EPITOME: Entrepreneurs Must Focus and Execute to Succeed

It’s often easier for aspiring entrepreneurs to hear the positive steps they need to take for lasting success, rather than the pitfalls to avoid. New entrepreneurs, the source of innovation that our economy so desperately needs, must walk a fine tightrope driven by time and resource management. Focus and execution become the watchwords for success.

The significance of “focus” in the management of a new business enterprise cannot be overemphasized. Once you choose a path to follow, it can become dry and mundane, almost boring. The creative mind yearns to branch out and conquer new territories, to innovate, to veer away from the “mundane.” This dangerous behavior pattern is more prevalent in small enterprises than you would think. It spreads throughout an organization like a virus, and it can topple a successful venture before anyone is aware of the harm that is being done.

Simple anagrams can help keep us focused on the task at hand. Here is an easy one : Let the word “EPITOME” define your goal-to strive to be an “ideal example”, per Webster’s dictionary. This simple “rubric” follows:

  • Execute: As your paramount task, Execution will determine the results of your efforts. Per the Nike advertising slogan, “Just do it!”
  • Performance: You need a way to measure your results and define success. Your staff culture must develop a performance orientation. Reward success and reprimand laggards;
  • Innovate: No matter where you are in the organization, Innovation should occupy a healthy portion of your time. You must improve the way you do things, if only by applying “best practices” related to your discipline;
  • Trends: You need to evaluate your results by putting them in the proper perspective, from both an internal as well as external market context;
  • Organization: People matter! It takes all kinds to run a healthy company, but you must rid your organization of “corporate crabgrass” and poor performers;
  • Map: You have to have a plan that defines your near and long term objectives, and everyone in the organization must have a copy of the Map to guide their efforts. The Map is your primary tool to gain “Focus” and keep everyone on track. As Coach Wooden of UCLA fame would say, “A failure to plan is a plan for failure!”
  • Execute: And that brings us back to Execution, the beginning and ending of all that you do. Stay focused and make “it” happen!

This simple anagram incorporates the four key elements of business success: strategy, execution, culture, and organization. Innovation is often given a fifth spot in journals on the topic, but leadership should always be focused on performance, measured both internally and using metrics from the marketplace in general. Once priorities have been set and communicated to every employee, the sole mission is then execution-and revenue generation is the only performance measure that really means anything.

Every new entrepreneur also understands that there is one other critical activity that must go “hand-in-hand” with the above mantra. A focus on funding must begin at the very beginning. It cannot be put off as a task that will come later when it’s time to raise the necessary capital. Funding is rarely if ever that simple or easy. Your financial history must tell your compelling story from a different perspective from Day 1, a story of continuous achievements that warrant an investor’s time and attention. The “3 F’s” have typically referred to “Friends, Family, and Fools” as your first potential funding sources. If you cannot convince them to invest, then why would a stranger even give you the time of day?

Many startups make the mistake of approaching venture capital firms before they have anything that resembles investment-ready materials. These firms see fifty or more packages a month, most very professionally prepared, and may select one for further study. If you can compete in that arena, go ahead, but after the “3 F’s”, try your clients, vendors, local community development funds, or even the SBA if you have home equity. Once obtained, these funds are not to be put at risk.

Once funding has been attended to, it is time to focus on the business again. Perhaps, a new anagram is appropriate at this point. It is easy to lose focus and fixate on low priority tasks when starting out, but focus will trump failure every time.

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, an online resource for EUR USD prices and other currency pair rates.