Selling Your Business – Essential First Steps

Are you thinking about selling your business? We assist small business owners with management transitions. For clients interested in selling their businesses, we help them focus on these essential first steps:


1. Understand your business exit motivations

Why do you want to sell your business?  Perhaps you want to start a new business or focus on other pursuits. Maybe you are burned out, at odds with your business partner, or ready to retire. It is important to understand what is motivating your decision to sell your business. Your current perspective and emotional outlook can affect your approach to the sale and the timing of your business exit.

2. Prioritize your sales goals

It is good to start a business sale process with a clear idea of your desired outcomes. Are you looking to sell immediately? Is a high sale price the most important factor for you? Do you want to remain involved in some capacity? Do you have preferences for who buys the business? Do you want to influence how the business operates after you sell? Is a cash sale necessary or will you consider seller financing?  Clarifying what you want will affect the sales approach you take.

3. Assess your business’ current condition

Is your business a good sales prospect? Is your business likely to attract a buyer? Are there areas of the business that will need improvement before you sell?  When looking at each aspect of your business, you must try to understand the business from a potential buyer’s perspective. You need to consider your sales and profit history, the business’ financial condition and your products or services. For a brick and mortar business, look at your business location, your facilities and your equipment. To be a good sales prospect, your business may need to retain your employees and your clientele…and perhaps even you for three to six months!

4. Assess the current value of your business

How much is your business worth?  Valuing your business helps you set an asking price. There are different ways to determine the value of a small business. You will need to consider your tangible and intangible assets and the business’ prospects for growth. You can hire a business valuation expert to do a business appraisal or work with a business broker to request a Broker’s Opinion of Value. With recent tax returns and financial projections in hand, it may be sufficient to work with us to do some simple calculations to estimate a realistic amount.

Now you are ready

Once you are clear on your motivations, your goals, and the current condition of your business, you are ready for one of these next steps:

• Prepare to present a sale-ready business to interested buyers.

• Invest the time to make your business more attractive to buyers and increase its value. (This would start with an action plan and timeline for each area of the business that needs improvement.)

• Offer to sell the business at its current sub-par condition (knowing you may have lower interest and/or a lower sale price).

• Continue to operate the business as well as you can and close it when you are “done”, selling any tangible assets.

We can help! We work with clients through these initial business transition steps. We review the current business so you can consider a business sale. We help with business improvement action plans to improve the value of your assets (even if you do not sell right away). We help you compile the documentation necessary for a business sale. Learn more.

Where did the time go?

This is the question we all ask, and perhaps small business owners ask the most! Many time management experts say that the key to managing our time well and being productive is figuring out what is most important, and making time to do that first. But how can we do that when it all feels so urgent?


The pros and cons of the to do list

Many of us keep detailed to-do lists. Our list will grow and grow and can become so long that it’s easier to focus on the “simple stuff” we can quickly complete and check off the list. We put off the tasks that will be most strategic for our business, the tasks that will help us grow and be a success.


As small business owners we wear many hats and must often multi-task. We have the tendency to want to do it all ourselves (even when we are stuck) and we don’t want to delegate (or don’t know how to). We are often completely consumed in the business without making time to work on the business, or we let personal stuff get in the way of how we run our business.

The effects of overwhelm

There can be a lot of emotions tied up with how we spend and “manage” our time, too. When we have too much to do we can get overwhelmed and frustrated. Our actions become non-productive. We procrastinate (ignoring what we know we must do) or we sabotage ourselves (purposely doing something counterproductive), and we end up paralyzed – blaming ourselves and sometimes even giving up.

The 80/20 Rule

One way out of this overwhelm is by paying attention to the Pareto Principle or what is often referred to as the “80/20 Rule”:


If you can figure out which tasks are producing your business’ results, you can spend more time on those activities and less time on others.  Often if a task makes you feel uncomfortable or if you are putting it off, it may be a sign that it needs your attention!

As a simple way to start, Perry Marshall, author of 80/20 Sales and Marketing, recommends that we flip our daily to do list. “If there are 10 things you need to do today, odds are that one task is worth 10 times more than the rest. It is natural to want to put it off and get the other tasks done first but you need to switch it around and first focus on that one thing that is most important.”  Do you need to write your marketing plan, call a disgruntled customer, create financial projections or go after a new client?  Focus on that key task first.


