There’s a lot of wisdom out there. Have you heard ‘your people are the most important asset’? How about ‘your customers are your priority’? Or, perhaps, ‘the product has to be the most important thing’ (that from Steve Jobs). It seems that there are countless guides and rules to being an entrepreneur. How can they all be right? They all sound right. How can any of them be wrong?
Well, the one great truth is that there is no single truth to being an entrepreneur. Everything in life is constantly changing, and the successful entrepreneur needs to adapt and adopt to new areas of focus based on circumstances. What exactly should these areas of focus be?
This is a topic that will always be near the top of your agenda. When you first start out, you may have limited funds, you may offer scant security and you may warn potential new employees of long hours and difficulties. However, the better decisions you make about people, the easier the journey will be and the sooner success will come.
As you grow, and start to enjoy success, you may suddenly have different challenges. You need to reward those who have been loyal. Sadly, you also need to let go of those who cannot rise to new challenges.
You need to raise your expectations when you hire, and offer more to all your employees. Suddenly, performance management, employee surveys, and benefits packages all feature in your thinking.
Each stage of growth brings different people-challenges. You can be sure that what worked in the past won’t automatically work in the future. As an entrepreneur, you need to identify and decide which approach is best.
Some years ago, I read the views of a hugely successful UK entrepreneur. He explained that when he witnessed start-up companies, he noticed over-confidence and exaggeration. His observations were that a company never makes its first crucial sale without a healthy dose of both. Entrepreneurs tend to promise to deliver, despite having little idea how to do so, returning to the office to work it out. They give the impression that they have been established for years and that their products and services are popular and tested.
This established and highly regarded entrepreneur was candid in his view that, without these traits, more start-up companies don’t stand a chance. An entrepreneur needs to tread that line between bravado, and confidence, between taking on any work offered, and being more selective.
Entrepreneurs need to balance the need to watch cash, with investing aggressively, to ensure they enjoy the opportunities of a growing economy. If you don’t invest, you’ll stagnate, good employees will leave, competitors will overtake you and you won’t survive.
There’s a right time to look after the cents and there’s a right time to worry about the big picture and investment.
For most of us, funds are limited. There’s a right time to invest in product development, and a right time to focus on other things, such as hiring more people, moving to bigger premises, or increasing marketing spend.
There’s no doubt that a great product will help sales and profits. But how many times have you read tales of companies with superior products to others, who failed dismally? When are your products good enough? When do you need to refresh the range? When are you better off focusing on cutting costs and prices? As the entrepreneur, there is no single answer: the decisions are yours.
5. Vision, Communication and Motivation
Some will say that your main job as an entrepreneur is to establish a vision and communicate it to your people. You then need to motivate them. This seems so sensible and true, that it must be difficult to find anyone to argue against it.
However, there may be times, in the early days, where what is needed is for you to sit with everyone stuffing envelopes, or checking reports, or doing whatever is needed at the front line. Strategy and vision can wait for another day. Everyone needs to know that you wouldn’t ask anyone to do something you aren’t prepared to do yourself.
So, what are the ten golden rules or the five key traits or the four effective habits of an effective entrepreneur? I’ve no idea. What I do know, though, is that an entrepreneur needs to be able to change, to reflect the needs of every different day, week, month and year. And perhaps that’s the one great truth.