What is Entrepreneurship?
In discussing entrepreneurship and writing articles on the subject, I have found that it aids understanding when we begin by agreeing on exactly what the word means to us.
Entrepreneurship is the process of creating or seizing an opportunity, and pursuing it regardless of the resources currently controlled. The American Heritage Dictionary defines an entrepreneur to be “a person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for business ventures."
These are rather abstract concepts for a person just beginning to consider whether they ought to start a business rather than take a job, or leave a secure job for a chance at greater self-fulfillment. Let us try to refine our understanding of entrepreneurship by asking some more specific questions.
Is everyone who runs a business an entrepreneur? Many would not consider the newspaper carrier, shoeshine person, and grass cutter entrepreneurs, though these are often the youthful pursuits of those with an entrepreneurial bent.
Does it matter whether the business is merely part-time? Whereas some part-time activities are basically hobbies, or undertaken to supplement income, some entrepreneurial ventures can be tested in the marketplace on a part-time basis.
The path to an entrepreneurial venture might begin by earning a salary in the business one expects to enter, while learning more about it, and waiting for the opportune time to go out on one’s own. This time can be used to develop a support network, professional and personal, and generating ideas to “bounce off” people whose opinion one respects.
At what scope does self-employment become a venture? The primary objective of many self-employed people is merely to employ themselves (and others if necessary) at a moderate to good salary; some are even willing to eke out a living to do what they enjoy. This approach is often referred to as a “lifestyle” business, and is generally accompanied by little, if any, plan for growth.
These questions are intended, not to develop a precise definition of entrepreneurship, but to help us understand our attitude toward its many forms of expression. We may each answer these questions differently, yet all answer appropriately within our own frame of reference.
Entrepreneurship is more an attitude than a skill or a profession. Some of us may prefer a corporate or public service career path, but many would choose an entrepreneurial opportunity that “feels right.”
Would you consider a person who inherits a business an entrepreneur? From the point of inheritance on, it is their own money and financial security at risk. They could possibly sell the business, invest the proceeds in blue-chip stocks, and live off dividends. Some might consider managing a personal stock portfolio for a living as an entrepreneurial venture.
Would a person who inherited a small or marginal business, then took it to new dimensions be considered an entrepreneur? The inheritor could have tried merely to keep it going, or even to pace the business’ decline to just carry them to retirement. In a family-held business, long-term success is often a central goal.
Are franchise owners entrepreneurs? Many feel that, for those who have access to the large up-front investment, franchises are sure things. For many, operating a franchise is similar to investing in “blue chips,” a relatively sure thing with generally unexciting returns.
What Does It Take To Be An Entrepreneur?
Over the years countless institutes and individuals have asked the million dollar question. What makes an entrepreneur an entrepreneur? What traits or characteristics are inherent to a successful entrepreneur and is one born with those traits? There’s great news! Successful entrepreneurs are born every day!
Some people believe an entrepreneur is born while others believe an entrepreneur can be taught. Some believe an entrepreneur is like an artist – either you have it or do you don’t. Some see entrepreneurs as leaders that are focused, disciplined, competitive, and charismatic, while others see them as huge risk takers. And all of these analogies are right to some degree.
It’s true all successful entrepreneurs share a few qualities and skills that allow them to be successful. These inherent qualities can be taught; but they often seem to be an inherent driving force that sends individuals down the path of being in business or formally training to for a career in business.
Entrepreneurs see the world differently. They have the ability to see the world as a system. They have the ability to see something in its entirety and as an integrated unit, and they seem to possess the ability to see opportunity within the global picture. They are what is called a system thinker.
There are other characteristics they possess. Entrepreneurs possess an overpowering need to achieve and tend to be very competitive against themselves. They are continuously trying to outthink themselves and others and they are constantly looking for the edge. This is a process that occurs as naturally as breathing and is a driving force behind most entrepreneurs.
They have the determination and dedication to follow through with commitments and they always appear confident and in control. You’ll notice they also possess a positive atmosphere. They are of the mindset “I can,” and “I will.” They are not afraid of failure because failure is not in their vocabulary nor is it an option.
