How to Run a Successful Business in the Information Age

August 1, 2017

Every aspiring entrepreneur wants to know how to run a successful business and in the information age — where everything we could ever want is at our fingertips — that mission is both easier and more difficult, depending on how you look at it. While it’s easier to make your business visible, it’s harder to make yourself stand out from the pack on the vast expanse of the Internet.

So how do you run a successful business in this fast-paced world that seems to change on a dime? We’re all looking for that special answer that will launch our business to success, but does it exist? Surprisingly, some things haven’t changed with the advent of the Internet, but others have and those changes are pretty important to include in your business plan.

Build Relationships with Your Customers

The Internet has made us relatively hands-off. Names don’t have faces and people are just addresses and credit card approvals. Rarely do online merchants actually interact with their customers unless something goes wrong. This is why Dr. Lucas Lu of 5Miles recommends  listening to your customers and building real relationships with them.

A photo of two young boys setting up a lemonade stand.
It’s never too early to tap into your entrepreneurial spirit.

Knowing your audience — what they need, want, and perhaps even don’t know what they want — is one of the best ways to learn how to run a successful business because, well, without a customer base, you don’t have a business to run. And more importantly: if your target audience doesn’t like what you’re selling, you need to reassess your business plan.

Lu encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to “look for ways to innovate and engage.” 5Miles was created as a result of Lu, himself having poor experiences with buying and selling online as a graduate student. He chose to learn from his experience and then turn it into something others could benefit from as well.

If you’re building real relationships with your customers, they’re more likely to be loyal followers and spread the word about your company. Lu continues, “as trite as it may sound, quality over quantity is truly the pathway to sustainable success, as our customer engagement and retention numbers show.”

Learning how to run a successful business is all about cultivating loyal customers. It’s not the people who occasionally go into Starbucks for the $4.00 latte that keep the doors open — it’s the people who stop by every single morning to get their grandé brewed coffee that are doing the most to support the business. Like Lu says: quality over quantity.

Network Network Network — and Maybe Cohabitate!

The Internet has changed many things about our lives, but it hasn’t changed the importance of networking when it comes to how to run a successful business. All entrepreneurs can benefit from chatting with other business owners about their successes, challenges, and failures. And of course, as we expand our professional networks, there’s no telling who could lend us a helping hand along our rise to the top.

But Rupert Hunt, founder and CEO of SpareRoom knows a thing or two about how to run a successful business and he likes to take this one step further: living with other entrepreneurs. He recently put his money where his mouth is and agreed to provide two spare rooms in his $8 million West Village loft to two lucky entrepreneurs — for just $1.00 per month.

A photo of a work group looking over sketches.
It’s always good to get another entrepreneur’s perspective on your business idea.

Hunt believes that “living together really gives your entrepreneurial skills a regular workout — when you’re working day in, day out on your own narrow field of issues, things can get a little repetitive and stale. Brainstorming other people’s problems and opportunities is very rewarding and healthy. It feels like going to the gym to do a new workout and suddenly using muscles you forgot you had!”

We might not always have a huge loft to share nearly rent-free with hopeful business owners, but we very well might have a spare room for rent. If you do, consider renting to another entrepreneur. Hunt brings up a good point about living with like-minded people: “There are so many ideas and experiences you can take from one category of business and apply to another, with a bit of rethinking. A chat over morning coffee can pump you up and inspire you in a similar way to listening to an entrepreneurial podcast.”

But if living together is a bit too much for you — or if your spouse isn’t crazy about the idea — think about setting up a regular meeting with people in your network. Happy hour (or coffee) is a good opportunity to catch up with friends and discuss problems you’re having with your business and to Hunt’s point, doing so may help you brainstorm solutions you hadn’t thought of while you were stuck in your own silo.

Consider Being a Virtual Business

Now that the Internet is largely available to everyone, it gives us the luxury to work from basically anywhere. Business partners can live in different cities, employees can reside in different states, and customers — well, they can be on the opposite side of the globe, which means more and more companies are learning how to run a successful business virtually.

One of these businesses is Aisle Society, a wedding tech startup owned and operated by 21 wedding bloggers located across the world. CEO Ami Price says that not being tied down to one city (or even a few cities) has allowed them to be “more flexible, more knowledgeable about our market, and ultimately more profitable” as a result, which has led her to believe that being virtual (at least in part) is crucial for running a successful business in the information age.

A photo of an entrepreneur working from his home office.
Entrepreneurs aren’t strangers to home offices.

But running an online business certainly comes with its own challenges. How do you communicate important information to your employees when there aren’t boardrooms and offices? How do you keep everyone on the same page? How can you ensure that all the necessary work is getting done?

Price has some suggestions on that front. First of all, she advises laying down the groundwork early, especially when a new project is beginning. Making sure all the processes are laid out and everyone is starting off on the right foot is imperative. It’s also helpful to be very specific in assigning duties so that no one is dropping the ball, thinking “someone else” was completing a task.

