6 Small Business Best Practices that are Commonly Ignored

You know those roundup articles that ask dozens of successful business owners what their best piece of advice for other business owners would be?

I find they’re often offering generic advice I’ve heard over and over. 

Like: “show up and hustle”, “don’t take no for an answer”, “surround yourself with people who are smarter than you”, etc.

(Perhaps some people keep their advice more vague because they don’t want to share the really good stuff with their competitors?)

I wanted to put together an article with advice that’s a little more…”meaty”.

These things are crucial to the success of my businesses. When I let these things slide, my business feels it. 

Here are 6 best business practices that are commonly ignored for the more “flashy” advice.


1 – Improve your business’s 20%

The Pareto Principle suggests 80% of outputs result from 20% of inputs. 

For example, 80% of your sales likely come from 20% of your customer base. Or 80% of your revenue may come from 20% of your product line. Or 80% of your shop traffic comes from 20% of your marketing channels (e.g. Facebook might send the most traffic to your website/Etsy shop while Twitter, Instagram, paid ads, and TV interviews send you very little).

I’ve found the 80/20 principle has applied to all of my businesses, and in most areas of them. 

And the more time I spend analyzing my efforts to discover that 20% and re-shifting my focus towards that 20% and away from the 80%, the more my business grows.

Shiny object syndrome is a real obstacle for small business owners, especially creative business owners.

As creatives, we love coming up with new ideas and creating new things. This isn’t ideal when you’re trying to build a profitable business.

Before you add something new to your plate (e.g. a new product, a new website, a new marketing channel, etc.), analyze your current efforts to see what’s giving you the best results. 

Then, consider how you can improve that 20% further. 

For example, which product do you sell the most of? Instead of adding an untested product to your lineup, consider how you can improve your bestsellers or sell more of them. Can you get your costs down to bring your profits up (or to lower your prices which may boost sales). Can you feature them more/better in your craft show display or online shop?

Which marketing channel drives the most traffic to your online shop? Instead of hopping on the latest social media platform and learning new skills to grow it, why not look at your best preforming posts on your best preforming social media account and spend more time creating similar content.

Don’t ignore your best products, marketing channels, sales channels, customers, etc. just because they’re no longer shiny and new. 

Constantly go back to your best performers and give them love and attention to see if they can become even better performers.


2 – Increase customer retention

Have you ever called a service company, such as your internet provider, and asked them to close your account? They’ll typically offer you a reduced rate in an attempt to get you to stay.

That’s because, the money they’ll lose by reducing your bill is less than the amount it will cost to gain a new customer to take your place. 

That’s how important customer retention is to a business.

It’s expensive to reach new customers and stay in their ear/sights long enough and consistently enough to gain their trust and encourage them to buy. 

On the other hand, once you have a customer, if they’re happy with their purchase, they now know about your business, trust it, and like it.

It’s much easier and cheaper to get them to buy again than it is to get someone who has never heard of your business to buy.

Instead of an existing customer requiring 7 social media posts or emails to feel comfortable enough to buy, they might require one or two. 

Customer retention isn’t simply about delivering on your promises to keep a customer happy. 

You also must set your business up so customers have a reason to come back and buy again. 

  • products they’ll want in addition to the one they originally purchased
  • ways to stay in contact with them (e.g. email marketing)
  • incentive to come back and buy again
  • a feeling of connection with your business 
  • etc.

You can read more about customer retention here: 10 (Easy) Ways to Retain Customers

It’s the cheaper and easier way to grow your business.


3 – Increase units per transaction

My craft show table in my first year of business had pajamas, rice heating bags, throw pillows made from recycled t-shirts, bags, greeting cards, and framed photos.

My business partner and I loved to come up with new ideas and to create. 

The problem with that approach is, a shopper interested in a bag wasn’t also shopping for pajama bottoms. And someone looking at a framed photo didn’t want a pillow that wasn’t aesthetically similar to the photo. 

When a shopper decided to buy, we typically only sold them one item. 

Imagine being able to sell 2 or 3 items to each shopper. 

You boost your sales, maybe even double them, with very little effort. 

Simply designing a product line full of items that can be mixed and matched will have a big impact on your revenue.

Instead of trying to show off your creativity and how many different items you’re capable of making, put your shoppers first. 

Someone shopping for a bag doesn’t also want a pair of pajamas. Instead, they would appreciate a matching wallet, or an interchangeable strap to change the look of their purse, or a tassel, pompom, or charm they can clip on to their bag to add more style/personality.

The same applies when selling products that fall under the same category. 

Someone interested in a Swarovski crystal necklace isn’t also interested in a plastic bead bracelet or wire wrapped earrings. They want items they can wear with the Swarovski crystal necklace or that fit within their style and current wardrobe. 

