In this the last of my series of four posts on being a successful entrepreneur, I focus on the practical skills, and more that you need to drive your enterprise.
Vision, drive and energy are excellent! However, you have to turn that mental and emotional energy into doing, and repeatedly doing, consistently and relentlessly.
A vision is superb, but within that vision, you must have achievable goals. These will be steps along the direction of travel you wish to achieve, and indicators that you are moving the right way. You will also accumulate immense satisfaction as you tick off those milestones, knowing that you are driving forward to your anticipated end point.
However, that end point will flex as you achieve one goal after another, moving steadfastly forward. You may also experience some knock backs along the way. These may cause you to review and reset your goals, and then begin your forward momentum again.
Learning from both successes and failures is important in this process, as that will help you assess whether the goals you envisaged are realisable. More importantly, will they deliver the vision you set out?
So, a key question here is – how often and regularly do you set goals? I found this year that writing them down at the start of the year and reviewing them monthly helped me to do two things. One, get a sense of how well I was progressing; and two, assess how realistic my initial goal setting had been. Of the ten goals I set in January, at last three have proven unrealistic. Two I amended and am doing well with, and the third I ditched altogether for next year.
Planning and Organising
Of course, setting goals requires then that you write a plan. Planning, in my view, is something of an art form, and also something that not everyone does or likes to do. My experience of working in the public sector for 25 years taught me that plans were documents you wrote once a year and then largely ignored.
My sense here is about writing a plan that fits for you and your direction of travel. It will usually detail bite-sized chunks of activity that will get you to the goal described. The detail is what you need to write, and I am not talking War and Peace here.
However, the goal and the accompanying plan should follow SMARTER guidance. For those unfamiliar with the last two letters in the acronym, they stand for Evaluate and Review. Plans require assessment and reflection. They should help you know that you are making some, maybe a lot of progress. We spend too little time thinking about what we are doing, so make sure you do this as part fo your plan.
The plan should also help you to organise your activity. Some people lack basic organisation skills, so a written plan in this instance will be a massive boon. If you are working with a team on your vision and goals, then your planning document will help them efficiently achieve their tasks.
Finally, on planning, particularly when you are developing a commercial enterprise, you will need a business plan. Though more focused on the financial aspects of your business, the plan of activities is once again a coherent, considered plan for action to meet your goals. If you are in any way reticent about business planning, call me as this is an area of expertise I have developed over some years.
The third and final practical skill you will need is well-honed decision making. Understanding masses of information, making clear analysis, and weighing up potential consequences of your actions all require good decision-making.
Being confident in your decisions lies at the heart of a less stressful approach to being an entrepreneur. You take all the risks, physical, emotional, and financial, and you need to be sure that, as far as you can tell, the decisions you make are taking you forward.
I would recommend some helpful tools, like Decision Tree Analysis and Grid Analysis, but my favourite by far is Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. I have tried this out in numerous settings, private, public and third sector, and have always found it effective. It is uncomfortable at times, but what it does is enables every voice from all positions thus delivering the widest possible consideration of the decision at hand. I have used De Bono’s tool with both young people and adults. The outcomes for both were compelling.
Again, if you would like to try it out but are unsure, please contact me, and I can work with you on that.
There remain two other key elements that will help mark you out as a successful entrepreneur. Firstly, you need to have certain levels of knowledge, which I describe below. Secondly, you need to be social media savvy and employ that technology to best effect for your enterprise. We live in a digital age and you need to embrace that. However, here’s what I think about knowledge.
Here I speak about the knowledge you need to run a business. Do you realise how much hard work it will take to find a business model that works for you? Do you know how you will go about that? Do you understand managing finance? Do you know how to raise investment, if required? How happy or comfortable are you with taking risks and experimenting? Best of all, do you learn from your mistakes and failures and, if you do, how do you put that learning into practice?
My experience of working with many individuals and teams on these matters tells me that two major stumbling blocks arise. One is financial uncertainty. Having a relatively secure paid full-time employment is way different to managing your business independently. You need to decide whether you can live with that uncertainty or not, at least until you establish the operation. Some people are just not cut out for that mental and emotional pressure. How do you feel about that?
Second is understanding financial management sufficiently well to run your enterprise. My advice to you is simple. Find and attend a minimum of a one day course on Finance for Non-Financial Managers. Tonight I Googled that term and returned 17 hits alone on the first page, including a course run by The Open University.
I gave that advice to two close friends last year, both in senior positions within their respective occupations in the third sector. They both sourced the same course, and they both described it as some of the best and inexpensive training they had ever undertaken. Each person acknowledged that it had assisted their ability to manage their respective roles much more efficiently.
And finally, hire an accountant you can build a rapport with and develop trust! I am a trained accountant, and I still have a brilliant accountant. A good one is worth tonnes of gold dust, believe me!
By this, I mean the depth of understanding you have about your idea, service, product or concept. Is it an innovative proposition? Does it meet particular needs? How easy will it be to bring it to the market? What is the make-up of the market you intend to engage? How will you determine the price for your idea, product or service? What do you know about marketing? How will this apply to your idea, product or service?
Equally, what do you know of any competitors in your arena? Might you be able to learn from others who have trodden the path before you? Could you find a mentor or coach to help you on this journey? Might there be someone who has taken this pathway and be willing to help you?
I have founded, led and managed five separate commercial businesses. Each slightly different to the other, each presenting some differing challenges. Three of those businesses are still thriving, and I am in the early stages of developing two new joint venture partnerships, a somewhat different model to you running solo on your enterprise.
My learning along the way has been abundant. I have made mistakes, endured disappointments and failures, and experienced highs and lows. What my overall journey has taught me is this final thing.
Is running an enterprise or business for you?
I now know that the decision I took in May 2003 to quit the public sector after 25+ years and begin my own business was my next best decision to marrying my wife.
That business decision and many subsequent decisions have led to a fabulous range of opportunities, outcomes and results. It has not been without its cost, regarding physical, mental and emotional strain.
However, my quality of life has improved immensely over that time, as I have reaped the rewards for the risks that I took, enjoyed working with a broad range of excellent clients, and, in some senses, more importantly, seen some outstanding outcomes and results as a part consequence of my intervention and support to them.
As an independent consultant, I say part impact because it has only ever been a part effect. Either during or at the end of my intervention, my client needed to take action for themselves. I ultimately did not do it for them. However, I have always felt a good deal of pride in a shared professional approach, a sound rapport, a mutual learning journey, and excellent outcomes!
So, whatever your choice, I hope this series of articles about entrepreneurialism has been helpful.
I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching your entrepreneurialism or developing greater personal resilience, please just ask. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling +447958765972. I am always happy to listen and ready to help.
Thank you for reading.