4 Keys to Successful and Lasting Entrepreneurship From enhanced learning strategies to crisis planning, here's how to stay on a steady growth and longevity track.
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Congratulations if you're an entrepreneur blazing a trail of success and are more than three years into a startup. You've done a lot right, not least in your leadership and growth strategies. You have set a vision and managed both staff and processes with capability. You've also likely exceeded the expectations of customers/clients, while managing to keep all stakeholders happy, from corporate investors to family members.
On the one hand, this is exactly where you want to be. On the other, you're about to face a formidable challenge: complacency. Becoming a successful entrepreneur is hard, but staying one is even more daunting, so how does a professional avoid torpor and sustain high performance? Based upon experience coaching hundreds of entrepreneurs, I've found that there are four essentials:
1. Enhance learning
You've doubtless absorbed a great deal of information in the early years of owning a business, but a learning curve can decline as an enterprise moves through what Brian Tracy in a 2008 Entrepreneur article termed the "forming, storming, norming and performing" phases. It's easy, as you forge on, to let your time get taken up by seemingly more important and urgent matters, but ones that come at a cost. It's vital to keep in mind that if you're not growing intellectually, your business will not progress. To that end, leading entrepreneurs I know make a conscientious effort to be learning at least three to four hours a week.
How to kick start that process? The easiest way is to look internally — to speak with your company's team members on the front line. Find out what they know and how things have changed for them since the company began. Then, look inside your market, connect with associated groups and find out what others in the industry are talking about. Finally, consider joining a group of other entrepreneurs on a board or mastermind and learn about their opportunities… and threats.
2. Get an outsider's perspective
How do typical business leaders set next year's goals? Well, if they do it at all, it's usually pegged to a straight percentage increase from the previous year — a refresh with a little extra.
By contrast, more restless entrepreneurs know they must discard last year's assumptions and carefully look at future opportunities and threats. These are not quick tasks (requiring a solid few days of strategic planning meetings at a minimum), and should not be taken lightly. Keep in mind though that, as an owner, it's easy to take these meetings over, so consider bringing in an external facilitator to set the right balance — to keep you on track and open your eyes to blind spots.
Then, as you apply a new strategy and put tactics behind it, it's necessary to stay grounded. One of the easiest ways to do that is to have an additional outside perspective(s) provided regularly. Find a coach you get on with on both personal and professional levels — someone who knows the industry and can hold you accountable while keeping you aware of what's happening outside of your business.
3. Find new growth
When things are going well, it's tempting to simply keep doing them. But think back to when you started: More than likely, there were other businesses in your sector, and you gained success in part by changing, updating and improving on some (or several) of their elements. Fast forward to today: You better believe some young whippersnapper feels assured that they can update and beat you.
To address this kind of challenge, be ready to reinvent yourself, and there are two strategies to implement here: First, take a long hard look at what could be improved in your business (which includes a comprehensive examination of opportunities and threats) and carefully consider a priority of initiatives that could be worked on. Secondly, once you've found that next killer strategy, build and roll it out in a manner that all stakeholders will find inspiring.
Crises happen. They can come from anywhere, may or not be your or your company's fault and don't usually offer much of a chance in that moment to plan, think and act. Luckily, if your business is more than three years old, you've already lived through one of the biggest business crises of the last century.
What would you have done differently? Might you have planned better? Fortunately, a good crisis plan can be worked on long before, provided you make a sweeping assessment of potential threats and how you might react to them (including who will do what, and when).
So, futureproofing requires you to look at a team carefully. Do you have contingency plans in place if a critical member leaves or otherwise cannot work? What about if you cannot work? If not, it's time to examine your hiring, retention and company values closely.