There are all types of business owners, at all levels of talent and experience. You might be just breaking into small business ownership with a lot of skill and talent, but you also might be a veteran owner with decades of experience but not as much talent as others.
Whichever category you fall into, you have to be smart, which you may be naturally gifted with or you’re in the process of learning how to run your company intelligently. If you think you’re pretty smart, take a look at these 10 attributes to see how you measure up.
1. You Don’t Shoot Down Ideas
To begin with, one sign of a business owner who isn’t very smart is if you shoot down ideas from people on your team right away, before you even consider it. Many times, this comes from having a master-of-the-universe syndrome that is common to a lot of inexperienced business owners, or those who have egos that completely eclipse their team.
When someone on your team comes to you with an idea for something, it’s important to genuinely take it under advisement at least because great ideas can come from anywhere, especially from people who are devoted to your company enough to bring you an idea they think will be helpful.
That takes a good bit of competence and commitment on the part of an employee to voice their opinion, even when it’s not necessarily their job to do it. The smart, experienced leader never immediately discounts a potentially useful and profitable idea just because they weren’t the one who came up with it.
2. You Have a Cluttered Working Space
First of all, having a cluttered desk doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a disorganized person. In one sense, it does mean that because the space you work in has a bunch of stuff in it that isn’t properly organized; however, many talented, creative professionals tend to be outwardly messy but their minds are focused on what they need to do. Just because you’re messy doesn’t mean you can’t get things done.
As a matter of fact, people who are highly creative usually have a lot of irons in the fire that they have to keep track of, which has a tendency to clutter things up a bit. You may want to consider keeping a cleaner, more organized working space to become more productive, but if it’s just the way you like to work, then there’s probably no need for you to change it.
3. You’re Always Working on a New Project
A smart owner is one who is always coming up with and fleshing out new ideas, taking them on a test run whenever they can to figure out their next big move or simply how to improve their existing company.
A lot of owners just make sure they’ve done the bare minimum to keep the current operations running smoothly, without taking much thought for thinking about how they can run things in new or better ways. They also have no interest in starting any new project if the company they already have is doing well and plugging along.
This isn’t necessarily a negative statement about those kinds of owners because doing that is hard enough as it is; some business owners are just naturally wired to constantly be trying new ideas and starting new projects. That’s just how they function.
4. You’re Ready to Handle Any Eventuality
It’s easy to sit back and hope that nothing goes wrong, but the unfortunate reality is that things will inevitably go wrong and pan out in ways that you can’t always anticipate. That’s exactly why you need to be prepared for anything, to the best of your ability, and that’s what smart business owners do.
They take great pains to be sure that they’re ready for any issue that might come up, they plan it out carefully, and they put together contingencies for everything they can think of, so that no surprise problem can hurt the company too severely. In fact, before you even start a new business, it’s very important to plan for the unexpected because there are a million things that can go wrong with a new business.
5. Your Team Looks Up to You for Leadership & Advice
This is not only a sign that you’re a good leader and owner for the company, but it also means that you know what you’re doing. If your team is looking to you for leadership and comes to you for advice, then you have proved to them along the way that you’re accessible and capable of handling issues that they can’t handle themselves.
Where unintelligent people tend to broadcast their opinion to everyone who will listen, smart, capable leaders are usually slow to speak or offer advice because they have a healthy respect for guiding someone to do anything, as it will have a real impact on them. If your team regularly looks to you for help, then you can be fairly certain that you’re a strong leader.
6. You’re Not Afraid of Competition
This is a little-known but key point among new business owners. For many new business owners, the first sight of a competitor strikes fear into their hearts because they’re afraid that it will take customers from them and potentially put them out of business. This is hardly ever the case.
The first thing to understand about competition is that it’s actually a good sign. It means that you have a promising business model for which there is a market, as the competitor has found it to be profitable, as well. The next thing is that you now have a source to learn from so that you can grow your business further.
They might have thought of things that you didn’t, giving you an opportunity to take what has worked well for that competitor and use it to fortify your own business. Competition is rarely something you need to be afraid of, and smart owners know that.
7. You Favor Quality Over Clever Marketing
This is one of the most common downfalls of small businesses. Many owners spend the majority of their time and budget advertising far and wide with painstakingly-crafted marketing efforts, while spending very little energy on perfecting their product or service.
The quality of your product should without question be your first priority, not clever slogans and ads. Obviously, marketing and advertising are also necessary, but quality should take precedence over that because if you start with a great product, it has a way of selling itself.
When customers find that you have an awesome product or service, they will remember that, and they’ll also tell others about it. Word-of-mouth is still one of the most effective drivers of new business, no matter how beautiful your ads are.
8. You Take Great Care of Customers, No Matter What
You wouldn’t even have a business without your customers, so it goes without saying that they should always be taken care of. Meanwhile, there are still far too many business owners who don’t place much of an emphasis on customer service and support.
There aren’t many things that can win over a customer as effectively as stellar service. People will literally go to your competitor and pay more for the product if they provide great customer service. Always remember that, even if the customer is difficult or treats you badly, you can’t break character.
It should be your policy to take those challenging customers (unless they are abusive to your team) and turn them around. Even if you can’t turn them around, you can at least make sure that they don’t give you a bad review from the experience most of the time. Another scenario where it can benefit your company to give awesome service to customers is when you don’t really have to.
For example, if someone already had an exceptional experience with your business and they already got everything they need, follow up with those people and go above and beyond what they expected. Not only does this ensure your customers are happy but you also increase the chances that they will stay with your service or buy from you again.
9. You’re Patient with Your Business
A business can take a long time to get off the ground and to grow to the point where it is bringing in a solid amount of revenue. There are also things that can prolong your success, such as if you are not selling an established product but are introducing something new to the market.
Startups who are delving into new territory like that have to take extra time and other measures to carve out their market, which can take a good while. You will definitely have to educate your target market about the product, as one of the first things you’ll do, until they accept it and understand that it is something they need or can use.
This is also true for businesses that are building on a product or service for which there is already an established market. You still need to do all the demographic work and other research to make sure you have customers in your particular sphere or location, as well as figure out a differentiator that sets your business apart from competitors.
10. You Make as Many Contacts as Possible
This is a strategy that most entrepreneurs learn pretty early on, as it becomes pretty quickly apparent that making contacts and networking, at least in a professional capacity, is essential in business. It’s actually hard to avoid networking when you run a business.
The point where many owners miss it, however, is when they don’t actively continue to make new contacts wherever they can. Whether it’s a new investor, a partner, a consultant, or even a client, it is always a good idea to follow up with those people and turn them into a contact that you can get back to later on.
You never know when a contact with whom you’ve formed a relationship is going to be of help to you in the future, so you’re doing yourself a great service as a business owner to maintain those contacts. Any professional will usually be impressed when you diligently follow up with them at least from time to time.
To fuel those relationships, you can also throw business their way (if they also have a business), or offer a helping hand to your contacts, no matter what line of work they’re in. As you build a long list of contacts over time, you’ll have increasingly more channels through which you can collaborate with those people for mutual benefit, helping them and yourself at the same time.
Are you hitting all of these bases as an entrepreneur? If you can check off all these traits and habits, then you’re most likely in the minority of uncommonly intelligent business owners. If it looks like you’re falling short with a few of these points, don’t stress too much about it—look at it as an opportunity to improve because pretty much everything we’ve discussed here can be learned with a little time and practice.
The bottom line behind all of this is, in a nutshell, is to prepare as much as possible, always do your homework before making any moves, and concentrate on high quality in everything you do. Get smart and strive to gain as many of these attributes as you can. Any entrepreneur can always improve continually.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.