There are many good books about becoming an entrepreneur– they cover topics ranging from funding strategies to establishing customers.The internet is also full of advice about how to start a business and the best practices required for entrepreneurial success.
I started my first company fifteen years ago. I had no experience as an entrepreneur, and to a large extent, was learning from on-the-job experience. I certainly made mistakes early on. But I also did a few things right.
There were five steps I did take in the first few days of starting my company. These are not typically found in how-to books or considered when starting a new company. But I am convinced they are some of the most critical steps for any new business owner to take. After 15 years of success and more than$1 billion in revenues later, I now realize these steps made a significant contribution to my success.
1. Very early on, I took the time to develop my company’s principles and values. I created a document that defined how my company would work with others, conduct its business and treat employees.These principles and values also established our company’s culture. Many new entrepreneurs consider this as unimportant. They believe this document should come later after the business grows. I could not disagree more. Developing a written set of principles and values at the onset provided direction and shaped the vision for my company. Today, these same principles and values continue to guide my firm, even though they were developed 15 years ago.
2. I began the process of strategic planning in year one. Also, though we only had a handful of employees, we made it a purpose to meet and develop our goals and initiatives. Now we have employees located throughout the U.S. – yet we continue our strategic planning process, engaging the entire company. It continues to define how we operate as a business.
3. I made sure my company presented a perception of professionalism. I realized I would be competing with much larger and well-established firms. To effectively compete, we could not appear to be a “mom and pop”organization. I rented professional office space. I got a business address. I hired a person to answer the phones. I developed my logo, letterheads, website and other documents before opening. This demonstrated a viable company, and nota temporary start-up that may not survive the next year.
4. I did not make any significant changes as to how others may perceive me as a business person. I had never worn hoodies and flip-flops to the office before, so I didn’t start. If an out-of-town client requested a meeting, I took a flight and went to his office. I rented excellent conference spaces for meetings.If I took a client to lunch, we would still go to a nice restaurant. We were anew business, so money was tight. But I realized that perception was important.When dealing with a new business, customers take note of details. They use a different lens than used for a mature business. If those details lead to a negative perception, chances for success diminished.
5. I made sure I had a network of mentors and advisors to rely upon. When working for a company, you are surrounded by colleagues and bosses. They provide guidance and advice. Starting a new business can be lonely and requires long hours. It’s common for new entrepreneurs to retreat into a work-shell, focused on going at it alone. I made sure I did not become a lone wolf. I took the time to engage often with my partners, and used mentors as sounding boards. Much of the advice I received from them in my first year made the difference between failure and success in the years to come.
Of course, there is no guaranteed recipe for success when starting a business. But there are necessary tactics and strategies to follow. It can sometimes be the seemingly less critical actions that will lead to success and longevity. The steps described above will serve any new entrepreneur well, and each should be considered in the first few days of starting any new company.
Brian T. King is the founder and owner of multiple firms encompassing design, construction, real estate, and manufacturing, and currently president of the integrated Design-Build firm A M King. Brian shares his passion for mentoring young professionals, rising managers and entrepreneurs at speaking engagements around the country, on podcasts and via his blog.