Doomed from the start. If you’re an entrepreneur or an entrepreneur-hopeful, it’s probably difficult to keep those four words from causing you to second guess your every move as you plan and run your business. They become especially hard to ignore when you consider the fact that less than 30 percent of businesses last more than 10 years, and most failures happen within the first few years of operation. The truth is, many things could go wrong: An ill-conceived business idea, poor planning, lack of capital, ineffective leadership and more. In the high stakes world of running a business, those are the facts.
But there are other important facts about business ownership. Facts that could help you avoid the mistakes and pitfalls that trip up so many others, and go on to achieve the success you’ve dreamed of. I call them the Facts of Business Life. Facts 1-3 can be found in part 1 of the story, and facts 4-7 are continued below.
Fact 4: Planning is about preparing for the future, not predicting it. Nobody knows what tomorrow, next week or next year will bring for your business. But you can make educated guesses based on the most current, accurate information available as well as your own past experiences, and this should be an ongoing process. Effective planning is a mix of science (gathering pertinent information) and art (taking that information and turning it into a plan that will move your business from “here” to “there” over a specific time period).
Being able to plan better than your competitors can give you a significant competitive edge in the market. Ford Motor Company is a great example. In 2008 and 2009, its competitors, GM and Chrysler, ran out of cash and needed taxpayer bailouts to avoid bankruptcy. But not Ford. Years prior to the credit crunch, Ford began to restructure its debt and raised billions as it continually added to cash reserves. Was this luck or good planning? Industry insiders will say good planning. The point is Ford knew, as you should, that planning is important because it focuses owners on what’s important and it prepares them for what lies ahead.
Fact 5: If you don’t market your business, you won’t have one. Maybe working to market and advertise your product isn’t your cup of tea. Or maybe you believe your product is so great that it should speak for itself. If so, too bad — you’re going to have to do it anyway. The bottom line is, if people don’t know about your product, you won’t be successful.
New business owners especially are nervous about marketing because money is already so tight at this stage. But again, if marketing isn’t done, very little good will happen. You have to make the necessary effort to connect consumers to your company. And when you do, you’ll begin to see marketing as the investment it actually is, rather than the expense that less successful competitors think it is.
Fact 6: The marketplace is a war zone. Every company has competitors, and if it doesn’t and it’s successful, it soon will. Successful owners know they have to fight not only to win market share but to retain it as well. That’s why I insist that you must develop a warrior mentality and maintain it for as long as you’re at the head of your business.
That’s because selling and sales in any industry is serious business. It’s take or be taken from. If that isn’t a business war zone, then I don’t know what is. In other words, in order to be successful and remain that way, you have to continually focus on the market, react to it, and fight for what you believe should be yours. If you don’t, your competition will win the war. The point being great marketing has to be followed up by having your company “on its game” in order to capture every customer your marketing attracts.
Fact 7: You don’t just have to know the business you’re in; you have to know business. Yes, of course you need to know the inner workings and nuances of your particular industry if you want to be successful. But you also need to understand the various aspects of business as it is more broadly defined, such as accounting, finance, business law, personnel issues, and more, and how all of these impact each other and the decisions you make.
Having tunnel or limited vision as far as business knowledge is concerned is akin to dropping out of high school. In doing so, you limit your possibilities for success and how great your success could be. But at the end of the day, what is most important is not how much you know, but what you know and what you do with that knowledge. For example, it’s important to know what’s going on in your market, but it is just as important to know what to do with that information and how you can translate it into more sales and gross and net profits — something that can’t be done with limited business knowledge. And remember, it’s an owner’s responsibility to make sure what you’re learning is correct and relevant.
Ultimately, I don’t believe that any entrepreneur can succeed — or at least reach his or her full potential — without knowing, understanding and applying these seven Facts of Business Life. It’s equally important to understand how these facts are interrelated.
For instance, being able to develop strategic plans or market your product will mean little if you don’t have a good grasp of business in general. But I promise, if you commit yourself to understanding these facts while being prepared for their implementation to change as your business goes through its inevitable life cycle, you’ll be creating a best-odds scenario for success.
(Facts 1 through 3 can be found in the first part of the story here.)