4 Mistakes from an SME Owner of 18 Years

Rodney (Dave) to Del, ‘I remember when we set out on the road to success – That was bloody ages ago!’. You can’t beat Only Fools and Horses for some great lessons in how to run a business. As the owner of an SME you’ll know that you make mistakes every dam day. In the hope that one day you’ll make a few less and succeed a little more. I share 4 mistakes that I’ve made and how you can avoid them.

1 – Beware of Getty Images

Getty are the image people. They create/take millions of images and copyright them. That’s fair. It’s their business. They paid for the images to be taken.

The problem comes when you have people adding images to your website. First, those people need to source images from known free image websites like https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Images. And secondly beware. If you are not using images from a known source, then this is what happened to me…

One of my guys copied an image from another website. Getty’s servers crawl the web all day long looking for websites that are using their images without permission. Then rooms full of printers print the letters threatening people with large fines. Most people pay or negotiate a deal. Chu-ching! A few grand lost…

The problem is that you don’t know that the website you’re copying from didn’t copy from another website, which was from another, and so on… With the original guy just grabbing a Getty image and chopping off the logo, that you are now using.

2 – Don’t be Afraid of SEO

Five years ago, I didn’t know what it meant. I’d heard of it, and thought this is for geeks, and the ‘kids’. But, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is something every business needs to do to survive in the digital world. You shouldn’t be afraid of it. Like any good SME owner, face into it. Like you did cold calling, cashflow management, looking after clients, managing people…it’s just another skill you need to know. Avoiding it, is like sticking with a Nokia 8210. Yes, it still makes calls, but where would you be without your iPhone in today’s business world?!

Simply having a website is not enough. A. website is like being the supplier of a product to a supermarket. Except your product is not on the shelf in the store, it’s out the back in the warehouse. Shoppers can’t see it.

The web is like a store. A store of products, or in this case websites. You have the big, and easily found websites, like the Coke display in aisle 9. You also have small websites punching way above their weight, like beef jerky – Everyone seems to have heard of it and wants it.

To make your product stand out in a store, you need decent packaging, a great brand, and to be at eye level. There are many other things you can do, like a special offer, 33% extra, and so on. A website is similar. There are many things you can do. They key is to start and start with – What do you want someone to type into the search box, that results in your website being top? And then expand to 7 specialist search terms.
For example, you sell t-shirts. So, you want to be found when someone types into google ‘t-shirts’. Ok, so even without any SEO knowledge, you know that it’s going to be tricky to rank for that, so you start to specialise. You might want to be found for ‘t-shirts in Pinner’, ‘Gaypride t-shirts’, ‘Premium t-shirts’, and so on. You get the idea. This is where you start and then everything your website does is to be page 1 for those 7 search terms. You might need to engage an SEO company to help with the next step. But it’s a start.

3 – Focus on What You are Good at

I started my first business. We did well, and then I saw opportunities everywhere. ‘Well, if I did it once, I can do it again.’. Nope. I tried to keep the original business going and start 2 other businesses. Probably arrogance. Maybe success. A big mistake.

It didn’t take long for the original business to begin to fail because I was the owner. I had birthed it, loved it. Knew it. Other people cared, but not like I did. The two other businesses were a million miles from the original business. I was going through a whole two new learning curves. It was exciting. It was what I was good at, wasn’t it?

The answer was a resounding No. All 3 businesses collapsed within 12 months. I had tried to do too much. I had done 3 things badly, rather than one thing well. I was becoming a Jack of all trades, and master of none. Looking back, it was so obvious. At the time, it wasn’t.

Stick with what you know. Build. Grow, and keep doing it. Rifle, rather than shotgun.

4 – Look After Yourself

Even before mental health was on trend, we all knew that you are important. Yes, you’ll work crazy hours. Yes, you’ll be stressed. Yes, you’ll want to give-up on a daily basis. And through all of that you’ll keep fighting because that is what builds a successful business. You also need to look after you. If you were an employee, you’d want to get the best out of them, and working 100 hours per week, every week, just won’t work long term. There are 3 things you need to do to look after you, so that you and the business can survive, and be successful:

Write down your top 3 stress hotspots. When do they happen? Why do they happen? How can you avoid/reduce them?
Become a student of time management. Go on every training course. Consumer every book. Read every tip. And most importantly, keep changing your behaviours to get more out of you.
Exercise. Yes, exercise. I don’t care. Find the time. You need to swim 3 times a week. Or go for a run two times a week. Find your thing and do it.

That’s it! Good luck to you. You are a member of that exclusive club of SME Owners that is still fighting the good fight. Winning against the big boys. Not giving up. I doth my cap to my fellow brothers and sisters.

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