The starter's pistol has gone off, the rest of the field has taken off, and you're still frozen in a kneeling position, head down and bracing for the race to begin. As your fellow competitors race to the finish line, you rise slowly and try to convince yourself that this race was not really for you. You console yourself by saying that the risks were too great and ask yourself such self-doubting questions as, "What if I had fallen?" or "What if I'd started and couldn't finish?" and "Who was I kidding? I had no business even thinking about entering that race."
Starting a business is very much like running a race: Preparation and practice are key success factors. The following 10 tips, framed in the context of getting physically prepared for a race, might help you overcome the hurdles that entrepreneurs are sure to encounter on the road to startup.
1. "Pump" up your attitude. Think positive. Think of the optimistic outcomes and find a way to stay focused on your goal. Put negative thoughts and self-doubt about your abilities and your potential aside, and surround yourself with energetic and supportive people. Even without realizing it, you may be dampening your own enthusiasm, procrastinating and eventually sabotaging your own efforts because of your self-doubts. Stop second-guessing yourself and, at all costs, stay away from negative people who are just waiting for you to trip and fall.
2. "Rejuvenate" your affiliations. Your goal is to connect with people who want to support you and are willing to help you in the lean times. Affiliate with others who are in similar stages of startup and are also trying to build their own businesses. Find new alliances by joining professional and civic organizations and seeking out successful people you want to model. Locate organizations in your own community where other entrepreneurs get together and support each other--your local chamber is a great place to start. These affiliations can not only lead to advice and networking connections, but are a great source of potential clients.
3. "Firm" up your future. Assess and mitigate the risks. Risks can only become surprises if you avoid honest self-evaluation up front. Keep in mind that risks can't be mitigated if they're not acknowledged. So do all the legwork required to shore up your plans ahead of time. As you create your plans, consider both your short-term and long-term goals. Think about business growth and all the ramifications of your need for cash or talent to help you grow. Contact an expert at your local Small Business Development Center (www.sba.gov/sbdc) to review your plans with you. Have someone help you with your pro-forma financials to make sure your cash flow will remain adequate to execute your dream.
4. "Flex" your creative muscles. Think creatively about how you'll get your products in front of people. Think about imaginative ways you can tip the scales in your favor. Start a "Creativity Cluster" of others who are looking for new and innovative ideas to bring products to market or get their ideas out into the marketplace. Get inspired by reading about creative and innovative companies and how they've succeeded, and learn about the practices that differentiate them from others. Keep thinking about new ways to do things that will keep your organization efficient.
5. "Supplement" your credentials. Work with advisors and small-business centers to add to your knowledge and skill set. You might have an excellent idea and may be really skilled in one or two areas but, like all of us, have some blind spots. Although entrepreneurs are known to multitask really well, they'll readily admit there are pieces of the business they hate. Investigate your local community colleges to see if they offer entrepreneurship classes for business owners. Local organizations also sometimes schedule classes and workshops designed to help you supplement your credentials in the areas of marketing, budgeting, funding, technology, operations and financial management. If you're not reading business journals or articles, you're also missing opportunities to increase your knowledge. Also think about forming an advisory group of experts in those areas where their knowledge can supplement your own.
6. "Buff and polish" your ideas. Like most of us, you've probably scribbled an idea down and then lost the paper you might have written it on, only to hear later about some other business owner executing "your" idea. A great way to refine your great ideas and really flesh them out is to write them down in a place where you can find them at any given moment. There's no time like the present to start your "startup journal." This can either be in the form of a good old spiral-bound notebook or something more sophisticated. There are any number of tools on the market that will help you keep track of important notes and milestones as you move forward and develop your ideas. These ideas can eventually be rolled up into your business plan, which will become the roadmap for your business.
7. "Reshape" your perspective. As you begin writing down your thoughts and ideas, don't give up just because you find you need to make changes. This is normal! As a future successful entrepreneur, you can't afford to become functionally fixed on any one way of doing things. Factors influencing your decisions, including the environment, new technology, your budget or your time, are always shifting, and you might find you'll have to tweak your ideas to make them work. It may be that you'd been looking at one market segment and now realize that for whatever reason, you might want to focus on a new target market. This does not mean giving up--it means reshaping your perspective.
8. "Align" your dreams with reality. Discovering and clarifying what you really want to do as an entrepreneur is key to your future success. If you don't know what you love to do, then your dreams should remain just that--dreams. Successful people do what they love. Dreaming about owning your own business but not exploring who you are and what you love to do won't help you move closer to the reality of successful entrepreneurship. Let's say your dream is to start an organizing business. But then you find out that there are several competitors in your region. This doesn't mean you should abandon the idea--it means you need to think creatively about your marketing plan and how you plan to differentiate your business from the competition.
9. "Chart" your performance. Keeping track of your individual successes and milestones is fundamental to your overall success. So set goals for yourself and your business, and chart your progress. Revisit your plans to make sure you're on target. If you're not, evaluate why and make corrections to get back on track. Many business owners forget the importance of setting measurable goals against which to benchmark progress and modifying those goals based on real-life performance.
10. "Map" the future. The results of several recent studies show that people who write down their goals are much more likely to achieve them and that people who visualize success have a better chance of actually being successful. The success of your business depends on preparation, practice and planning. Create a vision for what your company should look like, and create a map to get there. The great thing about the map is that although it doesn't guarantee where you'll end up, it gives you the courage to start the journey.
Marcia Robinson is the COO for Reel Logix Inc, a Beverly Hills, California, company that makes easy-to-use, affordable software productivity tools. The company's two flagship products are The Reel Production Calendar, a scheduling program used in film production, and The Calendar Planner, now used for scheduling, event planning and project management in multiple industries.