When I talk to my business students about time management I share the same essential message. The first step is to identify the priorities — or  BIG ROCKS — for your business and then structure your time to put them first. If you are a small business owner (particularly if you are just launching your businesses) you really cannot do it all. You need to focus on the key 10-20% of your business that can bring the best results now. Once you have some comfort in or mastery over that area, you can expand your focus.

Taking action

Now, it’s time to take action!  Starting first thing tomorrow…

  • Look at your to-do list and pick only three tasks for the day – tasks that are the most important for your business right now. (What task will help you make money now? What task will build a key business skill now? What task will help solve the most critical issue?)
  • Tackle only one task at a time.
  • Set a start time and end time for each task to keep yourself focused.
  • Pick someone to hold you accountable and share what you are doing with them.
  • Don’t forget to get rid of all distractions. Clear other work off your desk, turn off email, put down your phone… and get to it!

The reality is that your to-do list will never go away and it will probably always be long.  It may be helpful to write down all your tasks so they don’t keep swimming around in your head. But the goal is to not get distracted by your list.

And sometimes is important to put away the list entirely. Our best business breakthroughs often come when we aren’t focused on our business. Sometimes it is only when we take a break, that we can gain perspective.

Your management transition

Are you thinking about transitioning out of your current management role in your business? Stepping away from your small business doesn’t have to mean giving it up completely. It could mean removing yourself from day-to-day operations or delegating management responsibilities to someone else so the business can continue to function smoothly without your constant presence.
In any business transition—whether it involves a change of business ownership or just a change in management, we encourage business owners to consider these five factors:

stepping away

1. Assess or audit your business

Before making a big management change, understand the value of your business and the strength of your existing systems. Be sure to ask key questions and audit your business. Have you built business assets that have real value? Do you know what your business is worth? Do you have operational systems that can be understood by others? Do you have key employees that will take on increased responsibilities?

2. Support and train others

To step away from the business, your employees need to be prepared to take on more responsibility… and you have to be ready to give up some control. If family members are taking the reins, they need to know the details of the business and understand what will be expected of them. You may need to hire new senior management who must get up to speed and gain your trust. Any new manager (or eventual owner) needs to get to know the business inside and out and develop the skills needed for success. Your role is to facilitate all of this.

3. Take your time

In any transition – whether it involves a change in business ownership or just a change in management – a gradual process is ideal. This allows for a new manager/owner to grow into his/her role. It takes time to gain confidence and also credibility in day-to-day management for all stakeholders. As time goes on, you may be able to assume a more advisory (or backseat) role… and by then you will be ready for it. If selling your business is the goal, you will need time to prepare for the sale and find the right buyer. So… look at a realistic timeline and set the right pace for you.

4. Get help and accountability

It can feel impossible to focus on a future transition when there is so much to attend to with the business right now. You are managing services, employees, cash flow, marketing and day-to-day operations. How can you focus on your transition goals when so many other aspects of the business need your attention right now? An advisor, support partner or support group can help you create a transition plan and stay accountable to the plan within a realistic timeline. Other professionals such as an accountant can help you understand the financial health of your business and the ramifications of any change. At some point, you will need legal help, too. Get the help you need to hold yourself accountable.

5. Your identity as a business owner

As a small business owner, your whole identity may be wrapped up with your business. You may want a change but you may feel reticent about losing control of the business and the change of identity the comes with stepping away. Perhaps you would no longer have a reason to stay involved with a merchants group, or you may no longer be invited to participate in certain business networks. Without your business identity, you may need to redefine or reinvent yourself.
As small business owners, we pour our hearts (as well as lots of time and often lots of money) into our businesses to make them succeed. After this investment, we want to see our businesses continue to flourish even after we step away from full-time management. Creating a solid transition plan with a good support team can help make our can help make desires a reality.

