It takes a lot of confidence and ego to start a business. Although these attributes are major components of success, ego and confidence can lead to failure if they blind entrepreneurs to their own weaknesses.
A common trap for entrepreneurs is trying to do everything; delegation requires trust (a legitimate concern), a willingness to involve others in strategic and tactical decision-making, and recognition that someone else has greater expertise in a particular area of operations. These latter two requirements can be high hurdles for the entrepreneur to get over.
If entrepreneurs take a cold, hard look at their abilities and interests, they will soon realize outside help is needed somewhere, somehow — and probably, right away. Here are several typical situations; perhaps you see a bit of yourself in one of them:
- Entrepreneurs with a passion for sales are often weak in detail management. Selling requires high-powered multitasking, risk taking and terrific communication skills. Detail management requires focus, patience, and methodical and repetitious work activity. These two mindsets are seldom found in the same person. A sales-minded entrepreneur needs a reliable and skilled operations manager to steer the ship and make sense out of the chaos this type of entrepreneur is bound to create.
- Entrepreneurs who are technical wonks — creative geniuses in the design and application of a particular product, such as software — sometimes have little understanding of basic business finance. All small businesses need to button down financial operations, but in particular, startups launching a new product must be very careful in how they project and manage operating costs, as well as in raising capital and structuring debt. Brilliant, innovative product ideas that could produce millions of dollars in revenue sometimes go unrealized because the startup couldn’t get out of the gate financially.
- Not all entrepreneurs are high-powered, extroverted sales and marketing stars. Some (and potentially successful) small business owners are rather reserved and more comfortable behind the scenes. This is fine if such an entrepreneur finds someone to be the organization’s “front person” in terms of sales and marketing. Many, many entrepreneurs dislike sales and are quite uncomfortable networking, pushing their products or trying to create a personal brand on social media. Get help! It’s not a fatal weakness.
- When a business grows quickly, entrepreneurs who handled all facets of the business in the early days now find themselves in over their heads — and refuse to accept it. This situation, becoming a victim of one’s own success, is perhaps one of the most widespread killers of potentially successful small businesses. The key here is to develop a middle management function; a group of trusted managers who can both oversee critical areas of operation and work harmoniously under the owner’s direction. Accomplishing this very hard mission requires several components, including:
- Being an owner who is ready, willing and able to learn how to delegate — and then actually delegates.
- Selecting managers who are trustworthy and competent. A great way to find managers is to look for people who have been where your company wants to go in terms of scale of operation.
To help in the effort to assess weaknesses, a small business owner is wise to establish an outside board of directors — friends, business associates, referrals with solid track records in marketing, sales, finance, etc. An outside board (with no voting rights) that holds quarterly meetings imposes a bit of discipline on the entrepreneur, but more importantly, provides a mechanism to expertly review and evaluate the business’s progress, strengths and weaknesses. Whether annual revenues are $10,000 or $10 million, such a process is the best insurance against self-inflicted business wounds.
Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, an Internet marketing firm that offers SEO, PPC and web design services. With more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience, Brad has been featured in leading online publications including Entrepreneur, Moz and Forbes.