As a consultant to many business clients, I’m often asked how I know about so many different aspects of starting, growing, and running a business. In my experience as a senior executive with large companies and an entrepreneur/owner in three business ventures to date, I learned most of my business experience through trial and error. Like everyone else I suspect, I made my share of mistakes on the “experience highway”. Looking back over a career currently in its fourth decade, I often times wish I had known then what I know now about running businesses more effectively.
There’s an old Hindu proverb that says “no physician is any good until he’s killed at least one or two patients”. That old proverb speaks candidly of the high cost of decisions that leaders must make and the experience gained as a result of them.
At any rate, I hope I can help others by sharing what I wish I knew before becoming my own boss. My list is not in any particular order of importance, nor is it in any way complete. The fact of the matter is that I’m learning more today than in the earlier years when my own lack of experience meant I was not well enough seasoned for the next big career move according to my
boss at the time.
- If you don’t have a customer, you don’t have a business. You must stay focused on your customer. Personally. Stay in touch. Really in touch. Customer needs and wants change quickly. Very quickly.
- Don’t ever run out of money– Place small bets versus big ones. Reinvest in winners, cut your losses on losers. That goes for people, projects, and marketing programs, technology investments, entering new business segments or geographies. Once you’re out of funds, life gets much harder.
- Learn to be an effective communicator. More business is lost than you can believe through ineffective communication. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
- Hire the very best people you can afford. Period.
- Outsource every non-critical function or activity you can that distracts you from the customer you serve. Thinking you’re saving money be doing your own payroll, being your own account or lawyer is just plain wrong. No business ever expensed its way to profitability.
- Think before you act. It’s never as easy as you think it is. It will usually take at least twice as long and cost twice as much as your best plans say it will.
- Know that people will tell you what they think you want to hear, whether they’re employees, suppliers or other business partners. Finding someone who will tell you the unvarnished truth is priceless. If you can find someone who cares that
much about you, never lose contact with them, ever.
- Business plans are never right. Every plan I’ve ever seen in my career missed either high or low. Making plans for more than three years out is an exercise in complete futility. Business today moves at the speed of light.
It’s more important to understand why your assumptions were off, then course correct quickly. Remember number 2.
Enjoy the ride!