They are objective but have the ability to weigh risks realistically within the big picture. They have an uncanny ability to anticipate developments which gives them the edge on many competitive situations. Entrepreneurs seem to feel right from their gut, call it instinct. They are a resourceful group that possess excellent problem solving skills and are able to diligently work through obstacles as they occur.
Entrepreneurs are excellent communicators and recognize how important clear and concise communication is to their success. They also possess a sound working knowledge of the business they are involved in.
When it comes to successful entrepreneurs it’s a question of what came first, the chicken or the egg. Is it inherent qualities that we are born with that lead us to be entrepreneurs or is it when we choose to become an entrepreneur that we develop the skills and qualities of success? That’s a question we shall leave to the great debaters to resolve.
What is for certain is that successful entrepreneurs are born every day and that you too can be a successful entrepreneur by developing the skills of success.
What Makes A Successful Home Business Entrepreneur?
Studies have shown that successful entrepreneurs and home business owners possess the following characteristics. Do you?
1. Do you have Self-confidence?
This is the magical power of having confidence in yourself and in your strengths and abilities. This isn’t bravado or braggadocio but an unshakeable belief in yourself.
2. Are you Achievement Oriented?
Results are gained by focused and sustained effort. You concentrate on achieving a specific goal, not just accomplishing a string of unrelated tasks.
3. Are you a Risk Taker?
There is a chance of loss inherent in reaching for any goal, yet you have the confidence necessary to take calculated risks to achieve your goals.
So which of these three main characteristics is the most important? Believe it or not, it is self-confidence.
Without self-confidence, nothing else is possible. If you don’t believe in your abilities, then the first challenge that arises may knock you off the path to achieving your goals. Here are a few things to keep in mind for maintaining a higher level of self-confidence.
* Positive Thinking
It all starts with a positive attitude! Believing that something good will happen is the first step.
Negative thinking is just not allowed (so stop it right now). You must truly believe that there are no circumstances hard enough to deter you from reaching your goals.
Try the exercise created by French psychotherapist Emile Coue – every morning repeat “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” You might be surprised that this simple exercise has been getting results since the early 1900s!
Remember too, that positive thinking can be contagious. When positive thinking spreads, it can open doors to new ideas, customers, friends, etc.
* Persistent Action
All the positive thinking and believing in the world is useless if it is not applied towards a goal. You have to take action, no excuses allowed. This action must also be persistent. Trying once and then giving up is not going to be enough. Keep at it one step at a time. If you can’t get by a certain step, then find a creative way to try again or go around it.
Entrepreneurs are people who make decisions, they take action and control their own destinies. They are often motivated by a spirit of independence which leads them to believe that their success depends on raw effort and hard work, not luck.
As Ronald Regan pointed out: Entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States.
Look ahead and see yourself where you want to be, maintain a strong belief in yourself and your skills, stick with it, and never give up. If you can do that, you’re already half way there!
Why Entrepreneurs Fail
True entrepreneurs struggle with their business opportunities for a variety of reasons. Among the most obvious are a lack of capital, lack of understanding about marketing, and personnel issues. However, from my own entrepreneurial experience and knowledge of others, there are three major reasons individuals fail in entrepreneurial ventures.
In my 25 + years working with professionals in Business Development, universally I’ve discovered that they have learned to think like entrepreneurs. This is what has allowed them to rise to the top of their profession. Each would tell you that along the way they have learned how to think differently.
True entrepreneurs struggle with their business opportunities for a variety of reasons. Among the most obvious are a lack of capital, lack of understanding about marketing, and personnel issues. However, from my own entrepreneurial experience and knowledge of others, there are three major reasons individuals fail in entrepreneurial ventures.
They tie the success of their business with their own self worth.
They neglect to set realistic goals and plans for themselves and their business.
They are not prepared to pay the price of success.
True entrepreneurs with the right thinking prevail over a period of time. They have learned to understand the axiom Roles, Goals, and Tolls.
