Leading Your Small Business By—You Guessed It—Leading

By Ari Rabban, CEO of Phone.com 

One of my biggest and earliest struggles as a small business leader was learning to be patient while creating and adhering to a business model that cultivated growth. Ultimately, after considering the business landscape, my team and I decided against the type of free-services approach some companies take that, while offering a lot of buzz (free service, after all), is very risky—in our case, it would’ve been too costly. Instead, we built an innovative business for an underserved market that didn’t rely on hoping for a buyout, which has ended up working really well.

Even after a business is off the ground, the hard work of a true leader isn’t over—especially because small business leaders, unlike others, are leaders in business as much as they are leaders in their communities. These leaders help progress the state of business, and they often play an integral role in fostering future leaders and future possibilities.

“Small business leaders, unlike others, are leaders in business as much as they are leaders in their communities.”

Still, the skills required to lead effectively aren’t always innate, even for the most successful entrepreneurs. From communication—both your ability to communicate and your ability to listen—to planning, to following through on projects, to being confident delegating tasks. Understanding and cultivating these essential skills helps you analyze your company’s progress and inspire your teams.

So how can you make sure you’re maximizing your leadership skills and embodying these necessary traits? Here are three ways to get started:

1. Know When Enough Is Enough

A big challenge facing many entrepreneurs is learning when it’s time for “No.” Between handling financial constraints, managing hiring needs and attracting new customers, it’s impossible for small business owners to agree to every offer, no matter how ambitious you are or how intriguing the offer is. Sometimes, you’ll have to turn down a seemingly great opportunity in order to stick to your company’s core goals, make sure the lights stay on and keep customers coming down the line. Understanding how to communicate those refusals is as important as issuing them, and you can do so by prompting questions where the correct answer will, indeed, be “No.”

“Understanding how to communicate those refusals is as important as issuing them…”

I also know how hard it is for entrepreneurs to take vacation time (or even consider it). But trust me: You need a day— or two—off to fully recharge your batteries. We can become so consumed by our ventures that we forget ourselves, but when I work every day without pausing to regroup, I fail to be able to inspire my work and my teams.

2. Focus on the “Right Now” Tasks

Filling a to-do list with tasks that seem important is easy, but don’t waste your time and risk your business by trying to do everything at once. Instead, prioritize items. Prioritizing is an art with no magic answer, but the best way I’ve found to do it is by answering these two questions: What is this task’s impact on the business? Can someone else complete it?

After answering these questions, you can take Stephen Covey’s approach, outlined in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” to manage each task’s execution. He suggests using a whiteboard or another easily visible surface in your office or at home to label a day’s to-do items as either “urgent” or “non-urgent.” This strategy can help you separate tasks into their relevant categories and give you a tangible outline of what your daily schedule may look like.

3. Let Your Team Work While You Lead

Entrepreneurs are often independent to a fault. Independence, in fact, is one of the reasons we became entrepreneurs to begin with. But no matter how independent you are, don’t try to do everything yourself or be involved in every company role. Otherwise, nothing will end up getting done.

No matter how much experience you have as a developer or a marketer, you hired your teams for a reason. By first understanding whether a task is vital to your business’s operations—and, if it is, who the best person is to handle it—you can delegate tasks while focusing on your primary responsibility: leading. However, while it’s important to delegate as much as you can, don’t put someone in a position where he’s set up to fail.

“You can delegate tasks while focusing on your primary responsibility: leading.”

As a leader, you should understand whether a particular task is something that person is equipped to do, guide him as he undertakes the task, and offer him any help he needs to complete it. Lastly, delegate—even if you think you can do a task better than your employees—because that 2 or 3 percent “better” isn’t worth the time it takes away from tasks only you can do.

Being the leader of a small business and a leader within the business community is difficult, but learning and implementing the right skills can make your path much smoother. No matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, learning when to step back, how to step back, and how to prioritize your tasks will give you the time and resources you need to be the leader your teams and your company require.

AriRabbanAri Rabban is the CEO of Phone.com and a veteran of the IP communications industry. Phone.com’s virtual phone service builds on the digital VoIP industry experience of its founders to deliver a complete suite of enterprise-grade unified communication services at an SMB price. Ari was named among the Top 20 Most Influential People in VoIP 2012 and currently serves on several boards, including the New Jersey Tech Council. You can follow him on Twitter @arabban.

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