Paul Terry & Associates works with small business owners who want to value their business, prepare for a business sale or step away from a full-time management role. For clients preparing for a management transition, we can help:

  • Work through the challenges related to change and new roles
  • Install effective management metrics and timelines
  • Hire or train committed management staff
  • Create financial projections for any transition
  • Help the owner(s) write a succession plan

Learn more about our ownership transition services.

New Employee On-boarding Tips

Hiring a new employee is a time-consuming process. You need to define the position, promote the job, evaluate candidates and decide on the right hire. You must think through your hiring plan carefully and then act fast, as other businesses may be interested in hiring your top candidates, too. This process doesn’t end when you offer someone a job and he/she says yes. Now you need to prepare for your new employee’s first day.

The first 90 days on the job are critical for an employee’s success. You want the new person to feel welcomed, engaged and ultimately be happy in the role and committed to your business for the long term.

new employee

Here are some tips to consider when you hire a new employee.

Create an on-boarding plan

Map out how you will orient the new employee to the new job and the business.

  • What will his/her first day, week and month look like?
  • What information about the responsibilities and internal systems will you share when?
  • How will you introduce the new person to key contacts?
  • How will you communicate the business culture and key values?
  • What will be the new employee’s first assignments?

One approach is to create a calendar and/or checklist with key tasks to be learned and/or completed during the first week, month and quarter. This will give both you and the new employee a roadmap to follow so that expectations are clear.

Have the work environment ready

The new hire’s desk or physical area must be ready, with computer set up and e-mail configured. Have payroll figured out and any related new employee paperwork prepared. A welcome packet can include the employee’s job description, a schedule for the first 2 weeks, important contact information, and your business policies and procedures. (Consider creating an employee handbook that explains the company culture, benefits packages and the “rules and regs” of the business.)

Make the first day special

The new employee will probably show up excited but also a bit nervous on the first day. You want him/her to have a positive feeling about the business and co-workers right away. Set a welcoming mood and show the new hire that you are ready. Call employees together to introduce the new hire, or introduce to others one-on-one. Have a lunch plan for the new employee on the first day to help him/her feel welcome.

Train in small modules

There is so much to learn when starting a new job. To be effective, training sessions shouldn’t feel like marathons. Take breaks. Segment the orientation into manageable blocks no longer than 90 minutes. Use time between training sessions for the new employee to meet more staff, tour a particular area, and get started on meaningful but simple or straightforward work.

Check back on a regular basis

Make time for check-ins with the new employee — both during the training process and beyond. This can take the form of a regularly scheduled meeting, a weekly meal, or an informal chat. Discuss concerns, answer questions, share your feedback and address any negative issues before they fester.

Your good planning and continued support will create a lasting, positive environment for this new employee. Remember, you are making a long-term investment in this most important business asset!

Paul Terry & Associates helps clients hire new staff. We can advise on the best hiring steps or completely manage the hiring process from outreach to on-boarding. Are you thinking about hiring someone? We are here to help you hire and train the best person for the job.

Family Business Advice

Owning and operating a small family business – whether you are a business founder or part of the next generation to operate the business – is very different from running a small business with people who aren’t family members. We asked two of our clients to share their thoughts and advice related to the family business experience. One is part of a multi-generational family business and the other has been in business with her husband for over 20 years.

MARTY SANCHEZ, third generation of Casa Sanchez

As a part of the third generation of a successful San Francisco Bay Area family business, Marty understand the dynamics of multi-generation family businesses and shares this advice:

On playing to your your strengths

In every family business, each person has a strength that really helps the family – it could be related to sales, bookkeeping, organization, etc. Learn who you are and figure out your strengths. Engage in the parts of the business that you are good at and where you can make a difference.

On communication and compromise

With family, you sometimes speak without thinking first. Nagging is a common way of communicating in family businesses. This is not the best way to communicate, but it can be effective! You must not forget that the strength of the relationships is the strength of the business. Family business means compromise. This goes for out-laws (in-laws), too, who may not fully understand the family dynamics and have their own ideas for the business.

On personal vs. business time

One holiday many years ago when the family was together, we couldn’t stop talking about the business. Someone said, ‘Let’s not talk about business at all on Thanksgiving and Christmas’… and we’ve stuck to it! This makes holiday time extra special.