Successful entrepreneurs, in contrast to those who struggle, have learned to separate their roles in life from their self worth or self-identity. They understand that role performance or failure with their own venture is not a judgment of them as an individual. People who tend to equate their self-worth to their composite role identity are inherently risk-adverse and look to maintain the status quo. Being able to differentiate these two identities allows them to be risk prone vs. risk adverse, a key ingredient to success as an entrepreneur. Individuals who have risked failure, experienced it, and learned from it, have not only learned how to differentiate their role identity from their self-identity, they have learned the lessons of risking and failing. They understand that early failure in ventures is a natural part of successful startups. They are able to embrace those experiences, learn from them quickly and move on. This is critical to success as an entrepreneur. They must be willing to face and deal with early failures in order to prevail over time.
Even though much is said and written about goals and plans being necessary for success as an entrepreneur, few people learn the mechanics of successful goal setting and planning. It’s not the plan but the planning that is important, and the goal setting process allows them to develop the confidence to take risks and fail. Successful entrepreneurs are not only goal driven and goal oriented; they have learned to execute the process of strategic and tactical goal setting and planning. Visualizing goals, writing them down and putting together a detailed plan for achievement provides the confidence and motivation to prevail. More than just business or operational plans, they have goals and plans for all the important roles in their life. They have learned early that if they aren’t working their own plan they are probably part of someone else’s goals or plans. They chart their own destiny, embrace risk-taking leadership positions, make adjustments as required and prevail over a course of time.
Finally, entrepreneurs understand that there is a toll to pay. To be successful in any role in life you must be prepared to pay full price one time. There are really no overnight successes as an entrepreneur. In fact, I‘ve heard it said that overnight success generally takes 15-20 years. One of the early tolls that entrepreneurs are quite often forced to face is the “re-making” of themselves that can include growing beyond their current circle of contacts. Since most people tend to stay within their own psychological comfort zone, they begin to lose identity with the risk taker. They are comfortable with the type of person who is more like them. Quite often the entrepreneur moves on to a different circle of associates who understand the journey. Stepping out, being your own person and venturing into the risk prone unknown is lonely by itself. Consequently, there can be a newfound stress in old relationships. It’s been said before that pioneers get shot in the front and the back, and only through a process of differentiating role performance from self-worth, being risk prone, prevailing through adversity, sticking to your goals, and adjusting your plans will you be prepared to pay the daily toll.
An entrepreneur has much to learn in order to be successful, including the day-to-day mechanics of running a business, producing products, delivering services, making money and dealing with people. The biggest challenge of all is developing an understanding of themselves. They come to grips with what they want and what motivates them; this sustains their willingness to prevail over the long term against adversity. Successful entrepreneurs have learned to transform their thinking, allowing them to prevail where others fail along the way.
The Risks of Entrepreneurship
The “spark” for many entrepreneurs is seeing an opportunity that doesn’t yet exist. Ted Turner, for example, launched CNN because he perceived that people wanted more television news than they were being offered. It took a lot of patience on Turner’s part to realize the vision, but he had read the market in a way that few “experts” did at the time.
In realizing the promise of CNN, Turner demonstrated another facet of the entrepreneurial spirit, persistence. There are a lot of bright ideas that never reach fruition; taking a “raw” idea and converting it into a successful business model is very hard work.
And that work never stops. No matter how innovative your idea, the competition is always just behind you. With anything less than constant creative effort on your part, they may not stay behind you.
Are you still with me? Here is where I reveal why everyone isn’t an entrepreneur:
No opportunity is a sure thing, even though the path to riches has been described as, simply “…you make some stuff, sell it for more than it cost you… that’s all there is except for a few million details.” The devil is in those details, and if one is not prepared to accept the possibility of failure, one should not attempt a business start-up.
It is not indicative of a negative perspective to say that an analysis of the possible reasons for failure enhances our chances of success. Can you separate failure of an idea from personal failure? As scary as it is to consider, many of the great entrepreneurial success stories started with a failure or two.
