Editor’s note: Small-business guru LuAnn Nigara provides tell-it-like-it-is business education for tens of thousands of designers and creatives the world over via her popular podcast, A Well Designed Business, books, and speaking engagements for the National Kitchen and Bath Association, High Point Market, ASID National, the Design Influencers Conference, and beyond. In her new monthly column for AD PRO, Nigara will share actionable insights—gleaned both from her twice-weekly conversations with design industry pros as well as  her 35-plus years running a custom window treatment business, Window Works—on the most common small-business challenges members of the trade face today.  

In my experience, I have found that both rising entrepreneurs as well as seasoned entrepreneurs will often make one or all of these mistakes when building and growing their business. It is easy to undervalue their impact on our business, especially when we are busy in the day to day. If you find yourself guilty of these, don’t feel horrible—and certainly don’t feel alone! But don’t read and move on, either. Make a decision to attack any area in which you are falling short so you get your business on track to succeed. 

1. Not establishing your company mission and vision

This cannot be skipped. I repeat, this cannot be skipped. It can be refined and revised as you grow and change, but if you don’t know where you are going, how can you get there? Would you design a room without a floor plan? Would you purchase furniture and lighting and then ask your client: “How will you use this room? Who will use this room?” No, you need a plan. Your business needs a plan too. Do not skip this step.

2. Not identifying your ideal client

To work in joy and prosperity, you have to work with the clients you like, doing the kinds of projects you like. To do this, you must attract them to you. To attract them to you, you must speak to them and only them. To speak to them and only them, you must know who they are. If others find you, that is okay; you can decide to work with them or decline their work. And if you are worried that no one else will find you, isn’t that the point? A pipeline of ideal clients is your reward for doing the work to identify them.

3. Not knowing your numbers

It is non-negotiable that you understand your numbers. All of them: your profit and loss; your balance sheet; your gross and net profit margins; your weekly, monthly, yearly finance goals; your cost to be open; as well as your minimum billable hours. You can and should eventually have a bookkeeper—but only after you have learned to do it yourself and as long as you monitor the bookkeeper closely, on a weekly or biweekly basis. This is the single best thing you can do to ensure your success. The dividends you earn in actual income as well as in business confidence are exponential versus the time invested to achieve this.

4. Not investing in marketing, consistently and constantly

The generally accepted rule of thumb is that between 5% and 10% of your gross sales should be allocated for marketing. For at least the first 20 years at Window Works, we consistently invested closer to 20%. There is no question this had a direct effect on the growth and success of our business. Now, at nearly 40 years in business and with gross revenues in the seven figures, this amount is no longer necessary, however we continue to allocate 5%. You must invest in marketing, which by the way includes professional photography of your projects. How much and where to invest should be carefully planned, tracked, and evaluated for its ROI to your business.

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