On growing up in a family business

Kids get involved with a family business organically. They hang out at the business after school every day and start to help out. They learn about it without even knowing it. It’s ‘Take Your Kid to Work Day’ every day! As kids get older, they can feel obligated to help their parents, siblings or other family members. Guilt can play a large role as they don’t want to abandon the family. We need to be sensitive to these feelings and make sure that those in the next generation feel comfortable talking to someone in the family about the business and their role in it.

On compensating family members

There needs to be a clear understanding about how compensation is handled for family members and how pay and raises are calculated. Imbalances in pay or a lack of clarity lead to resentment. Create clear compensation rules that are related to roles, tasks, hours worked, etc. and put it in writing.

On getting outside support

When an issue comes up, it can be hard to talk about it openly, and in a way that leads to resolution. A family member may be unhappy but may not feel comfortable talking about it. It has been really helpful for us to meet with a mediator to discuss issues, find ways to compromise, and move forward.

On family pride

People love to support family businesses and they love to hear that I am the third-generation in our family business. Customers recognize the commitment, passion, dedication and hard work and want to support us. I’m very proud to be a part of a family-owned business.

DEBORAH BOWES, co-owner of Feldenkrais Center for Movement & Awareness

Deborah has co-owned Feldenkrais Center for Movement & Awareness with her husband, Cliff Smyth, since 1996. Here are her tips for other businesses owned and operated with a life partner:

On communication, compromise and sharing the load

  • Agree on the steps to take next. Be willing to compromise and sometimes follow your partner’s dream.
  • Share the stress. Be attentive to when your partner needs a break and give it to him/her.
  • Be honest with what you want to do and the kind of support that you need.
  • Allow each other to work from his/her strengths.
  • Give a lot of support when your partner is doing something the he/she doesn’t like to do or doesn’t want to do. After all, there’s always going to be some of that!
  • Make specific times for work meetings and take notes. It’s so easy to forget who agreed to what.

On managing conflict

  • Don’t talk about work before going to bed.
  • Go for walks to talk out difficult issues.
  • When you both are around your employees, be professional with each other.
  • Keep any private issues at home.

On work/life balance

  • Home support is essential. Share tasks related to cooking and cleaning, and use a housecleaner if that is helpful.
  • We get grouchy if we have worked all day, come home hungry and there’s nothing to eat in the house. Have food in the freezer ready for a quick meal or get take out once a week.
  • Your business depends on your own self care and health. It is as important as everything else you do. Stay hydrated and try to fit some type of movement or exercise into your day.
  • Laugh together and relax together.

Deborah’s last words of advice are applicable to ALL of us – “Be the kind of boss you’d want to have and the kind of employee you’d value!”

At Paul Terry & Associates, we are familiar with the challenges specific to family business owners and joint ventures. We help new joint ventures define the terms of their relationship and established partners address current issues and update agreements. Learn more about our services.

Check out these tips and resources for family-owned businesses.

Operating a family-owned business

At Paul Terry & Associates, we understand family-owned business dynamics. Paul worked for his father’s sawmill manufacturing business while in high school and college, and his first two businesses in San Francisco were partnerships with a married couple. Today Paul’s daughter Jenny is a part of the Paul Terry & Associates team, when she’s not running her family farm with her husband.

family-owned business

We know that owning and operating a business with family can have a lot of advantages, especially related to trust and a joint commitment to the enterprise. This is often essential in the early stages as the business is getting off the ground. Everyone in the business is driven by their passion for creating the product or providing the service.  But once the “honeymoon” stage is over, things can get more challenging and complicated, as additional business skills are required. Careful attention must be given to operating the business and relating to one another as business partners and not just family members.

Roles and responsibilities

Every business needs clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the people associated with the business. This is especially important when the owners or the employees are family members. With a family business, every issue affecting your business relationship could easily spill over into your personal life. It is essential to:

  • Create job descriptions outlining each person’s role and specific responsibilities, and revise when necessary.
  • Set regular meetings (monthly/quarterly) to discuss tasks, responsibilities and how decisions are made.
  • Confirm that employees who aren’t part of the family know how to deal with the family lines of authority.


