After listening and working with hundreds of entrepreneurs, I have heard many focused only on their next million-dollar idea, but very few make any money from an idea alone. On the other end of the spectrum, others focus totally on building a product, assuming a great product will assure business success. Both groups are missing the essence of an entrepreneur — the business focus.
A focus on business execution certainly includes selecting the right idea and developing a marketable solution, but it also requires selecting a viable target market, attracting customers, winning against competition and delivering a value proposition. This is attractive to customers as well as the business. Most importantly, it requires the discipline to integrate all of these.
In my experience, there are several key elements to this discipline, which always include the following:
1. Staying customer-centric in all business actions. Every startup requires countless tradeoffs in time, money and priority. It is easy to let your personal passions and interests fill in for objective customer data. With today’s access to social media, interaction with customers is easy, and must be used for technical, financial and opportunity data.
2. Prioritizing activities weekly, and focus on the top three. People who try to do too many things only succeed in doing everything poorly. Even with a limited focus on the most important items, do not allow the chaos of daily crises to break your discipline of completing and communicating the high priority activities to the right constituents.
3. Managing cash flow daily — into and out of the business. It is not unusual for technical entrepreneurs to find finances difficult to understand, intimidating or a boring distraction. It does require a discipline of relentless focus. A business can be on budget, but still run out of cash, or worse yet, profitable but broke. Investors rarely give you a second chance.
4. Setting and communicating compelling targets for the team. Everyone must be actively engaged to grow a business, and the team will not have an engagement discipline if they do not know where they are going, or do not have any targets to fight for. As well as setting targets, you have to keep score to prevent random high motion but no progress.
5. Selling is a job for everyone all the time. It may not be in their job descriptions, but everyone in a new business should be selling. The very first moment that you have contact with an investor, or a customer has contact with your team, a perception is set. That perception is your reality, and you only get one chance to make it a good one.
6. Defining leading and lagging measures on progress. You cannot manage and make rational decisions on things you do not measure. Structure and monitor leading measures first, such as customer leads and solution costs. Lagging measures come later, including volumes achieved, cost of customer acquisition and market penetration.
7. Insisting on and nurturing total team accountability. Getting things done effectively in a new business requires total individual and team accountability. You cannot afford excuses and multiple people doing the same job. The best entrepreneurs are role models of accountability, with no excuses, not punishing mistakes and rewarding results.
8. Keeping team members as well as customers motivated. An unhappy team cannot create a satisfied and loyal customer base. Highly motivated and engaged teams create customers who work and feel like part of the team. Add sustainability and social responsibility initiatives, and you can double team productivity and business growth.
Every entrepreneur needs ideas and the focus on building a great solution. But these are not enough. The winners also bring key business disciplines to the execution, which stretch even the best beyond their comfort zone. Do not expect the process to be a cakewalk, so make that part of the fun and the learning. Enjoy the journey as well as the destination.