The Small Business Coach series was launched in May to promote engagement with a key segment of the SAP audience: small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Formatted as an advice column, the Small Business Coach fielded business- and IT-related questions from entrepreneurs around the world. Experienced coaches then answered those questions in a weekly column.

The Small Business Coach received questions from entrepreneurs from the Research Triangle in North Carolina to Jodhpur, India. With the conclusion of this series, we would like to provide a recap of the coaches’ advice along with links to their original blogs.

Lesson #1: Build a Network

You simply can’t do everything on your own. This sentiment was a recurring theme from The Small Business Coach, echoed by each of the individual coaches. As an entrepreneur, you need a solid network of people who can support you, both professionally and personally. Start with using the services of a good accountant and attorney to help you structure your business and avoid nasty pitfalls. Build a network of dependable advisors who bring varied and practical business skills – and who are honest with you in giving feedback.

Take good care of yourself; you are the foremost representative of your business. This means maintaining a network of supportive family and friends, getting enough rest, and replenishing your energy on a regular basis. Most importantly, really take time to talk with your customers to understand who they are and how you can best fulfill their needs. To make it in business, you’ll certainly need your people skills!

10 More Lessons from the Small Business Coach

1. Should I try outsourcing?

Outsourcing might be the answer to managing certain aspects of your business with optimal efficiency and cost effectiveness. When deciding which specific business activities to outsource, consider these criteria: Is the function a core strategic component or differentiator to your business? Do you need complete control of this function to deliver your value add? Do you perform this function better or at a lower cost than anyone else? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then outsourcing might be the best option. Read more.

2. Is cloud secure enough for my valuable business data?

The bottom line is that cloud computing is a very safe and secure proposition. Companies that host your data go to incredible lengths to ensure that nobody can launch a successful attack on your company’s proprietary business information. Typically, their data center is manned by a team of highly skilled engineers, database administrators, security personnel and customer support staff, who are available around the clock to ensure your mission-critical applications and data are never compromised. Read more.

3. What are the best employee incentives?

When establishing employee incentives, look carefully at your company culture. Providing things such as job security, a development plan, or even an hour off on a Friday afternoon will improve levels of loyalty, productivity, and engagement. If you can afford to invest in people over a prolonged period of time, you’ll find they will buy into your company’s journey. Read more.

4. How do I structure equity agreements?

When founding a startup, set up a provision to negotiate equity at each stage of the business. Too many companies agree on a fixed split of the business early on, and realize they need more flexibility later. For example, the product development lead might have a big split while you are in the first phase of creating a product, but the sales lead might have a bigger split when it comes time for world dominance. Read more.

5. What’s my unique value proposition?

Establish your unique value proposition and then build your reputation on it. Are you going to build your value, brand, and reputation on: Low price? Fast delivery? Unlimited options for your consumers? High level of customer service? There are many options. It is not possible to deliver all of these to your customers, so you will need to focus on the most essential cornerstone and build your business plan around it. Read more.

6. How can I recruit the best job candidates?

View recruiting as marketing. You carefully tend to the image and increased reach of your business to enhance your likelihood for boosting sales. You don’t go out looking to make a sale only when your pipeline is empty. Take the same approach to hiring. Make your company appealing and visible to job seekers. And make it easy for people to apply. Read more.

7. How can I delegate effectively?

Learn to delegate as your organization begins to grow and recruit more staff. There comes a time when small business owners have to let go. It’s impossible to manage every task within an organization when orders start rolling in. Nobody has that sort of bandwidth. But as long as your recruitment is good, small business owners shouldn’t resist change. Read more.

8. Which costs less: cloud or on-premise?

In deciding between an on-premise ERP solution vs. a cloud-based approach, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but the trends are pointing in one direction for most small business ERP deployments – the TCO for cloud-based solutions is significantly lower than for on-premise alternatives, both in the short and long terms. Read more.

9. How can I improve my cash flow?

If your cash flow seems to be lagging, despite brisk sales, take a look at the following areas for improvement: invoice generation (Are your invoices going out in a timely manner? Are they accurate?); credit checking (Do you have a process for extending credit to a customer?); and order fulfillment (Are you delivering order on time and in full?). Read more.

10. When is the right time for a software upgrade?

The telltale sign that you need to consider a software upgrade is if your business has reached a growth ceiling and you can’t find a way to overcome this challenge. How do you best leverage staff to break through that ceiling and really accelerate growth? Upgrading your systems and software is a sure-fire way of making certain a business remains competitive. Read more.

Read all of the stories from The Small Business Coach series.

Be sure to follow SAP’s latest news and events for small business on Facebook and Twitter @SAPSmallBiz.

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