All I knew about business was nil before the business study and review of 2022.
Now – after dozens of articles read and hours of education from books and virtual mentors – all I know about business comes down to a few key points. I share these with you to save your time and brainpower. Sound good?
Before going on: What doesn’t sound good is considering me or any of this as legal or financial advice. As this post mentions, go seek out the licensed and recognized professionals. Treat the below as the starting blocks on the tracks – up to you to run (and win) the race~
Before You Begin: Vision & Values
Note: Many folks would suggest getting ideas for business as the first thing before starting said business. That is junk. Ideas are cheaper than dirt and often less useful. Ideas and intentions are nothing – actions and executions are everything.
Before anything ought be done, the means of deciding direction for the business, the foundation of deciding how to decide, need to be reflected on. Getting this right filters ideas and efforts into what will “move the needle” and define what that needle even is.
Some less-tangible principles ought include:
- Do not sell suffering.
- Do not sell suffering! (So important, it lists twice!)
- Competition is for chumps; fight unfair. (What are you willing to do or leverage?)
More solid tenants of putting together a business include:
- Never choose the lowest offer nor the safest / more conservative route.
- Find the missing services and underserved populations for open markets.
- Listen to symptoms for they are valid. Curing causes is your service and product.
Use all of this to make a business plan that outlines the ‘thing’ to be sold.
The ways to make a business plan are plentiful, but I am a fan of the 5-page Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (“G.I. Bill”) that has served many millions who have served in the United States military forces over more than half a century. If your entire business model can’t be read in 15 minutes or less, rethink it.
Remove, Butcher, Reduce!
Simple concept here: FOCUS.
Doing too much – whether starting or maintaining a business – leads to disaster. A business or business owner doing too much does the work of dividing and conquering itself, work that ought to be left up to the competition.
Concentrating forces is an ageless tenant of armed conflict which applies directly to making and keeping gains in a hostile marketplace. This is valuable for both physical effort and psychological branding.
Think: The word “Coke” brings to mind soft drinks – its focus – though the business owns and operates much more. “Google” has become synonymous for online searching and got to that point well before Alphabet ever branched to other markets. Amazon was the best at selling books (then other media) online for years before branching outside literature to additional products and departments.
Niche down so the first and second place providers make up at least ~10% of the chosen market. Prove at least on paper the business is to be the #1 or #2 choice in the market.
Again with “competition is for chumps:” if you cannot be the best, best not bother!
Same applies to the owner – sometimes wearing a lot of hats is necessitated in an emergency. I might not go to a dentist for kidney surgery, but I would rely on their training in a pinch given a medical emergency!
So for anyone in the business, wearing too many hats is a division of attention and effort, the context switching a burden to the business. Therefore, owners (and businesses) must find what they are great at, do and only do that, and hire out or drop everything else.
Getting to the ‘Great At’
Glad to see my conclusions written on before apply here too.
What can the business be great at? Figure it with a few (or all) of these:
- Use 80/20 (really, 90/10) lists of strengths.
- Simplify – what makes all else unnecessary?
- What gets the people in the business excited to work on indefinitely?
- Name the thing that can be exponentially scalable and repeatable regardless of person (e.g. templates, automation, one-and-done products, standard operating procedures, etc.).
And perhaps the most important tidbit if the thing is truly great: not-to-do lists.
What is lame? Unexciting? What is the business and people in it actively bad at? If it does not jeopardize some mundane necessity of the business, delegate it to the outside or drop it entirely.
The bad and lame stuff is easy to avoid doing. What about the merely good? The trivially fun parts or areas that “should” be tackled? Warren Buffet has a famous exercise on making not-to-do lists:
Make a list of 25 goals / strengths / et. al, then circle the top / most important / greatest leverage 5 goals. Those 5 need a plan of action started on immediately. The other 20? DO NOT DO AT ANY COST. Avoid like the plague! At least until some of the primary things are accomplished and proven steady.
Right Butts, Right Seats
Finished Good to Great by Jim Collins before ’22’s end. Jim, others, and I agree: getting the right people into the business and onto the right tasks is required for successful business operation.
Hiring the right folks feeds into doing less: efficient people working on business-efficient tasks contributes to a virtuous circle of improvement.* Fewer people are required when only the business-best are kept in house while the sometimes-needed work is done elsewhere.
*Note: Every ‘thing’ done is done in support of the business’s operations (never just because of the business). Whether the thing is given for free to help build target audience trust, adds to a backlog of deployable things, eases the future making of things, or is sold immediately, it must contribute to progressing operations.
Though not exhaustive by any means, some folks here are those who ought be specialists doing only what they do best:
- Technology / Programmers
- Creatives / Artists / Writers
- Financiers / Accountants / Sales
- Attorneys / Policy Enforcers
- Business Leaders / Public Faces
Depending on business needs, these specialists may only be needed occasionally so their seats should be hired out.