Some types of failure can indicate that we may not be entrepreneurial material. Foremost is reaching one’s level of incompetence; if I am a great programmer, will I be a great software company president? Attitudinal problems can also be fatal, such as excessive focus on financial rewards, without the willingness to put in the work and attention required. Addressing these possibilities requires an objectivity about ourselves that not everyone can manage.
Other types of failure can be recovered from if you “learned your lesson.” A common explanation for these is that “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Or, we may have sought too big a “kill;” we could have looked past the flaws in a business concept because it was a business we wanted to be in. The venture could have been the victim of a muddled business concept, a weak business plan, or (more often) the absence of a plan.
When small businesses fail, the reason is generally one, or a combination, of the following:
* inadequate financing often due to overly optimistic sales projections;
* management shortcomings,
— such as inadequate financial controls, lax customer credit, inexperience, and neglect, and;
* misreading the market,
— indicated by failure to reach the “critical mass” required in sales volume and profitability,
— usually due to competitive disadvantages or market weakness.
The Reality of Online Entrepreneurship
Who doesn’t want to run a business from their home and wear a bathrobe to virtual business meetings? Since the go-go days of the dotcom boom, the ideal of starting an online business has drawn many to try their business legs in the challenges of online commerce. And indeed, the statistics are attractive: Fifty-five percent of American households are wired for the Internet, and nearly a third, or 32 percent have made a purchase online, according to the US Census Bureau. There’s buckets of money being made online, but who’s making it and who’s not?
When one speaks of “making money online,” one creates an image of simply turning on a computer and getting money out of it as if it were an ATM machine. In fact, the Internet, and all the commercial features of it, are merely tools in the entrepreneur’s toolbox that should be used alongside other, more traditional tools. When you’re building a house, sometimes that high-tech, laser pointing thingamabob is great, but sometimes you just need a hammer. And so it is with online business, and supplementing all that high-tech with old-fashioned business, or in many cases, supplementing old-fashioned business with some high-tech, is what it takes to be successful. Success online comes not in replacing the old with the new, but blending them together.
With a few high-profile exceptions, most businesses that “make money online” successfully aren’t exclusive virtual sales companies, but instead, they use the Internet as just one of several sales channels. While people are buying things online, they enjoy having the Internet as an option—but don’t want it to be their only option. More often, the Internet is used as a vehicle for researching products that will actually be bought in an actual brick-and-mortar store.
Creating a virtual business doesn’t mean that it should be exclusively virtual.
The most successful online businesses are those that have promoted themselves offline as well as on, through traditional media such as television and newspaper as well as via clickthroughs and email advertising. Yahoo! is an excellent example of a fabulously successful online company—but what do we remember most when we think of Yahoo!? The silly yodel from their television commercials.
Perhaps one of the most important things to remember when starting an online business, is not to get lost in the online mystique. The Internet revolution has, and continues to bring us all manner of useful tools and techniques for commerce, but if you want to get customers to visit your new online boutique, you have to actually change out of your bathrobe, get out of your den, and actually talk to some people face-to-face.
The Entrepreneurial Edge
Some would say that big business has it made; I on the other hand believe that there will always be a special place for the little business guy. Entrepreneurs have an edge over their bigger competitors. So while the Amazon’s of the world are struggling to break even from their multi billion-dollar overheads, the smaller Dot coms are already realizing profits. What advantages do the “little” guys have in the marketplace? Below is how to “think like a startup” and realize greater success.
HOW TO KEEP THE ENTREPRENEURIAL EDGE
1) STAY IN TOUCH WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS
Ever heard of the 80/20 rule? The old adage says that 80% of your business will come from 20% of your customers. In business, the customer is king. It’s far easier to sell to an existing customer than to find a new one. So, once you get a customer, you need to service the heck out of them.
So how do you make your customers feel like they are number one? By letting them know that they are top priority. This means answering your own phone, replying quickly to email requests. It means staying in regular communication with your customers. Keep up a good rapport. Send an occasional email asking them what’s new. Mail birthday cards or a customer anniversary card. Gestures like these can build close, long lasting customer relations and goes a long way to building customer loyalty.
