For many, the true joy of entrepreneurship lies in the creative process: building a product or service, gaining customers, and tweaking your strategy. The early days are filled with these tasks, and they may be exactly what drew you to entrepreneurship in the first place.
What many new entrepreneurs miss are the nuts and bolts. The “boring stuff.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned in building my company, though, it’s that the “boring stuff” will save you every time.
Here are six pieces of advice every green entrepreneur should heed:
Have you seen “Monsters, Inc.”? Remember Roz, the grumpy office manager who’s always harping on Mike for failing to file his paperwork? She was on to something. The million and one regulatory things businesses are saddled with regarding employment rules, tax compliance, workplace safety, environmental compliance, etc., are boring, yes. But keeping up with regulations and paperwork will keep your doors open.
Our society is so litigious that many great companies find themselves strangled by lawsuits they could have easily combated with solid paperwork. One day, I got a call from a lawyer who wanted to defend me from a class-action lawsuit filed by one of my employees. I was shocked. Thankfully, we were eventually vindicated — all because we had the proper records.
2. Spread your eggs out
Common startup advice is to focus on one product or service that will change the world, but that doesn’t mean you should bank on one idea.
Look at Ford Motor Co.’s legendary failure: the Edsel. In the late ’50s, Ford began hyping up the Edsel in a yearlong campaign, deeming it the “car of the future.” Unfortunately, it was a major flop. Ford’s time would have been better served rolling out a whole new line of cars or making significant improvements to current inventory.
This mistake also shows up in service businesses when entrepreneurs rely on one big account to float the whole company. It never works for long. Diversify.
3. Eat your own cooking
Once, my wife was picking me up from a car dealership when she ran out of gas right in front of the building. She was left standing outside, very distressed, while salespeople zoomed by in their golf carts. I finally had to beg the manager to lend me some gas, and when he did, the can was full of diesel fuel. As I witnessed this terrible customer service, I couldn’t help but wonder what the owner would think.
I like to make a point of shopping at 10 different StorageMart locations throughout the year to see what the customer experience is like. Consider shopping at competitors’ stores, too, to discover what they’re doing well (and not so well) and how you can learn from them. Use these experiences to constantly test and improve.
4. Find creative solutions
Entrepreneurship is a constant exercise in problem-solving. Whether it’s re-evaluating your marketing messaging or helping a customer who has run out of gas, you have to be ready and willing to think creatively.
One of my favorite solutions is the way I’ve seen entrepreneurs use storage units. People often think of self-storage as space for packrats, but in reality, it’s a key distribution point for many businesses. UPS, FedEx, and U.S. Postal Service trucks make deliveries every day to our customers’ units. They deliver vital parts and inventory so small businesses can grow — slowly and steadily.
It started with Frito-Lay years ago. The snack maker was one of the best customers a self-storage company could ever have. It would rent several storage units and deliver semi-loads of bags of chips, and local drivers would load up for delivery. This strategy kept expenses down for Frito-Lay for years, and it has proven helpful for entrepreneurs growing into the next stages of their businesses.
5. Keep the line moving
Many entrepreneurs think they have to swing for the fences every time to be successful. Founders are always “killing it” or “disrupting.”
For years, a key strategy to winning baseball games was to hit as many homers as possible. However, the Kansas City Royals ended up winning the 2015 World Series not by hitting homers — but by getting as many base hits as possible. Batters kept the line moving, and as a result, the Royals outscored their opponents.
That one huge account could just as easily sink your business as save it. A successful business is built from a series of base hits, and if you can consistently hit singles, you’re going to win.
6. Depend on your “kitchen cabinet”
Presidents do not make decisions on an island. They rely on experts in various fields for advice on matters before making decisions or introducing ideas.
Of course, you need a team of partners and mentors. But while professionals will help you with specific issues, your “kitchen cabinet” will comprise people you trust for judgment calls. Family and trusted friends bring good judgment to the table and help you keep perspective and balance.
Starting a business is fun and exciting, but don’t get so caught up in the mania that you forget the details. Just like Rome, a good, solid business is built one brick at a time.