No one said building a small business was easy, but there’s certainly merit in learning from others who have trodden the same path. Jacqui Pryor, founder of MMW Trademark Services shares 10 lessons she learned during her first decade operating a trademark firm.
“The motivation for starting my small business was to give other SMEs access to affordable trademark registration and advisory services,” Jacqui says. “I’d worked for other firms as a trademark consultant and business manager for a while and felt it was time to shift my focus and provide professional services to smaller entities that may not ordinarily have been able to afford them. As such, I obtained my Graduate Certificate in Trademark Law and Practice and subsequently registered as a trademarks attorney.”
Like so many other small business owners, Jacqui found that building a successful business took blood, sweat, tears, and a whole lot more! Below she shares ten key learnings which she says have been the main contributor to establishing a strong reputation and growing her business.
1. Focus on what you know and do best
Most small businesses start out in a niche field because that’s where their strengths are and where opportunities lie. However, I have seen instances where small business owners have lost focus on their skill set, which can impede growth and success.
2. Outsource to experts
Trademark law is a niche and complex field which requires specialist, professional expertise. Over time, I recognized the value of outsourcing tasks to experts in areas where I did not have the requisite skills, for example in accounting, bookkeeping, digital marketing, and SEO.
3. Identify your competitors
A thorough knowledge of your competitive landscape will help you focus your efforts in the right areas. For example, in my industry which is trademark law, not all trademark attorney firms are true competitors. In the same vein, not all IP law firms are competitors either. Doing a deep competitor analysis helps ensure you are targeting the right market.
4. Focus on your unique value proposition
Always go back to what you’re aiming to do as a business. What customer needs are you meeting? Running a small business can be frenetic and I learned how easy it is to become distracted from your core focus. Once that happens, you risk losing customers because you’re not delivering on your promise and meeting their expectations.
5. Proactively seek feedback and act on it
Great feedback can be used as customer testimonials (with permission of course) to strengthen your reputation and your industry leadership. However, feedback doesn’t always fluff out your tail feathers. Ask for honest feedback. It may not be nice to receive criticism, but always use comments, even if negative, to improve the offering and drive real change. Good, bad, or ugly – every review is valuable, and acting is crucial.
6. Critically examine your brand identity
Businesses change over time. Customers’ needs change. The landscape changes. It’s taken me 10+ years, but I now know why it has been important to step back and evaluate all the elements of my brand proposition including my logo and brand personality. Staying relevant and meeting market expectations is key to success and I’ve learned you can’t simply ‘set and forget your corporate identity.
7. Acknowledge the unknown
It’s not possible to know everything. In the 10+ years, I’ve been in business, I have observed the value of acknowledging when people don’t know something and then taking action to upskill.
8. A good team is invaluable
Even if you’re a one-person business, you can still have a great team supporting you. The motto “stronger together” speaks to small businesses and reminds me of the benefits associated with having good people in your camp; whether internal or external – it’s significant.
9. Get involved in your industry
It’s a good idea to position yourself as an expert in your industry. This may be out of your comfort zone, but there’s real merit in doing so, particularly if you are trying to stand out in a crowded marketplace. In my experience, some of the best ways of doing this include networking, getting involved in industry bodies, participating in discussion groups, forums, and social media groups, and posting high-quality content that confirms your expertise and leadership.
10. Spend money to make money
When I started my business over ten years ago, I faced budget constraints that are a reality for just about every start-up. However, as time went on and my balance sheet improved, my experience was that by spending money, I ultimately made more. For example, I engaged the services of third parties such as an SEO specialist, an accountant, and a bookkeeper and I’ve seen the return on those investments. Ultimately, this has saved me considerable time and money.
These ten lessons have contributed to MMW Trademark Services’ ability to establish a solid reputation for excellence in a complex field where the highest standards of accuracy and attention to detail are required.
Jacqui Pryor is a registered trademark attorney and has owned her own business, Mark My Words Trademark Services since 2011. Her business provides professional, friendly, and reliable advice and assistance on all types of complex trademark registration, infringement, and opposition matters in Australia as well as overseas. Jacqui started the business specifically to support SMEs that typically couldn’t afford such a service and over the years, the company has grown in both size and reputation.
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