online marketing is crucial. There’s the obvious benefit that if you start getting even a little bit good at this, you’ll have more clients. And (as long as you’ve got your pricing right,) make more money.

At the Joy of Business, that’s half of my mission: helping you to make more money.

But where do you start? 

Lots of my mentoring clients tell me that they’ve tried to learn online marketing but have almost given up because there’s just so much and often conflicting advice.

Here are my top priorities for online marketing:

  • If you’re a words person, then learn how to write good copy. This will help you persuade prospective clients to buy from you. There are some great free resources over at Copyhackers. I’ve done several of their courses to become a better writer.
  • If you’re more visually orientated, learn some video skills to talk about what you do, and what customers would get from buying from you.
  • Learn how to do Facebook ads well – if you’re in Brighton or Sussex, Kerry at Social Brighton runs courses which several of my clients have loved.

Then cycle back, and get even better at copywriting, making videos or doing Facebook ads. There’s always something new to learn or get better at here.

3. The art of selling

I could also call this section “generally being more confident, assertive and persistent”. You can learn about sales techniques and what to say at the right stages, but the biggest challenge for most business owners is confidence.

Confidence and the belief in what you’re selling means you’ll be more assertive in a sales situation. It will make you more persistent, so you never give up on a prospective sale.

Red phone and confidence to sell your online business

4. How to play well with others

The ability to work with other people (and I include your customers in this), is key to having a successful business. Somehow, it’s not something we think of as a learning area. I regularly get asked by some of my bigger clients for tips on how to better manage staff, or in some cases what to do with an employee who just isn’t working out.

This is one of the more difficult areas to learn.  Most of the “management” courses out there are not at all geared towards small businesses. Thinking about communication, personal style, and how to encourage staff to develop their learning can go a long way.

5. Pricing and understanding your finances

Understanding how money works is super important if you want to learn how to have a successful business.

I once had a client who had what looked like an entirely successful business. I recommended they change their accountant, as their guy had a bad habit of doing their annual return around December 27 when the corporation tax was due on January 9.

Most years, this was okay, because although they hadn’t saved the tax, the business had enough money to pay the bill.  Until they had one outstanding year and owed £60k in tax. Followed by a terrible year, when there was no spare money.

They blamed the accountant; he hadn’t told them until two weeks before the deadline that they had such a big bill. If they had understood what was going on with their finances, they would still be in business.

The last I heard, one of the directors had run off to America but was tracked down by my debt collector he’d posted pictures on Twitter. I got my invoices paid, but I’m not sure anyone else did.

All of the very successful business owners I’ve ever known are comfortable with the money, and know which bit of the profit and loss statement to look at.

The moral of this tale: get a better accountant who will explain this stuff to you in simple terms.

Part of understanding your finances also means understanding how you should price your services.

That’s easy to learn – I’ve got a brilliant book on the subject, Sweetspot Pricing and if you buy the Resource Pack there’s little table to for you to figure out how much tax you’ll pay and factor that into how much to charge. Which will save you running off to America and being tracked down by Simon the debt collector.

Getting started

That’s definitely enough to get you started. Remember these are roughly in order of priority, so begin with increasing your productivity, move on to online marketing, then learn to sell, and you’ll have enough cash for some staff to help out. Then get to grips with your pricing and finance and you will be well on your way to learning how to have a successful business.

Or you might find these blogs helpful:

Are you ready to face your FUD and overcome it?  

How to feel good about charging more

Aim to work 6 hours per day

Finding the time

What kind of business are we creating here? 

Photo credits: red phone by Negative Space and calendar by Pixabay