When you have a personal and a business relationship with someone, communication requires extra care. It can be easy to be critical with a relative in ways that you never would be with a non-family member colleague. You probably know how to push his/her buttons! Simple rules of good communication must still apply.

  • Address issues as they surface in a respectful, honest and open way.
  • Approach your interactions from a place of respect and trust.
  • Refrain from talking about personal issues during work time, especially when around people who aren’t family members.
  • Spend time with your family members when you don’t talk about the business.
  • When needed, bring in an outside mediator to help resolve the issues that you can’t fix alone.
  • Use an experienced business advisor to help build your management skills.

Governing structure

Just like any other business with more than one owner, it is very important to have written agreements. This can include both the governing and operating structure of the business as well as the roles and responsibilities of each owner, particularly related to decision-making. Everything may be working fine… until it isn’t. For a family business, it is very important to consider these questions:

  • How will family partners evaluate each others’ work? Will there be performance reviews?
  • How will family partners be compensated? Does everyone make the same amount?
  • What happens to profits from the business and how are they divided?
  • What happens when one partner no longer want to own/run the business? Who gets the first right of refusal?
  • What is the policy for bringing other family members into the business?

Like all joint ventures, every family-owned business needs an ownership operating agreement in writing. This agreement should include an operating agreement as well as a succession or exit plan to protect both the business and the personal relationship of the owners.

Getting support

It is tempting to try and “go it alone” and take care of issues within the family instead of discussing your problems with outsiders. But outside support – whether from a trusted business advisor or another family-owned business – can bring different perspectives and solutions. An advisor or mediator can help you address underlying issues that may be difficult to bring up or handle without support. They can also help you implement and maintain better business systems and make adjustments as needed.

Here are local resources for family businesses:

Gellert Family Business Resource Center
This University of San Francisco center provides family-owned businesses with access to networking and practical family business information, and helps promote next-generation leadership.

Family Business Strategies Summit
The San Francisco Business Times sponsors an annual breakfast and conversation with family business owners every year. Family-owned businesses share some of the common challenges they face, as well as strategies and best practices for effectively managing and growing a family business.

 Check out our services to see how Paul Terry & Associates helps family businesses and other joint ventures and business partnerships to launch and grow, as well as plan for transition or succession.

Ready to Hire? Create a plan.

There are many ways to manage expected business growth. You can improve or streamline your systems, sub out work to independent contractors, or take on more work yourself. Yet at some point, sustained business growth may mean hiring full-time or part-time employees.

ready to hire

When you decide to hire a new employee, it’s tempting to get someone (anyone!) into the job as soon as possible. We recommend that you FIRST think through what you need, who you want, and what you can afford. Then, create a hiring plan. Proceeding carefully can make the difference between finding a temporary fix or hiring the right person for the job.

Before you hire, think carefully about:


  • How much will a hiring process cost you?
  • How will hiring a new employee add value to your business?
  • What are you able to offer in terms of salary and other benefits?

Job description

  • What are the specific tasks that need to be handled by this position?
  • What are the basics of the position (full/part-time, on-site/remote, etc.)?
  • What skills and experience are necessary to do this job well?

Be clear about the “must-have” v.s. the “would-be-nice-to-have” qualifications for this new hire.


  • Where are potential candidates looking for jobs?
  • Who might know someone great for this job?

Diversifying your outreach will help you find the most qualified candidates. Online job sites may be the best way to promote the job but be sure to do your research. Some sites are industry-specific, some are free and some are pricey. Let colleagues, friends and customers know exactly who you seek. Word-of-mouth can be powerful! Social media, your website and e-newsletters are great ways to spread the word.

Screening candidates

  • How will you communicate with applicants?
  • What are the steps in your screening process?
  • What interview questions will help you identify the best applicants?

Consider asking applicants to answer questions by email first, and then interview select candidates by phone. Only bring the best candidates in for face-to-face interviews. Adding these screening steps may save you time in the long run. Choose your interview questions carefully. You want to explore the candidate’s range of experience and skills, how they will handle challenging situations or conflict on the job, and how they will fit into your business culture.