In addition to building stronger customer relationships, keeping in touch with your customer base can enable dot coms to offer one to one marketing. By identifying your customers needs and buying habits, you can personalize product packages and service offerings to meet your customer’s individual needs.
2) LISTEN TO THE BEAT OF THE STREET
If small business owners want to keep their head above water, they need to closely monitor their environments. By “listening” to the pulse, you can think proactively rather than reactively. This means spotting things when they are coming so you can act quickly and take advantage.
Web stats – Do you look at your web stats regularly? Or are you guilty of being too “busy” to make time? Unless you regularly look at your web traffic reports, they probably will read like a foreign language to you. By looking at your web reports regularly, you’ll be able to spot trends. What pages are your visitors going to? What is the hits-to-sales ratio? What can you do to improve that number?
Feedback – Another way to “listen to the beat” is to get feedback from your customers. Try to be on a first name basis with your customers. Ask them how they are doing and if there is anything you could assist them with. The answers you’ll receive will be worth their weight in gold.
Industry news – Keep up with the industry by reading everything you can get your hands on. When you work in “living room central” it’s easy to let yourself be isolated from the world. You can’t rely on your favorite soap operas to keep you informed about the current trends in business. So put down your munchies and flavored coffee and make a concerted effort to stay “in the know” by subscribing to print magazines and online newsletters
When I think about flexibility, the childhood rhyme “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick” comes to mind. In order to keep from being burned, small businesses need to be nimble and quick. This means having the flexibility to act quickly in response to changes in the marketplace. Like a surfer riding a wave, you have to be in just the right place at the right time to ride the crest of the wave and get the best ride. Likewise, if small businesses monitor closely what’s going on in the marketplace, they can act quickly to take advantage of current events and trends in the marketplace.
They say what gets measured, gets managed. Keep a close eye on your monthly financials. Listen to your customers. Measure the effectiveness of your advertising. Then when you see a difference ask yourself, “was that good or bad” and ACT!
4) TAP INTO THE FIRE AND LET IT FUEL YOU
Simply said, small business owners want it more. Because of this, they will try harder and go the extra mile. That’s why big companies like Wal-Mart and Saturn have made their employees part owners in the company. They have seen that people will work harder for themselves than for anyone else.
The best secret to success as an entrepreneur is to find something you are passionate about and create a business around that. When you do something you love you’ll never “work” a day in your life. Entrepreneurs have that fire in their belly. Find a way to tap into that internal fire and let it fuel you to success.
While big companies will often be able to offer the lower prices, small businesses will always be able to pile on the value. By offering better service, adding bonuses, giving and discounts on related products, the entrepreneurs can add more bang for the buck.
6) CREATIVE SPARK
What’s great about the entrepreneurs is that they aren’t afraid to try something new. When I think of “creative spark”, I think of my son, when he was three years old, eyeing a package of cookies up on top of the refrigerator. He doesn’t know that it is up really high and that climbing up there is dangerous. He only sees the cookies and starts stacking chairs and climbing until I find him sitting on top of the fridge with a big smile and a mushy cookie face. Similarly, entrepreneurs don’t “know” if something will work or not and fearlessly forge forward with their eyes on the prize. This innovation helps them to tap into new products, techniques, and processes.
They say, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. When the market starts putting the heat on your business, ask yourself, are you staying “sharp”? Do you still have the entrepreneurial edge? By thinking like a start up, you will find that you will have the staying power to compete with the big boys on the block. And you’ll find that kind of hard-earned success is “oh” so sweet!
The Entrepreneur’s Checklist
I was asked the other day what personality traits I thought were important to entrepreneurial success. I immediately gave my preprogrammed reply about passion and dedication and hard work. After taking some time later to ponder the question a little deeper (I normally operate in shallow waters), I came up with a more detailed checklist for entrepreneurial success. This is by no means a definitive list, but I’d be willing to bet that if you don’t have at least a majority of these traits, your chances of business success will be greatly diminished.
You must be self motivated.