When it comes to communication, it will be important to have open, deliberate channels that encourage collaboration. Aisle Society adopted Slack and they love that it keeps their inboxes clearer. Spoiler alert: we love it too.

And lastly, Price reminds us about the importance of keeping things personal. When you don’t work in the same building as your teammates, it can be easy to forget that they’re all just people with their own struggles and ideas. Once a year, Aisle Society holds an in-person retreat so team members can get to know each other better and cultivate ideas they have for the business — something Price believes has taken their company to another level.  

Sell Everywhere

Along the same lines, Krista Fabregas, e-commerce staff writer at Fit Small Business says that figuring out how to run a successful business is about selling “wherever your customers are — and that’s everywhere.” Many online sellers run into trouble if they try to sell in person (like at craft fairs or public markets) because they’re unprepared to accept credit card transactions, but so few people carry cash now, you can’t afford to not have this base covered.

A photo of a design team leaning over color charts.
Color choice probably won’t make or break you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important decision.

For this purpose, Fabregas recommends a service like Square, which will allow you to accept credit card payments, as well as use their sales management features and even set up a basic online store free of charge. Square works across multiple platforms, but be sure to check with your specific ecommerce site as well. For example, Etsy has a Sell by Etsy app that allows you to make in person sales via credit card without actually having the hardware. You can enter the card number manually and even enter an email address for the customer to receive a receipt.

Differentiate Yourself from Competitors — or Tweak Your Market

Before we were all connected through a fiber network, small businesses were forced to be more local. Reaching new customers meant placing ads in newspapers or the yellow pages, buying radio or TV time, and relying on word-of-mouth. But these days, the Internet has flooded nearly every market with more businesses than we can handle. Finding a competitor that delivers your product as well, if not better, isn’t difficult at all for the average consumer.

Needless to say, if you want to learn how to run a successful business, you have to figure out how to make your company stand out from the hundreds (or thousands) of competitors fighting for space on the Internet. Entrepreneurs have multiple strategies for this, from how they interact with customers to their marketing communications to their actual product, but one of the very best is to deploy Blue Ocean Strategy.

A photo of a work group looking at a new design a computer.
The new design is looking pretty good!

Blue Ocean Strategy says that aspiring business owners should do their best to stay in the blue water, as opposed to red water — the assumption being that red water has more sharks and therefore more blood, i.e. competition. If we stick to the blue water, we’re more likely to succeed simply because there is less standing in our way.

If there are already five organic food markets in your town of 50,000, why are you opening an organic food market? You might be better served opening a niche food market that is not already being filled in your area, like Mediterranean or vegan food.

Even then, opening a brick and mortar store may not be in your best interest — learning how to run a successful business will always involve adapting to current circumstances. First, look into local markets in your area that allows you to rent booth space, where you can sell what you have in inventory and take custom orders. As your business grows, you can think about a more permanent retail location.

Social Media

This almost goes without saying, but it’s imperative that your business, whether online or in-person retail, be on social media — it’s just part of how you run a successful business now. Your customers will expect to be able to find you on Facebook or Twitter and probably, Instagram. Not having social profiles now is like not having a website ten years ago. It makes your business look less legitimate.

The good news about this is that you get to use this opportunity to give followers exclusive offers, like promotional codes or special daily deals, that help drive traffic to your website or into your store. It also gives you the chance to introduce your customers to your brand in a more meaningful way. You can convey tone, promote other products, and brand philosophy on a consistent basis, which keeps your business in the minds of your customers — and if you’re on their minds, they’re more likely to spend money in your establishment.

If the thought of running social media is daunting to you, we understand. It truly is a full-time job, which is why it’s recommended that you hire someone whose job it is to handle all your social accounts. If that person is full-time, they can probably handle other responsibilities as well, but if you don’t want to hire an in-house person, you can always contract it out to a marketing firm.

A photo of a woman showing a work group a series of multi-colored sticky notes on a window.
We totally recommend this sticky note hack for running a successful business.

How to Run a Successful Business: There’s No Easy Answer

Of course, there’s no magic answer to how to run a successful business. It takes hard work, determination, and a bit of luck to meet your goals, but no matter what, it requires a hefty amount of perseverance. Successful entrepreneurs are never shy to say they feel fulfilled in their business endeavors, even though there were surely tough times (both personally and financially).

Most importantly, no entrepreneur is successful if they cannot adapt. Every business owner makes mistakes and it’s in his best interest to admit it early on and then make an adjustment. Lingering on something you thought would work, but clearly isn’t, will only waste time and precious resources. In the end, there are a million ways to run a successful business — but you have to find the one that works the best for you.

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How do you run a successful business in the information age? Let us know by tweeting us @Protoio!