FOR OVER 25 years, I’ve helped small-business
owners start, run and grow their companies. I’ve
worked with companies from sole proprietors to
$100 million enterprises. But regardless of a com-
pany’s size, industry or years in business, certain
realities apply. I call them “Rhonda’s rules.”
Ignore these rules at your peril. Entrepreneurs
fail because they ignored one or more of the follow-
ing business basics.
Go small to grow big. It’s almost impossible to
beat the big guys at their own game or by trying to
sell everything to everybody. Instead, carve out a
niche, a specialty, within an existing industry. Don’t
be just another marketing consultant; be a marketing consultant for dentists. Don’t start just another
gym; start a kickboxing studio.
Take care of your bread-and-butter business.
Entrepreneurs have lots of good ideas, but good
ideas can distract you from your core business.
Before considering new directions, clearly de;ne
what brings in the money that pays your bills.
Concentrate on that ;rst.
You can’t reach a goal you haven’t set. Taking
time to develop a business plan is crucial for success
and survival. I’m not talking about writing out a
50-page document; it’s the planning, not the plan,
Build one business at a time. Entrepreneurs see
lots of opportunities and have lots of ideas. I’ve seen
business plans that combine many businesses in
one—for instance, a combination laundromat, bar,
babysitting service and bookstore. Phew! Most of us
aren’t that scattered, but it’s still important to focus
on one line of business at a time.
It’s easier to get a piece of an existing market
than to create a new one. Although small businesses
are the engine of economic creativity, remember
that creating a brand-new product or service is dif-;cult, time-consuming and expensive. ;e iPod
wasn’t the ;rst digital music player; Google wasn’t
the ;rst search engine. ;ere are lots of advantages
to being a follower. But you can still follow rule
No. 1: Carve out a niche to succeed. Facebook wasn’t
the ;rst social media platform, but it took on the big
guys (remember MySpace and Friendster?) by
launching with a narrow focus: social media exclusively for college students.
;ings take longer and cost more than planned.
Entrepreneurs are naturally optimistic. But whether
you’re launching a new business, developing a new
product, working on a project or creating a new
website, it’s best to double your estimate of the time
and money you think you’ll need.
People do business with other people. All of us
prefer to do business with people we like and trust.
Your customers and prospects do too. Get to know
your customers; ;nd out about their businesses or
families. Let them get to know you. Small businesses
can compete with the big guys by building strong
customer relationships. C
Rules for success
Rhonda Abrams’ newest
book is Entrepreneurship:
A Real-World Approach.
Register for her free business-tips newsletter at planning
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How to turn foes into friends
TURNING A RELATIONSHIP around is important in everyday life as well as in business.
Costco member Maurice Schweitzer, a professor
at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Adam Galinsky, a professor at
Columbia Business School, share tips from their
book Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When
to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both
(Crown Business, 2015; friendandfoebook.
com; not available at Costco).—Steve Fisher
Identify a common goal. Common goals
help bring and bind people together. The
marketing department and the engineering
department might feud over territory and
budget, but they share a common goal of creating a successful product.
Apologize. Many things get in the way of
an e;ective apology: pride, aversion to taking
responsibility for adverse outcomes and even
lawsuits. Sometimes, the words “I’m sorry”
are all someone needs to transform a relationship from venom to honey.
Show vulnerability. By making ourselves
vulnerable, we can build relationships and
trust. We are vulnerable when we share a
shortcoming or a failure. One particularly
e;ective strategy involves asking for advice. In
our research, we found that many people fear
that asking for advice will make them look
less competent. What we fail to anticipate is
that most of us like being asked for advice: it
;atters us. In fact, people who ask for advice
are judged to be more competent!
Emoticons can also do the trick of conveying vulnerability and warmth. And sometimes this vulnerability comes in shared
embarrassments: Off-key karaoke performances are one example of how we can experience shared vulnerability and build rapport.
Use a mediator. We often think that
meeting face-to-face is the best way to build a
relationship. ;is is certainly true for ;edg-
ling relationships and for existing relation-
ships that need to be nurtured. When we face
foes, however, face-to-face meetings can actu-
ally escalate con;ict. Sometimes we need to
take a break from seeing each other and have
someone help mediate: A mediator can help
two foes bridge their di;erences and repair
This technique often helps managers
resolve disputes between employees. Roderick
Swaab of INSEAD business school analyzed
hundreds of labor disputes and found that
when a mediator came in and held private
meetings with each disputant before a joint
mediation session, con;ict was reduced and
better agreements were created. C