If you don’t have the wherewithal to bounce out of bed each day without your spouse drenching you with cold water, chances are you don’t have the self motivation or discipline required to be an entrepreneur. Business demands that you take action based solely on your own volition. You have to do a hundred things every day that will not get done unless you make yourself do them.
You can’t be afraid of hard work.
If you think working for someone else is hard work, try starting your own business. You will be required to give every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears you can muster and then some. You will have to work long hours and be on call 24/7, at least in the beginning. If the mere thought of hard work makes you tired, maybe you should just keep your cushy day job.
You should have experience in the type of business you plan to start.
If you can’t locate your car’s engine you have no business buying an oil change franchise. The most successful business owners have prior experience in the industry in which they have set up shop. Consider working in an industry at least part time for a year before jumping in with both feet.
You must be able to climb back on the horse.
I always say: “If business was easy, everybody would do it.” Starting a business is hard work and the odds for failure are against you in the first few years. If you want to ride herd on your own business, you must be willing to fall off your horse and get back on a few times without giving up.
You need the support of your family.
When you start a business you may have to spend more time away from the family than you like. The business may also put a strain on you financially. You will have enough obstacles in your way without having to worry if you have the support of your family and those closest to you
You must have a thick skin.
If your feelings are easily hurt, keep your non-threatening day job because business is not for you. Many days in business, rejection waits around every corner and you must be able to handle rejection without taking it personally.
You must interact well with others.
Being an entrepreneur requires interacting with a variety of people, from your own employees to vendors to customers to investors. You must have the ability to effectively manage people without offending them; the ability to accept good advice from mentors and politely discount the bad; the ability to overlook mistakes or quietly rectify them; and the one I have trouble with: the ability to tolerate incompetence without losing your cool (at least not on the outside).
The deeper your pockets the better.
The number one cause of business failure is a lack of money. Before you start your business you should have access to enough capital to see you through until the business can sustain itself.
You must be able to delegate.
Running a business requires the performance of dozens of simultaneous tasks and it’s foolish to try to handle them all yourself. You must learn to put your trust in others. If you can’t dish out responsibility without worrying over the result, your business growth will be limited.
Previous business ownership is a plus.
Prior business ownership is not a prerequisite, but it can’t hurt. Many successful entrepreneurs have the skeletons of past businesses rattling around in their closet.
Another of my sayings:
Business is a lot like marriage: you learn a lot from the first one that may come in handy the second or third time around.
With that kind of advice you can see why I didn’t go into marriage counseling.
Here’s to your success!
The curse and blessing of the entrepreneur
The allure of being a small business owner is attracting many to quit their jobs and start out on their own. But how do you cope with all your ideas, and with the hard times that every business owner has to face?
Having 101 ideas in your head is something that many people would be envious of. In fact, if you mention to others that you are running your own business, they might remark with wonder and encouragement at your actions.
However, one thing that isn’t discussed as often as it should be is how business owners keep their heads screwed on. How do they cope with the ideas that are in their heads, and not become overwhelmed by the enormity of it all? There are a few common traits amongst those businesses that have achieved a certain level of success.
** They know they can’t do it all **
Having lots of ideas is one thing – trying to do them all yourself is another. Although having others complete work for you is a real challenge – especially when you are starting out and have limited money – it is often one of the key elements why the business owner still has their sanity.
** They roll with the punches **
As kids when we were growing up, parents or adults might have told us to “roll with the punches”. This most likely made no sense to you as a child, but as we grow up, the wisdom of this saying was quickly realized. Life, in all its glory and unexpectedness, delivers curve balls to us every day. As such, we have two choices – be flexible and respond, or strike out.
Successful businesses have learnt that the economy, people, and business in general, is dynamic and organic – it changes all the time. In fact, the most “together” business owners have developed an attitude that helps them cope with these circumstances. When things don’t go the way they planned, they quickly assess the situation, focus on doing those things they can control, and for those areas of the business that they cannot control, choose to accept the fact and move on.
