Entrepreneurs are highly motivated. They crave new technology and aren't afraid to dive headfirst into new projects. I've found most entrepreneurs share several common traits: energy, confidence, persuasion, leadership, personal accountability, interpersonal skills and goal orientation. They follow their instincts and embrace risks. Most successful, self-made businesspeople also have magnetic personalities that subliminally attract people to them.
But what most distinguishes true entrepreneurs is the drive to forge ahead and continuously innovate.
However, some entrepreneurs lack the skills necessary for long-term success, such as patience, organization, executive function, the ability to prioritize and the discipline to stick to their roadmap.
I've seen many businesses fail to make it past the first year because their founders lacked the self-restraint to stay on course. Of the hundreds of thousands of new business ventures that launch every year, many never even see the light of day. Some have a spectacular sprint out of the gate that makes headlines, only to quietly falter and meet their demise.
Why does this happen?
The physical act of starting a business is the proverbial "easy part." But running, growing and managing new ventures is hard. In today's uber-connected, everything-is-public, "I-must-have-this-technology-right-now" world, it's almost impossible to avoid the impulse to go after the latest breakthrough technology.
In an episode of the 1980s animated TV series The Smurfs, a character named Dr. Charlatan posed as a doctor peddling a "miracle tonic." Eventually, Dr. Charlatan's customers discovered the product didn't work. Luckily, Papa Smurf and Smurfette put an end to his scheme.
Within weeks of launching your company, emails from "Dr. Charlatans" will flood your inbox with guarantees of qualified leads, thousands of social followers and offers for short-term funding that seem too good to be true. For the uninitiated, it can be difficult to resist these pitches.
Prepare to channel your inner Papa Smurf as both scammers and legitimate marketers have taken their games to whole new levels. Otherwise, you could wake up one morning and find yourself locked into contracts for services you don't need and won't use. Company leaders can prevent self-sabotage and external threats that can doom new ventures by avoiding the impulse to chase every "game-changing innovation."
Obviously things change. Successful organizations have the agility to adapt without sacrificing productivity. You still need a roadmap to set realistic expectations when embarking on your entrepreneurial endeavors; just know it's not set in stone.
As an entrepreneur and advisor to many startup ventures, I want to share some tips to help you avoid the seduction of Dr. Charlatan's magic tonic and the potential distractions that can prevent you from reaching your goals:
Planning is essential.
Planning, planning and more planning; this mindset is an essential element to long-term success and should always be top-of-mind.
Write your plan on a sticky note and stick it to your computer, your refrigerator or your bathroom mirror. Tattoo it on your forehead if necessary. Being hyper-disciplined and staying the course on your carefully planned strategies is a big one. Don't let hypotheticals detour you from following your roadmap. An expression famously attributed to Benjamin Franklin sums it up well: "If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail."
A business plan is paramount for entrepreneurs. It not only helps to zero in on the necessary steps for businesses to succeed, but also includes roadmaps to keep leaders focused on short- and long-term goals. Roadmaps are more than just calendars; they are strategic guides that provide the perspective to help balance your immediate needs and long-term objectives.
However, it's equally important to adapt when the market dictates a need for change. Business plans must be flexible, and candidly, do not need to be long, drawn-out written descriptions of every action you plan to take. Today's businesses must be agile, which requires the ability to pivot without sacrificing productivity.
While unpleasant to consider, it's important to account for worst-case scenarios in your roadmap. Contingency planning doesn't mean you're expecting failure, but that you're prepared for unexpected curveballs.
Obviously nobody wants to plan for failure. But you'd be hard-pressed to find any success stories that don't include some failures in their rise to fame. Incorporate "just-in-case" contingencies into business plans that could create lemonade for your business when life hands you lemons.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who over-plan every single step of their entrepreneurial journey and never stray from their original plan despite changes in the market — even with warning signs of operational misalignment.
Savvy business owners are self-aware; they know what they can — and cannot — achieve with available resources. While confident, they aren’t arrogant to the point of delusional self-aggrandizement. Most importantly, successful leaders keep their finger on the pulse of operations and maintain an understanding of their team's capabilities.
Too many companies fail because they grow too large too fast. A wise leader knows their team's limits and capabilities and has the awareness to say, "No." Successful entrepreneurs are not affected by the fear of missing out.
Know your role.
You're not just an employee working on commission; you're also the boss. This requires managing your time and realizing that closing deals is only one of your many responsibilities.
Don't make the mistake of trying to do everything yourself. Acknowledge your weaknesses and hire people with the skills to fill those gaps.
Lead. Teach. Delegate. Evaluate.
Let the people you've hired do the work you hired them to do. Delegating only works with the understanding that you can't do everything. Patience is a virtue, and your employees will improve. If their performance doesn't improve or, worse, declines, chances are you've failed as a teacher and manager.
Leaders must also accept that outputs might not be perfect at first. Outcomes are what matter, and things will improve over time.
As you can see, it's essential to forge ahead if you hope to build a successful business. My next article will explore four areas of running a business that vex even the most tenured leaders.