TIPS FOR SAILING THROUGH ENTREPRENEURIAL SEAS
Published origionally August 1996, and still appropriate:
“Although we cannot control the winds of business, we can adjust the sails”
As a consultant to small businesses for nearly fifteen years, I thought this month’s Small Business Guide would be an appropriate time to comment on what I’ve learned about small business from personal experience of a decade and a half. I am frequently asked, Which businesses are most successful?
What types of entrepreneurs make the grade?
In working with a variety of entrepreneurs, I have detected similar characteristics that are shared by the more successful. Here are some of my thoughts and observations about what distinguishes winners from struggling survivors:
Entrepreneurs must have an incredible drive to get the job done at nearly any cost. The trick is to be able to balance the rest of life. This is no small feat. The stress of juggling customer needs, while wearing all those proverbial hats, is no small issue.
I’ve counseled over a hundred small businesses directly, and over a thousand indirectly, through other consultants. I think the primary reason a person throws in the towel, locks the door, and calls it quits, is stress. Stress is not necessarily a negative factor; it’s how you handle tension that matters. Poorly handling stressful situations usually results in poor decision making. The Small Business Association (SBA) is correct about the reasons small businesses fail (lack of planning, capital, etc.), but I think the ability to constructively deal with stress is the primary reason the guns are hung up. If you don’t have the fortitude to handle the tough times as well as the good times, entrepreneurship can be total misery.
Mind your own business -- and mind it well!
Keep good records, with information that can speak to you about how to solve problems, grow and retract at appropriate times. Most small businesses either have little information, or don't do anything with the information that they do possess.
The concept of minding your own business, means watching every detail about your business and knowing how to interpret the results for corrective action. Watching your own business will tell you much more about your company’s future growth than constantly worrying about all the competition. This doesn’t mean: put your head in the sand, but does mean: watch the signs. Let your business speak to you; you may hear the warnings of danger early enough to avoid disaster if you listen well. Good entrepreneurs keep their eye on their own business, resisting the urge to spend much time looking at what everyone else is doing.
Make time to plan
Think and rethink. Plan and re-plan. Don’t be afraid to rework your ideas. Experience gives birth to knowledge. Be smart and don’t be afraid to revise your plan.
Resist the tyranny of the urgent. Often, small businesses are addicted to the urgent. According to Stephen Covey, the urgentis not necessarily as important as it may seem. Planning is important -- do it.
Map out your plan in steps. First, find your objective; where are you going? Next, set the course. Draw out the heading just as a sailor would set out, allowing for course adjustments along the way, never losing sight of the destination. Keep your hand on the rudder, making immediate adjustments in daily operations. Adjust the sails for the changing winds of business learning to ride the economic tide. While the environment will change, a good sailor knows how to adjust the sales and tax so he will arrive at his destination.
Finally, plot your progress: keep good records. Success and failure can be measured only if a benchmark is set. Good entrepreneurs want to know where they have succeeded and failed. They carve out time in a hectic schedule to consistently analyze the facts with an eye towards the future.
The same stubborn attitude that enables an entrepreneur to succeed can be a problem if it keeps one from using outside help. No one person can possibly understand all the areas of a business and keep up with technological changes at the same time.
Don’t be afraid to enlist the use of outside experts. What you don’t know, someone else does. What you do know, someone else knows better. Your success depends on all facets of your business running at top-notch speed. Enlist the best help available so that any areas of weakness might be strengthened to the level of excellence you are pursuing.
How do you rate yourself as an entrepreneur on a scale of one to ten? Take a moment and detach from ownership of your company and take an objective look. Be honest. Be critical. Be careful not to overlook the details. Now, ask yourself, “Where do I want to be in two years time? Five years.......Ten.........?”
Are you on your way, or is it time to dock your ship for some renovations? How you grade yourself will determine if you make the grade.
Turn up the a.m.p. What is your attitude? Do you mind your business? Is planning a part of your past, or are you continuing to adapt your plan to what is viable? Then, help yourself: ask, “Am I willing to seek out expert advice to seek solutions for troubled areas?”
Your on your way to becoming a successful entrepreneur. You can plan on it!