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The committed entrepreneur Featured

9:49am EDT July 22, 2002

In working as a marketing consultant to small businesses, I have found that whether or not the entity is family-owned, whether or not it is considered large or small, one common factor exists amongst all of them: Small business is synonymous with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Most of us have a definition or a stereotype of the typical entrepreneur. Many of us would never openly admit we are one (closet entrepreneurs are the worst kind). But I would like to suggest that it’s an honor — and a huge responsibility — which we all must acknowledge and accept.

Webster’s dictionary suggests that an entrepreneur is “one who undertakes, on his own account, an industrial enterprise in which new ideas are employed.” My definition is much simpler. An entrepreneur is “a lone ranger who accepts that failure is not an option — it’s just a nagging possibility that keeps them motivated.”

Whatever your definition, I believe that every entrepreneur must commit to 10 simple things to make their ventures successful.

1. Develop a workable business plan. If you decided to drive to Miami Beach, you can either start driving south or study a map to make sure you get to the right place efficiently and on time. A business plan focuses on where your company has been, where it is, where it’s going and how you’re doing along the way. This is a living document that changes on a regular basis with support from your entire company.

2. Have a written sales plan. Without a sales plan, there’s no serious way to gauge the financial growth and progress of your firm. You need a realistic map for where sales will come from, how they will be achieved, by whom they will be accomplished, etc. How much selling is needed daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually?

Included in this sales plan should be a sales system, which gives you and your sales people immediate feedback. This is a customized scoring sheet that you and your sales force should develop together.

3. Have a realistic marketing plan. A marketing plan is not the same as a business or strategic plan. Do simple market research by asking five questions:

a) Who is your target audience? This sounds easy, but when was the last time you really defined your market?

b) What do your clients really want? Remember this simple rhyme: “See the world through your client’s eyes and see the way your client buys.”

c) What does the competition offer them? Shop your competition to see what benefits they offer your clients.

d) What else can we offer?

e) What do they think we offer?

Once you’ve done your research, examine every marketing effort you employ against this research and ask if it is consistent with your findings.

4. Create a mastermind group. A mastermind group is like an unpaid board of advisers who have similar, related, successful businesses, but which are noncompetitive. These professionals are positive, somewhat like-minded, and very open-minded. They are an excellent resource, brain trust and support system. Eventually, they can provide introductions and endorsements. They become part of your team.

5. Make sure you have plenty of cash. Many who claim to be entrepreneurs are not the anticipators they need to be for survival. It’s easy to overlook the gap between making the first few sales and banking the money. Often, the wait can be too long. Without cash reserves, many companies stall or fail without any planned cash flow coming in.

6. Don’t ignore the numbers. As an entrepreneur-business owner, your primary goal is to make a profit. If this is foreign to you, then I suggest another line of work. You need to know where you stand on a regular basis when it comes to your income vs. expenses.

If you don’t have a timely system — manual or computerized — by which you can quickly analyze the information you need, get one.

7. Get automated. Many companies with which I work consider themselves automated. My challenge to you is to stay ahead of the pack. With the low cost of personal computers and the ease of use, you shouldn’t just stay current.

8. Train yourself to be creative. Creativity is not something that can lie stagnant. You must constantly challenge your mind, looking for new ways of doing old tasks or tackling old challenges. Accept that there is always more than one right answer to your internal and external clients’ challenges.

Challenge yourself to set aside your first solution — even though it may seem easier, quicker and more cost efficient — in search of a more creative one.

9. Listen between the lines. Don’t forget your internal customers. Creating an environment in which your staff is motivated is probably one of the toughest challenges a true entrepreneur faces.

Without your patience, persistence and people skills, your challenges can multiply quickly. Be sure to get help if you assess objectively that these are not your strengths.

10. Don’t do it by yourself. You might be the key to everything, but you cannot possibly do everything and grow at the same time. Even modest success can overwhelm you unless you do the following:

a) Hire the right people.

b) Delegate responsibility.

c) Work with a business coach or mentor.

d) Keep fit physically and mentally.

e) Have fun.

Perhaps you’re a follower of some of the great philosophers. Let me share the words of my favorite philosopher and my motto when it comes to running a business: “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain!” — Dolly Parton.

Jeff Tobe, primary colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at www.jefftobe.com or contact him at (412) 373-6592. To receive a free report on how to combat your clients’ silence, write your name on your letterhead with the words “Sounds of Silence” and fax it to (412) 373-8773.