Use this ladder system when planning your product collections or refining your product lineup to ensure one customer can find multiple items to buy.


4 – Focus on numbers first

If you’re running a business, numbers must come first.

You must use numbers to make decisions about your business, such as:

  • setting prices
  • adding new products
  • tasks that deserve your time/money
  • what type of content to post to social media or send in a newsletter 

The 3 most important numbers to focus on are your:

  • profits
  • return on investment
  • conversion rates

I cover these in more detail in The Success Planner

Profits will ensure you’re actually getting ahead financially and not just earning back the money and hours you spend.

Return on investment will tell you whether or not a task or expense is worth your time. For example, if you spend an hour a day posting to Instagram, is Instagram sending people to your website that end up buying? And do those sales cover your wages for the 1 hour/day you spend on Instagram?

Conversion rate will help you determine where there are improvements to be made in your operations. For example, if 500 people receive your newsletter but only 2 open it, that’s a low conversion rate and you’ll want to work on your subject line, sending time, or sending frequency to get that conversion rate up. On the other hand, if 400 out of 500 people open your newsletter, you have a great opening-conversion rate. But if only 2 people click the link to visit your website, that means your newsletter content and call to action need improvement. 

I don’t love numbers either. But you can’t turn a blind eye to them and hope for the best. 

You must look at the numbers of your business in as many ways as you can to ensure you’re building a business that rewards you for all your hard work.


5 – Question your processes

A lot of businesses get stuck in a pattern because they don’t question why they do things the way they do them. 

Often, the answer to “why do you do it that way?” is “because I’ve always done it that way.”

My favorite story (which I believe originates from Zig Ziglar) that demonstrates why it’s so important to question your processes, is about a ham.

The story is something along the lines of a husband asking his wife why she cuts the ends off a ham before putting it into a roasting pan. She replies that that’s what her mom did. So they call her mom and ask why she cut the ends of a ham and get the same answer; that’s what her mom did. So they call grandma and ask the same question and she explains that her roasting pan was too small and she cut the ends off the ham so it would fit.

Generation after generation was wasting perfectly good ham simply because they weren’t questioning the process. 

You can almost always find a better way. You just have to be willing to accept that your current way may not be the best, even if it’s what you’ve been doing for years. Take the time to analyze each aspect of your most important processes. 

Start with aspects of your process that require more time or money. Is there a better way that will save you time and/or money?

For example, you might look at the details of your products. Are those details necessary? Do customers notice and appreciate them? Does that extra pocket or double-stitching allow you to charge more? Or are those details costing you more time and money without giving you more return?

To ensure you’re constantly finding the best ways to run your business, challenge your processes and ask:

  • why is it done this way?
  • is there a way to improve the process?
  • is this step even necessary?


6 – Keep the consumer top of mind

It’s important to constantly think about your business from a customer’s perspective and to remember:

You do not equal your customer.

Meaning, what you care about and love is not necessarily what your customers care about and love.

I’ve been hit with this harsh truth many times. I’ve created a product I’m excited about and am sure consumers are going to love it, only to have it ignored and have it sitting in my inventory months later. 

It’s so easy to forget about the customer completely. We get in our heads and let our ego take over. 

  • How can I make more money?
  • Look at what I’VE made
  • What type of post will get ME lots of likes?

Your business can’t be about you; it has to be about your customers.

Shift your perspective and ponder:

  • What do my customers need right now?
  • What type of products would my customers like my business to carry?
  • What would my customers/followers be genuinely interested in seeing in their feeds right now?

And don’t forget, your customers are constantly changing, just as you are.

Our preferences change with seasons, trends, life changes (e.g. having a baby, getting married, moving, changing jobs), etc. 

That’s why it’s so important to constantly return to “how can I best serve my customers?”.


What’s your best piece of small business advice?


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  1. Natalie M says:

    Hi Erin,
    Thank you for this in-depth article. I made my notes and now I have a more solid and cohesive guideline to follow. I wasn’t aware of the 80/20 principle. My approach was scattered. I make baby bottle covers and I upsell to purchasing a set. I sell them in acrylic yarn and bamboo yarn. I recently added knitted wire names/words. I’m working on a website so I can collect emails as Etsy isn’t the best but a good start. I’m also hoping to start up craft shows to collect orders, emails….(and yes, I read your blog on this topic too). Like you, I’m an introvert so craft shows isn’t really my thing but needed. Pinterest sends folks over to my shop so I opened a business account. As always, your advice is sound and most appreciated. Thank you, Erin

  2. my best piece of small business advice is read Erin articles of Made Urban…excellent last two! Always is good share same experiences and ideas with others.Thanks!

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