Out of all of the above, ‘Business Leaders,’ i.e. management, should be kept at the barest of minimums. Efficient people need less oversight: they find work, they do work, they deliver work, and they discipline themselves to keep being efficient every day. Traditional management is made redundant by having the right butts in the right seats.
Marketing Is King
Virtually no-one and no resource failed to mention the importance of marketing.
The short story is: Market. The long story: MARKET MARKET MARKET.
But how? An answer should be a different post since I loathe doing my own marketing (really, a massive weakness). Yet other folks offer their tidbits:
- Out of sight, out of mind, and a business never wants to be out of mind.
- Know the business target and their pains / aspirations; offer solutions frequently, some for free.
- Have press kits (a repeatable, one-and-done process).
- Network like a fiend; be everywhere.
- Again, give at least 51% of value for free, but never fail to “ask for the order.”
Building a target audience means building loyalty. Giving resources (tools, a challenge to self-select) to the audience proves the business’s loyalty to them. If 1,000 true fans can be made excited for the business offer, the business will be just fine.
But always remember these two points: First impressions count, and, trust between two parties is like a string – once broken, it can be retied, but shall always have the knot in between them (parable paraphrase).
Cash Is King
Marketing still takes the bigger crown, yet it must pay tribute to cash.
Cash is payroll. Cash is product. Cash is service. Cash is survivability. Cash is the very lifeblood of the business. Cash is king.
If a business cannot survive, it is nothing. Thereby, a business must keep its cash and get more cash.
Keeping cash involves cutting costs. Between there only being only so much one can cut and needing to spend well enough to ensure the best people do not leave their seats, cutting costs is a poor business’s desperation that is too easily taken too far.
To get more cash, a few things help that we’ve covered before here (seeing that virtuous circle in action!):
- Ask for everything (especially the order!).
- Do not offer to pay before the price is set (heck, it might come free).
- Spend another’s money – loans, pre-orders, subscriptions, and externalized-cost resources are primary tools in the cash belt.
- Recurring revenue models trump single-purchase things every time – go get that subscription! Or, “give away razors to sell razor blades.”
- Invest in good bookkeeping – paying less in taxes is not a goal, but can be a perk.
JUST DO IT
Make a plan. Act on it. Just do it. Today, immediately after reading this post. Go go go!
Pontificating about business is like an idea: Virtually worthless. A seed in the ground that bears neither shade nor fruit.
Really, ends make the means in business. And a business only gets to the end by starting now. Get the principles and plan together, complete the legal stuff of business creation, and get to it.
Running a business is a job. The owner an employee. This person is the bottom-rung employee. They will do the most great work, and the most trivial, unfun junk so that the right people can keep doing their business-add work.
The grind as the lowest totem on the pole will last, and it will last a while. General advice to new business owners: Do not give in until at least a year is past putting in those long days and weeks.
Review, Reflect, Inspect, Pivot
While launching this new thing of business, course correct along the way. Test prices and offers. Collect data point and metric possible on both the target audience and internal operations. Pause, review, and reflect on these findings.
Sometimes close inspection of the business and the market might require a pivot. This might be a new approach to the ‘thing’ of the business, or it might require a complete change of horse.
Examples: Big-box Walmart is putting an end to the dime store, the business’s core service? Best to ditch the dime stores in favor of the changing environment. Netflix is sending rented DVDs straight to the mailbox? Either Blockbuster needs to make a better offer for sending DVDs, change how or what it rents, or close shop.
Ultimately, a business must also consider what a fundamental end looks like – when to give up, when to sell, or when and if to grow after a year’s or decade’s diligence. General advice is to start now, but when to hang up the towel or venture forth from a well-established niche is up to the context and temperament of the business.
Last Bit of Business
In all this study, I came up with my own thoughts of things or picked up interesting notions along the way:
- Envision success, failure, and an exit to anything, i.e. plan.
- Remove those who would criticize a venture without a critique of how to make it work.
- Obligations: Sleep is #1, work is #2, study and review #3, and leisure or other obligations #4 in the first year (#3 and #4 could be interchanged). If this cannot be afforded, re-evaluate if a business is the right choice for you at this time.
- A business takes a long time to build, but no time to destroy.
- For any business operator, forgive yourself for the lost opportunities spent on making the business come to fruition.
That is all I know about business, folks.
Like any field of study, we could go so, so much deeper into the topic of business. If interested, there are great folks out there who have much better expertise than I in these things.
Wrote this post as a reference to my future self that – should I take the opportunity to get into business again – can save a bit of time. Any other points you would add that seem to be universals?
In the meantime, I hope these work as principles for you in your professional, personal, and social ventures! Cheers to your successes ~