Entrepreneurs Must Focus on More Than Just Product Development
Entrepreneurial spirit, driven by the will to succeed and the desire to create something of lasting value, is one of the greatest assets that our country has at its disposal. If the future is to be truly won, then innovation must be the driving force, and it all starts with the single sole proprietor that wakes up one morning with an idea that demands his or her full attention. From that point, the race is on, but creating a start-up company that will survive and thrive is about much more than just converting an idea into a reality.
Books have been devoted to this topic that espouse prudent priority setting, planning, and a host of mistakes that must be avoided at all costs, but who has time to read a book when your “business muse” is calling. Budding entrepreneurs need not study books, but hopefully, articles such as these will be duly noted at the outset. There are a few basic concepts that must be employed early on or a great deal of time will be wasted much later in the process when time is in short supply.
Soon after that initial “Eureka” moment when the idea is most compelling, the time is right for a little introspection. Do you have the leadership qualities and mental capacity necessary to run a business and direct the efforts of other employees? Are you prepared to commit the time and effort required? A crucial error in judgment at this stage can lead to major problems later on, but the biggest mistake to avoid is thinking that you must be capable of doing everything on your own. You must develop a personal inventory of your talents, and then note where the “gaps” are.
Seeking the advice of a mentor is a time-honored tradition when creating any type of commercial venture. Every State in the Union has a variety of support programs, incubator groups, and networking forums designed specifically to aid an entrepreneur in his early and near-term development stages. The very fact that you cannot be all things that you need to be demands that you have an independent and experienced voice to guide your early process.
The majority of entrepreneurs these days come from a marketing or programming background. Their talents stack up favorably in these disciplines, and much of their careers have been spent waiting and preparing for the opportunity to branch out on their own. Typically, they are not financially inclined, nor do they appreciate the profession since they most likely have had a bad experience or two during their careers when financial accountability ruined their day.
Financial professionals that work with start-up companies are generally in agreement when questioned about the problems they encounter. All protest that they are always brought into the game way too late in the process, easily 12 to 18 months later than they should have been. Secondly, young entrepreneurs have a very limited idea about what a financial person can bring to the table. Most often a lowly bookkeeper or junior accountant is designated to fill a role well beneath what is actually needed.
A seasoned financial professional need not be hired as a full-time employee at the start, but his services will greatly enhance your success in these key areas:
- Funding will consume an inordinate amount of time from day one, and it is the number one reason why entrepreneurs fail in the early going. They never appreciate how much they need or how to go about getting it. Preparing “investment ready” materials is only a start in the process. Communicating in financial terms with the investment community is mandatory;
- Planning is paramount. You must have a cogent business plan that can be easily communicated to your staff. It defines your “focus”. The second reason that can spell failure is when the CEO is too consumed with other ideas and does not focus on what must be done for immediate success. If the CEO is not disciplined, then his staff will follow suit;
- Realistic goals and timeframes and a prudent determination of the resources necessary to achieve them is what a financial professional is all about. He will design the reporting infrastructure to run the business “by the numbers” and pinpoint where and when corrections are necessary.
Unfortunate “gaps” also tend to form in the sales area. Revenue is the lifeblood of a company, and salesmen are your “infantry” on the front lines. Understanding your potential market and customer is crucial in the early planning stages. Selling globally will necessarily present forex and legal issues that must be addressed upfront.
An entrepreneur must face numerous challenges to get his idea to market. Seek early guidance from a mentor to ensure that your “gaps” are effectively covered.
Tom Cleveland has had an extensive career in the international payments industry with over 30 years of experience in executive management, corporate governance and business development. Tom served as CFO for various Visa International entities from 1980 until 1999, retiring with the title of Group EVP and Treasurer. Tom currently works as a market analyst for Forex Traders.