Evaluating candidates

  • How do you decide which applicant is best for the job?
  • How does your hiring team agree on who to hire?

Often the “right” hire isn’t completely clear. A candidate may have great qualities/skills in one area but deficiencies in another area. (We use evaluation tools with our clients to assess the pros and cons of each candidate.) Be sure to request at least three professional references and then call to confirm that your impressions match others’ experiences. When you finally come to a decision, be sure to act fast. If you love this candidate then chances are other employers do, too! Call or email to offer the job and then follow up with an offer letter.

Once you complete the hire, it’s time to create a plan to on-board this new employee!

Are you thinking about hiring someone? We help small businesses hire new staff. We develop job descriptions and interview questions, and help design the right hiring process. We can help manage the hiring process from outreach to interviews to selection. 

Taking Action

At Paul Terry & Associates we help small business owners build successful and sustainable enterprises. Our consulting process is focused on clear assessments, careful advice and taking action. Central to our approach is business action planning.

taking action

Your passion and a strong vision for your enterprise may have launched you into small business ownership. However, a great idea alone won’t make you a successful business owner. You must turn your initial ideas into realistic goals with a specific plan for action.

Whether you are an emerging entrepreneur or an experienced business owner entrenched in the complexities of running a business, business action planning can help you identify measurable goals and create specific steps to reach your desired outcomes.

Every area of your business – customer/client relations, business operations, ownership expansion, and your eventual exit from the business – can benefit from action planning. So how do you begin?


Put it in writing. Writing down exactly where you are today and where you want to be in the future will force you to think concretely. Taking the time to write down your goals may spark some new ideas, too.

Be S.M.A.R.T. – that is, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely/time-bound. You need to be able to clearly state what you want to achieve and your goal needs to be concrete and doable. Initially, steer clear of goals that might take you three to five years to achieve. Once you get comfortable with the action planning process, you can use it to tackle bigger, longer-term goals. For now, stay focused on something you can attain within a year’s time, or even less.


Take it one step at a time. You are much more likely to attain your goal when you identify specific steps to reach it. Each step needs a realistic deadline and an estimate of how much it will cost you—not just in dollars but in your time and other resources.

Taking Action5


Everyone needs someone to lean on. Trusted advisors and people in your business support network are essential during this process. They can be a sounding board while you create your plan and they can keep you accountable once you have a plan… every step of the way.


Long and pretty isn’t necessary. A business action plan isn’t a fancy document—it’s a usable one. It needs to be accessible and referred to frequently. It might help to set reminders on your calendar to review it so that you can stay on track and make adjustments if necessary.

Still feeling daunted by action planning? We support clients through the action planning process every day –helping them create relevant goals, identify specific action steps, measure results and stay on track. How can we help you build a successful outcome?

Hiring great professional support

In every stage of small business, whether you are an emerging or an established business owner, it is important to have trusted relationships with professionals who know you and can support and direct your business growth and long-term sustainability.

professional support

Why get professional support?

As a small business owner, you will hire outside experts for many reasons — for technology support, social media development, financial planning, bookkeeping, legal issues, personnel reviews, or to improve your business management. You may also benefit from contracting with a business advisor who can be an expert sounding board on business decision-making, holding you accountable and helping you to meet your goals.

What to consider first

First, you need to be clear about why you want help and what you want from any professional. What is your challenge or opportunity?

Next, identify the qualities that would make a professional a good match for you and your business. You want to find someone who:

  • Has skills and experience that exceed your needs
  • Is ethical, transparent and trustworthy
  • Has an approach that fits with your style
  • Is available when you need them

How to find “the right one”

It can be hard to know if someone will be a good match just from looking at a website. We recommend asking for referrals from people you know and trust, and who are also in small business. After getting referrals, though, you must still do your own due diligence! You are not just hiring someone for an hour of their time (even if for now that is all you need). You want to find someone who can be a great support person for your business for months and years to come.