** They know what they want to achieve **
Every successful business has “made it” because they knew what they wanted to achieve. They had a compelling reason to keep on going through hard times. This doesn’t mean that they had it easy, nor does it mean that they had a truly defined focus for the business. Once reality kicks in, sometimes even the best laid plans go out the window. But it was the compelling reason that helped these successful business owners push through and find a way to achieve their dreams.
This compelling reason can be anything that drives you – something you are passionate about. For example, it could be providing a better life for your family. It could be the desire to build a business that you can leave as a legacy after you die, for the benefit of your family and community. Whatever the reason, it must be strong enough to help provide you with the fuel you will need when powering through the rough times that every business owner has.
Being a business owner – an entrepreneur – is a hard task. When starting off, it isn’t uncommon to see yourself doing 50-80 hours of work each week in the business, and you are still barely breaking even. Sometimes, despite the efforts you have made, you lose money. But, after a while, things will change. The sales will start to increase. Customers will start coming back to you again and again.
Others might call this Luck. It isn’t. It is the outward representation and reward for all the hard work and internal ‘fine-tuning’ that you have been going through up until that point. All the trials, tribulations, set-backs, disappointments and foiled ideas are all necessary for you to be ready for the Success when it comes.
So, if you have a clear vision and reason for your business; have a flexible plan and attitude; and an iron-will and dogged determination to achieve despite frustration and disappointments, success will be yours. After all, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. There is a very valid reason why it isn’t ‘crowded at the top’. The question is – Are you prepared to go through your trials to get there?
Ten Entrepreneurial Mistakes
It’s hard to avoid certain mistakes, especially when you face a situation for the first time. In fact, many of the following mistakes are hard to avoid even if you’re an old hand. Of course, these are not the only mistakes CEOs make, but they sure are common enough. Take the following self assessment: give yourself ten points for each of these entrepreneurial blunders you are in the process of making. Deduct five points for those you have narrowly avoided. Your score, of course, will be kept confidential, but do seek help. Fast!
1. Big Customer Syndrome
If more than 50 percent of your revenues come from any one customer you may be headed for a meltdown. While it both is easier and more profitable to deal with a small number of big customers, you become quite vulnerable when one of them contributes the lion’s share of your cash flow. You tend to make silly concessions to keep their business. You make special investments to handle their special requirements. And you are so busy servicing that one big account that you fail to develop additional customers and revenue streams. Then suddenly, for one reason or another, that customer goes away and your business borders on collapse.
Use that burgeoning account as both a cause for celebration and a danger signal. Always look for new business. And always seek to diversify your revenue sources.
2. Creating products in a vacuum.
You and your team have a great idea. A brilliant idea. You spend months, even years, implementing that idea. When you finally bring it to market, no one is interested. Unfortunately you were so in love with your idea you never took the time to find out if anyone else cared enough to pay money for it. You have built the classic better mousetrap.
Do not be a product searching for a market. Do the “market research” up front. Test the idea. Talk to potential customers, at least a dozen of them. Find out if anyone wants to buy it. Do this before anything else. If enough people say “yes” go ahead and build it. Better yet, sell the product at pre-release prices. Fund it in advance. If you don’t get a good response, go on to the next idea.
3. Equal partnerships
Suppose you are the world’s greatest salesman, but you need an operations guy to run things back at the office. Or you are a technical genius, but you need someone to find the customers. Or maybe you and a friend start the company together. In each case, you and your new partner split the company 50/50. That seems fine and fair right now, but as your personal and professional interests diverge, it is a sure recipe for disaster. Either party’s veto power can stall the growth and development of your company, and neither holds enough votes to change the situation. Almost as bad is ownership split evenly among a larger number of partners, or worse, friends. Everyone has an equal vote and decisions are made by consensus. Or, worse still, unanimously. Yikes! No one has the final say, every little decision becomes a debate, and things bog down quickly.
To paraphrase Harry Truman, the buck has to stop somewhere. Someone has to be in charge. Make that person CEO and give them the largest ownership stake, even if it’s only a little more. 51/49 works much better than 50/50. If you and your partner must have total equality, give a one percent share to an outside advisor who becomes your tie-breaker.
