Experience is the best teacher, no questions on it. Mistakes made, while running a business, can sometimes be brutal and can even shut down your entire business.
Every successful entrepreneur story follows a pattern, which evolves from a mixture of passion, hard work, and discipline.
I wish I knew many of the following necessary steps, when I started Confianz, nine years ago.
Having a written Business Plan
Whether you already own a successful business or are thinking about a startup, you need a clear vision on what your product or service is going to be. Most importantly, you should know what your target market and customer is. It is not a herculean task to write down a business plan, thanks to technology. There are a bunch of software that can help you create a good business plan and even compare the metrics while you are running the business to check whether you are meeting your quarterly forecasts.
For creating a good business plan, I recommend Liveplan, the one that stood out among the many software that I tried. Find Liveplan here: https://www.liveplan.com
Be honest when you work on the business plan; you want to be neither too optimistic nor pessimistic. Include your partners also in the process, brainstorm ideas and keep taking notes. Once you finish, you have this clear blueprint which will help in deploying your successful business.
Find a great Business Coach
Even the best athlete or sports person needs a coach. As a business owner, you need a good coach with ample experience of having run businesses. Find someone who will support you and offer constructive criticism. Develop a relationship of mutual trust and respect. Most importantly, find a coach whom you would listen to. The whole purpose of the engagement will be lost if there are ego clashes and lack of mutual understanding. To find the right coach, search local Vistage chapters in your city or ask someone whom you look up to for their success in business, to coach you. Everyone’s time is valuable. As a startup, if you find it difficult to pay for a professional service in money, you can find alternate methods of offering your services or products for your coach’s time. I have provided free websites or development work in exchange for good coaching.
Have a board of good advisors who are successful entrepreneurs, to help you in times of need. Again, if you are a Vistage member, it means you already have access to this.
Learn Accounting & Finance
One of the earliest mistakes I committed as an entrepreneur was that I focussed only on customers and technology, giving less importance to financial plans and reports. It is paramount that you have enough knowledge on finance/accounting so as to understand the operability of the firm, looking at a Profit and Loss statement.
Platforms like Coursera, Udacity or Khan Academy have awesome, self-paced learning material.
Focus on your Customers and your employees
They are your biggest assets in running a successful business. Invest time with your staff so that everyone clearly understands the mission and vision of the company. If everyone in your organization talks the same language both internally and externally, it will steer your business to its goals, faster. Read “Traction” by Gino Wickman and try to implement EOS, Entrepreneurial Operating System.
Network, Network, Network!
Find time to network whenever possible. Meetups, BNI, Tradeshows relevant to your domain, all help. Be socially involved with local Chamber of Commerce, incubators, etc. Honestly, you don’t know who is going to be your next customer; they are everywhere. I have had business with significant revenue, from people I met randomly in local restaurants or bars.
Gone are the days when Fortune100 companies would only work with the large players. Nowadays most of them prefer startups that bring forth groundbreaking technology and question the status quo. Apparently, lean and nimble teams are found to be far more innovative.
I work in the technology sector, so I’ll have to research further to comment on how this could work for other domains.
Learn from your mistakes
Every entrepreneur who succeeded has committed a million mistakes. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes. Forgive yourself after something goes wrong and work harder to fix the problem. Keep motivating yourself and hang around people who are positive.
IMHO, every entrepreneur needs to learn from a one-year-old child that is learning to take his/her first steps – no matter how many times the child may fall, he/she will still try to stand up and walk again.
Give Importance to Business Ethics
Many entrepreneurs go through phases where they lose a lot of money; it is cruel and painful at the same time. I have been in that position a handful of occasions. I would still say it is a good problem to have, because if you lose the trust of your employees or customers, or if your brand reputation is affected, it causes more damage than losing some money. Being honest and holding your dignity while working with your staff and customers is critical. Keep up with your promises and deliver your work on time with the right quality, no matter what happens.
Be very careful and ensure due diligence in all your regulatory compliances. Have the best affordable CPA and attorney to advise you on all your legal matters. Bring able people on board when dealing with an issue. All labor related documents, contracts, NDAs should be verified by your attorney. Always have a business liability insurance; certain business domains require additional protection.
Learn to say “NO.”
There is a reason this word exists in English vocabulary. Never take shortcuts in business. Use the word “NO” when you feel that someone is asking you to do something that is not legit. I would rather take the risk of saying a NO now rather facing big trouble in the future.
Hire People who are smarter than you
Have the right people in the right seats. Every team member of yours should earn their position and should know what they are expected to do. Try to avoid micro-managing people. A good CEO will hire people smarter than him and learn from them on a daily basis.
Have a good family-Work Balance
Your startup is your baby. But the family is your most important project. If things are not good at home, it will reflect on your work on a day to day basis. Find enough time to have a balance between work and life. If someone tells me they don’t have enough time in a day, I call it Bullshit because something they are doing wrong, either don’t know how to delegate or elevate work or they doesn’t know how to manage time.
Trust people, but with caution
You need to trust people, but be cautious so that they cannot screw you up one day. People have different beliefs, and they all think differently, make sure you don’t put yourself and the business in trouble by blindly trusting anyone. I highly recommend reading the book “The Seven Habits of highly effective people.”
Last the most difficult one
Fire people who don’t fit the organizational needs. By keeping them, you are neither helping yourself nor them. Either they work, or they don’t. Some of the most successful CEOs are good at firing people.
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