When you have been on the startup firing line, you quickly learn that any insight from experts and entrepreneurs who have been there before you can make the difference between failure and success. Yet, many new entrepreneurs brazenly assume they are bulletproof, and march blindly into the fray. The result is that half or more of startups fail in the first two years.
I don’t think anyone proclaims to have any silver bullets, but there are common failure threads that appear all too often. There are many books written about failure in startups, and I don’t recommend any of them. I prefer the more positive approach of getting you better prepared up-front, as outlined in the classic book “It’s Your Biz” by Susan Wilson Solovic.
Susan has years of experience in the small business trenches, and really focuses on what it takes to succeed, with realistic caveats from my perspective, including an excellent summary of ‘words of wisdom’ messages that every entrepreneur should take to heart:
- Don’t chase your tail. As you are building your business, take introspective looks at yourself weekly. How many days have you had lots of activity going on, but at the end of the day, you’ve accomplished nothing to move your business forward? Measure results to make sure you are not chasing your tail, like your favorite puppy dog.
- Keep moving forward. Never let a day go by in which you haven’t done at least one activity that directly relates to a key business goal. Establish deadlines and milestones for yourself and track your forward progress. Keep your eye on the ball, and don’t be distracted by seemingly attractive options that lead you away from your core business.
- Listen to your instincts. It’s important to ask and listen to others for advice and guidance, but measure these inputs against your own instincts as well. Blindly following someone else’s strategy doesn’t help as an excuse for failure, and doesn’t help you learn along the way.
- Manage growth wisely. Overextending yourself and your resources by taking on too much too fast can kill your business. Growing a business is like a marathon, you don’t want your company to be a flash in the pan. Remember, according to Seth Godin, the average overnight success takes six years.
- Look for collaborative opportunities. In business, it’s tough to survive on an island. Strategic alliances allow you to take on bigger contracts, offer more services, and cover larger geographic territories. In addition, two heads are better than one, so collaborative brainpower is a significant asset.
- Expect the unexpected. You can’t predict natural disasters and economic fluctuations. Yet too few entrepreneurs have a current list of business essentials, emergency contacts, or documented backup procedures. Even better, you need a “Plan B” for survival when the unexpected arrives.
- Learn to manage your stress. The stress of growing your business will take its toll unless you take care of yourself. Be realistic about what you can expect of yourself and don’t over-commit. Learn to say “no” and really mean it. Schedule some time each week that is just for you, and for your family.
Overall, we all emphasize that you need to keep purpose, promise, and principles as the cornerstones of your business. It’s amazing how many business owners and their teams go through the motions of running their businesses on a day-to-day basis without ever understanding the purpose behind what they’re doing.
Businesses without a purpose don’t have a heart. Or if the principles and values aren’t yours, then it’s not your heart. If it’s not your heart, then you will be making promises to your customers with your fingers crossed. Remember that if you don’t deliver for your customers, they won’t deliver for you. That can make the normal business trenches a deep hole. Read and heed.