Due diligence

Whether you find a professional from a Google search or a trusted colleague, you need to do your homework. When interviewing potential people to work with, it is important to:

  • Honestly represent who you are and what you are looking for
  • Ask lots of questions to verify this person has the expertise you need
  • Read their testimonials and/or reviews
  • Understand the terms of the relationship and any contract, including fees.
  • Pay careful attention to the questions he/she asks you. (They should be assessing if you are the right fit for them, too!)

(Once you are working with someone, be sure to continue to re-assess your needs and the professional relationship so that you get the outcomes desired as your business grows and your needs change.)

Finalizing the match

Take your time to make a good decision. You need to feel confident that this professional understands you and your needs, will be available when you need them, and will help you implement effective solutions. This person will be an essential business asset – giving you advice that you can use, and helping you to develop systems for your business. With the right support, you will be able to focus your energy on your clients, customers, employees and business goals… and see long-term positive results for your business!

Business skills and lessons learned

As a small business owner, you bring your know-how from past successes and failures to your business.  As the business grows, you continue to build on lessons learned and hone your business skills.  For many small business owners, “learning from doing” is the primary teacher.

Do your business skills match your business’ complexity?

I recently shared six tips on this topic and asked other small business owners about their experiences.  How did their business skills match the complexity of their business when they first opened?  How have they dealt with this tension throughout their business’ evolution?  What advice would they want to share with others?

In previous posts Heidi Gibson of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen and Rachel Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit shared their stories with us.  Here are two more business owners tackling complex issues and leveraging their management skills.

Elizabeth Leu

business skills

When Elizabeth Leu started Fiddlesticks, a children’s boutique in Hayes Valley, she thought she was prepared.  She first worked for someone else and learned as much as she could about the retail business.  Elizabeth also took the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center Business Planning class.

She started her business with a solid foundation of hands-on experience, working for others, and thoughtful planning. Yet she couldn’t prepare herself for what it would actually feel like when she was completely responsible for her own business and all its complexities.

“As a small business owner you have to be the master of all in everything you do, and that’s not easy.  You have to wear ALL the hats and ideally, they should all fit.  I think management capacity is finding the correct fit with all those hats — and that’s hard!  It takes a lot of time and experience to get them all to fit.”

Elizabeth’s advice:

Learn as much as you can about every role in your business.

“You may love only a few of those hats but you have to figure out, master and tolerate them all — at least in the beginning until you can outsource.  Once you get strong enough to outsource, you still need to understand how it all works to keep a watchful eye on the whole operation.”

Stay positive and just keep going.

“I have worked very hard to grow my business and I have had some significant setbacks.  With every setback I can either choose to learn from it or become bitter and harbor frustrations.  I have worked hard to learn from them.  All of the setbacks were complex and difficult, especially because it was uncharted territory for me.  But I learned and I am still learning.  What is it they say, ‘two steps forward, one step back’? As long as you move forward, business complexity feels easier because you keep breaking it down, tackling it piece by piece.”

Claire Keane

business skills

Claire Keane, owner of the artisan, handcrafted sweet treats company Clairesquares, says that her business skills did not match the complexity of her business when she started.  She had a steep learning curve.  But Claire gained the skills she needed by seeking out specific business knowledge and support and her daily experiences in business brought many lessons learned.

Claire’s key steps for developing core business skills:

Write a business plan.

Claire took the 14-week Business Planning Class at the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center and wrote a business plan.  “To this day, I frequently remember key pointers from each class.”

Join an incubator.

Claire joined La Cocina’s Incubator Kitchen and received the help of that community and all their support services.

Attend lots of workshops.

Claire learned from others to increase her skills.  “Whenever there was a workshop relevant to my lack of skills, I made sure to attend it.  I was able to take tips from each training and apply it to my business immediately.”

Develop a support team.

Claire knew that she could not do it all alone.  “It was very helpful to have a business mentor, new business friends with similar start-up business pains and other friends and family to lean on for advice to get me through the learning curve.”

Keep at it, even through failure.

Ultimately it has been Claire’s tenacity and her perseverance that has made her business a success.  “No amount of workshops can prepare you for real world experience.  In the end, I learned from trying, failing, and trying again.”

Check out these additional tips on balancing business skills with business complexity.  What has worked for you and your business?