Steve Jobs dropped out of college to start a little computer company in his garage. Mark Zuckerberg launched the first iteration of Facebook from his dorm room at Harvard. While every successful entrepreneur’s career path looks a bit different, there are universal signposts that can help steer everyone with small businesses in the right direction. Here are six things to keep in mind when you have a small business.
1. Success requires courage.
It takes courage to start and persevere in your own business. In some ways, starting is often the most difficult part of the whole journey. Remember that courage is really 50 percent fear. Being courageous means having a goal that you believe in. The more deeply you believe in that goal, the more fear you are willing to overcome.
Your goal should be more than financial profit. Having your own business is usually a very long — even lifelong — project. With the inevitable obstacles and setbacks that will arise, doing something you really believe in is essential to finding the courage to continue.
2. Well begun is half done.
The fearful may think that they are never quite at the point where they are ready to get started. As a result, many never start. It’s easy to justify fear: “The time isn’t right,” “I need to collect more data first,” “I can’t find the right talented people,” “It doesn’t feel quite right,” “I need to reflect on it some more,” and so on. By justifying fear, such rationalizations become the entrepreneur’s Achilles heel.
I’ve worked with many people who go through their entire business career unable to get past that first step. They may generate charts, graphs, software, projections, schedules, on and on to the point where they can’t see the forest for the trees, and as a result, they never actually get started.
Of course, it’s possible to be too impulsive and get started without sufficient planning. But that’s not very common. For most people, it’s just hard to get the ball rolling. You can always do more planning. The art, however, is knowing when enough is enough — and it’s time to get started. No formula can answer that for you. It’s more of a feeling within your gut.
3. Find the right mentor.
Getting over that fear hump may require a good support group or mentor. It’s a lot easier for another person to identify your excessive fear than it is for you. If you are really identified with your rationalizations, even the best mentor can’t help. You will just ignore them, using your rationalizations to prove that the mentor is wrong.
You need to think and be open. You also need to be careful in selecting your advisors. Otherwise, you will just listen to people who collude with your current fears. They will simply feed your procrastination instead of helping you move past procrastination.
This creates an obvious double-bind. How do you trust a mentor you disagree with? That has more to do with you than it has to do with the mentor. You have to be willing to question your viewpoint and listen to other viewpoints, but you don’t blindly listen to those viewpoints. You do, though, give yourself time to reflect on those viewpoints in an attempt to discover what you might be missing. If you spend time with your mentors, you can get a feeling for them and cultivate the ability to sense whether or not they are coming from a place of wisdom.
4. Keep the overhead down.
The Donald Trumps of the world might start big, but generally speaking, individuals launching businesses start small. Keep your overhead down. Lack of cash flow is probably the biggest cause of failure in small businesses. It’s a lot easier to expand than it is to cut back. When I started my school, my whole accounting system was on an 11”x17” pad of paper.
If you’re not careful, renting an office space, hiring your first employees, buying the requisite technology and all the other startup costs can be enough to bring a fledgling business to a screeching halt. As the business progresses, it tends to accumulate costly baggage. You will do well to review your checkbook and cut unnecessary expenses. Maximize your chances of profitability by taking a minimalist approach to overhead costs.
5. Carefully guard the keys to the courthouse.
We live in an incredibly litigious time. Conflicts can easily result in litigation which consumes a tremendous amount of time, energy and money. When you enter a partnership, you are giving that partner a lot of power that they could, through litigation or not, wield against you if things go awry. The effects can be devastating.
You need to be very careful when it comes to selecting partners. It’s important that their goals support your goals. Also carefully assess their integrity. Otherwise, if they see an opportunity to maximize their profits at your expense, they may well do that.
Consider too their temperament. Otherwise, when obstacles arise, they may succumb to fear, or they may attack you or undermine the business out of fear, mistrust, control issues, impulsiveness or personal life issues. Fair weather partners are easy to find. However, you need to assess what a partner will be like when the going gets rough.
6. Maintain control.
These days, control seems to have quite a negative connotation. The truth is, many aspects of control are positive and important attributes. Maintaining proper control means staying true to your vision and honoring your instincts on what is right for your business. After all, you understand your business better than anyone — probably better than even the best consultant on the planet. It’s easy to defer decisions to such people — and it’s such a big mistake. If they are right, they have to convince you. There is no room for blind faith.
No one ever said having a small business would be easy. These six points are essential to having a prosperous business while avoiding unnecessary challenges. These points are not just cold hard facts. There is an artistry to their implementation. To be successful in business means to practice and develop that artistry over time. It starts with some thoughtful reflection and research. Then find the courage to wisely and artfully take that first step and every step thereafter, day after day, month after month, year after year.