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5 Business Practices That Make You Look Small

Even though you're a small business, you don't want to act small. If you want the public to view you as one of the big boys, act like it by avoiding poor business practices. Here are five business practices that you should avoid (this article is adapted from one I wrote for Big Ideas for Small Business[R] in 2002).

1.  Not replying to correspondence

Whether customers, clients, vendors, and other business associates try to contact you by phone, email, or text, not replying promptly is a bad business practice. Not only is this rude, it's also unprofessional and a big turnoff to senders. Don't let your lack of time or an incomplete answer prevent you from responding promptly. You can always follow up later on with more information. Just let the sender know you've received the communication and that you're attending to matters.

2.  Whining about your personal problems

Your personal problems -- health, marital discord, bad weather, or the loss of key personnel -- can make it difficult to keep up with your business. You may be distracted and fall behind on a job or need to delay payment to your suppliers or vendors. Recognize that everyone has a sob story, but most people don't want to hear yours. If you've been stiffed by a customer and are having difficulty paying your bills, don't use your woes as an excuse for late or nonpayment. Instead, give your vendors a prompt heads-up that you will be making a late payment. Alternatively, request new payment terms if you need even more time to meet your obligations.

3.  Relying solely on experts

Big corporations have in-house departments and outside professionals on retainer to handle every aspect of their business -- you do not. You surely have to turn to experts -- accountants, attorneys, insurance agents, IT pros, and the like -- to help you run your business effectively. But you can't choose to remain ignorant of your obligations. Know when to seek help and what to ask for. You'll not only avoid trouble by deferring to your advisors in a timely fashion -- you'll also save money by avoiding penalties and other costly mistakes.

4.  Putting all your eggs in one basket

Your time and resources may be limited, but don't focus your activities primarily on one client or customer -- no matter how lucrative this may be. If that client or customer leaves you (because of its own business downturn, a better supplier or service provider comes along, or for any other reason), you'll be left scrambling to replace lost revenue. Continually market your business so there are prospects in the pipeline.

5.  Making promises you can't keep

You want to do your best, but don't promise more than you can or will deliver. Don't say you'll return a phone call if you won't; don't promise completion of a job by a certain date if you can't make good on your word. Better way: Be realistic about your abilities and what you'll be able to do.


Recognize that being a small business is no excuse for acting like someone running a hobby. Be professional and watch your business grow!