4. Low prices
Some entrepreneurs think they can be the low price player in their market and make huge profits on the volume. Would you work for low wages? Why do you want to sell at low prices? Remember, gross margins pay for things like marketing and product development (and great vacation trips.) Remember, low margins = no profits = no future. So the grosser the better.
Set your prices as high as your market will bear. Even if you can sell more units and generate greater dollar volume at the lower price (which is not always the case) you may not be better off. Make sure you do all the math before you decide on a low price strategy. Figure all your incremental costs. Figure in the extra stress as well. For service companies, low price is almost never a good idea. How do you decide how high? Raise prices. Then raise them again. When customers or clients stop buying, you’ve gone too far.
5. Not enough capital
Check your business assumptions. The norm is optimistic sales projections, too-short product development timeframes, and unrealistically low expense forecasts. And don’t forget weak competitors. Regardless of the cause, many businesses are simply undercapitalized. Even mature companies often do not have the cash reserves to weather a downturn.
Be conservative in all your projections. Make sure you have at least as much capital as you need to make it through the sales cycle, or until the next planned round of funding. Or lower your burn rate so that you do.
6. Out of Focus
If yours is like most companies, you have neither the time nor the people to pursue every interesting opportunity. But many entrepreneurs – hungry for cash and thinking more is always better – feel the need to seize every piece of business dangled in front of them, instead of focusing on their core product, service, market, distribution channel. Spreading yourself too thin results in sub-par performance.
Concentrating your attention in a limited area leads to better-than-average results, almost always surpassing the profits generated from diversification. Al Reis, of Positioning fame, wrote a book that covers just this subject. It’s called Focus.
There are so many good ideas in the world, your job is to pick only the ones which provide superior returns in your focus area. Don’t spread yourself thin. Get known in your niche for the thing you do best, and do that exceedingly well.
7. First class and infrastructure crazy
Many a startup dies an untimely death from excessive overhead. Keep your digs humble and your furniture cheap. Your management team should earn the bulk of their compensation when the profits roll in, not before. The best entrepreneurs know how to stretch their cash and use it for key business-building processes like product development, sales and marketing. Skip that fancy phone system unless it really saves time and helps make more sales. Spend all the money really necessary to achieve your objectives. Ask the question, will there be a sufficient return on this expenditure? Everything else is overhead.
This disease is often found in engineers who won’t release products until they are absolutely perfect. Remember the 80/20 rule? Following this rule to its logical conclusion, finishing the last 20 percent of the last 20 percent could cost you more than you spent on the rest of the project. When it comes to product development, Zeno’s paradox rules. Perfection is unattainable and very costly at that. Plus, while you getting it right, the market is changing right out from under you. On top of that, your customers put off purchasing your existing products waiting for the next new thing to roll out your doors.
The antidote? Focus on creating a market-beating product within the allotted time. Set a deadline and build a product development plan to match. Know when you have to stop development to make a delivery date. When your time’s up, it’s up. Release your product.
9. No clear return on investment
Can you articulate the return which comes from purchasing your product or service? How much additional business will it generate for your customer? How much money will they save? What? You say it’s too hard to quantify? There are too many intangibles? If it’s too difficult for you to figure, what do you expect your prospect to do? Do the analysis. Talk to your customers, create case studies. Come up with ways to quantify the benefits. If you can’t justify the purchase, don’t expect your customer will. If you can demonstrate the great return on investment your product provides, sales are a slam dunk.
10. Not admitting your mistakes.
Of all the mistakes, this might be the biggest. At some point you realize the awful truth: you have made a mistake. Admit it quick. Redress the situation. If not, that mistake will get bigger, and bigger, and… Sometimes this is hard, but, believe me, bankruptcy is harder.
Assume your costs are sunk. Your money is lost. There is good news: your basis is zero. From this perspective, would you invest fresh money in this idea? If the answer is no, walk away. Change course. Whatever. But do not throw any more good money after bad.
OK, everybody makes mistakes. Just try to catch them quickly, before they kill your company.