In a previous post I went through the basics of what makes a business idea successful. In another posting I talked about 10 Rules from the Trenches to help entrepreneurs avoid some common pitfalls of startup businesses. In this posting I’m going to talk about 5 basic tips to keep your startup growing.
At this point you’ve accomplished the basics of getting an ongoing business concern up and running. You have a product offering that people are buying. You are selling that product at a price that lets you make a sufficient profit to continue a business, and you are now working to increase the scale of your operation to the point where you are actually running a business rather than just working on a hobby or interesting side job. Congratulations! You’re probably now working 7 days a week, 12-16 hours a day, realizing on a daily basis how much you need to learn in order to have your business grow to match your dreams, and dealing with daily setbacks and obstacles. This is probably the hardest you’ve ever worked in your life, and even though you’re loving every day, you’re not sure how you will be able to cope with this forever.
The good news is that most startups have busy periods in the beginning, and as you start to gain market share and stability your workload as the CEO, founder, sole evangelist, and creator will be eased by a staff of people who can assist and your customer base will become established so you can rely on repeat sales rather than pure hustle to keep your business going. During those periods of pure chaos, however, here are 5 tips to keep you sane and successful:
- Find mentors. Good mentors will make your dreams achievable more quickly. The best mentors are those who have done what you are trying to accomplish before, successfully, and who are helping you for friendship or self-fulfillment reasons. They may be formal Board of Advisor or Director members, friends, colleagues, or interested peers. Service providers can be mentors as well, but be careful, as there is always a potential for a conflict of interest when someone is trying to sell you something and offering advice at the same time. Ethical advisors will be able to navigate this conflict, but the world abounds with unethical people who will exploit it to their advantage. We had a local outsourced accounting firm whose CEO we invited to our Board of Advisors, and all of his advice seemed to result in his firm increasing our billings by an order of magnitude. By the time I finally removed his firm and insourced their work, he had come close to financially devastating my firm. The best mentors don’t need anything from you, but if you have an arrangement with them for payment in cash or stock, ensure that arrangement is clear and the advisor doesn’t have an interest in pushing you in a specific direction for their own gain.
- Work out. Exercise. Be fit. Life is better when you work out. I know your answer, which is the same for everyone, “I can’t possibly find the time with my schedule to work out, the business will suffer!”. Quite simply, BS. The stress you are going through is probably the highest you have experienced in your life, and if you don’t work out now, your ability to be at your best will start to fall, quickly. I’m not saying you suddenly need to take up some time consuming pursuit that is a job in itself, like training for the Ironman, but there are so many little things that you can do during your day to start getting fit, after a couple of months of getting into a routine you’ll wonder how you functioned without doing them. Park on the opposite side of the street and walk further to work. Take the stairs. Take a break at lunch and do 50 pushups, 50 situps, and 50 squats daily. Work your way up to a solid 30-45 min of exercise daily. On days when you wake up late and can’t possibly do 30 minutes, get 5 minutes in so you keep your momentum.
- Set a schedule for yourself. Particularly if you’re still working by yourself or working out of your house, you need to have a set schedule for work and stick by it. It’s too easy to just do whatever happens to come to you reactively, but that is not the way to build a business. Especially if you are not good at working on a schedule, set your working time, family time, and relaxation time and stick to them. If you deviate, get back to your schedule asap.
- Know your weaknesses. If you are extremely uncomfortable dealing with customers, doing your books, or going on sales calls, whatever your weaknesses are you need to recognize them first. Once you recognize them, you need to compensate for them. Compensation may be that you take extra time to prepare for a sales call, rehearsing it until you’re as comfortable as you can be, take sales training or Toastmaster’s courses, take bookkeeping classes, hire somebody to do that function for you or a variety of other compensation methods, but the key is to know your weaknesses, face them, and compensate. Often, depending upon how much effort you put into it, a weakness can become a strength. As an example, I get extremely nervous speaking in front of large groups. Because of this, I spend a lot of time rehearsing my topics to the point where I can brief them without slides and without any notes other than simple topic bullets. When prepped appropriately, a speaking engagement then becomes another opportunity to excel at a new skill rather than a dreaded ordeal to be endured, and I have received many comments on how I can brief without relying heavily on aids, and how composed I look, despite my trepidation and butterflies before and during.
- Finally, set deadlines and goals for yourself and adhere to them. Determine your goals for your business, write them down and give them to a trusted friend with a date set for 6 months or a year from then to review them with you. On a daily basis, set your goals for the day and at the end of the day review them. It’s a common trap to get immersed in the chaos of a startup and find a year later you were phenomenally busy, but never achieved the goals you originally planned. You can revise the goals as need be, but you need to set them first to revise them later.
There are many more tips, but the human mind works best with 3-5 items maximum for a set of items so I’ll stop here. If you’ve used any of these techniques to your advantage or have other ideas, please share them with others through the comments page.