As someone who has been called a serial entrepreneur, I’ve had more than my fair share of experience starting new enterprises, turning around underperforming enterprises or re-vamping operations.
During that time, I’ve learned a thing or two about some critical factors you absolutely need to know before you jump into the proverbial entrepreneurial waters.
In the majority of cases, start-up success or failure is all about knowing the both the how and the why of taking action, and always being clear about which steps to take next.
To help this process, here are 10 essential things you need to know about running a successful business. Use it as a checklist to make sure your thinking and your business plan are on the right track, or if you need to get more information, strategic education or clarity for yourself on your overall vision, your market, or your product or service.
Offer what people want to buy, not just what you want to sell. Too often, people jump into a business built around a product or service they think will be successful, rather than one that is already proven to have a market.
What do I mean?
Instead of creating and selling a new sports shoe with the latest trendy design and materials, you’d be much better off from a business perspective to focus on shoe category generally (a proven category because which people buy shoes every day) and then focus more specifically on the niche of high performance sports shoes, (which you may even sell in a section of a shoe retail outlet). Better to have a small slice of a large category than a large slice of no market at all.
Get cash flowing ASAP. Cash flow is the lifeblood of business, and is absolutely essential to feed bottom-line profits. So you need to find ways to jump start cash flow immediately.
How do you do that? In a professional services business, you can ask for deposits on work up-front, with balances due on delivery.
You can do the same in retail, especially on high-ticket or specialty item and position it as an added value and a way to insure delivery by a specific date.
You can also add value to generic items by creating private labels, and develop continuity programs where customers pay an up-front monthly fee to insure delivery or availability of items they will buy on a repeat basis. Of course, the key is to make sure there is little or no gap between when you pay for labor, stock inventory and when you actually get paid. Ideally, you’ll find ways to get money up front, and your cash gap will never be an issue.
Always find new ways to keep costs low. All the cash flow in the world is worthless if it’s not positive cash flow, which means you have to bring in more cash than you pay out.
To do this, you need to keep your costs and expenses low. We’ve touched on this before, especially in terms of outfitting a startup. The main idea is to never pay retail , and look for used or gently used items to furnish your office or your retail space.
Paying vendors up front also gives you leverage for negotiating better prices. Especially in this economic environment, where credit is at a premium, vendors are more willing than ever to find creative ways to finance transactions, and that is a trend will likely continue over time.
So do some extra work and research now to discover how owners and vendors are finding ways to work out deals, and you just may hit on whole new ways of doing business.
When planning, always overestimate expenses and underestimate revenues. I was trained as an accountant, so the numbers side of business is part of my entrepreneurial DNA, and was also a big part of my early business education.
That said, I’ve never seen a startup business where expenses were at least 30 percent more than initially planned or anticipated, and revenues are at least that much less.
Being conservative in your numbers doesn’t mean you are willing to accept those numbers, it just means you are arming yourself with information you can work with and work
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