15 Business Tips Every Entrepreneur Should Know

Image credit: Shutterstock

Image credit: Shutterstock

The biggest problem founders and small business owners have is that they’re experts in their field and novices in what it really takes to effectively run a business. That’s what usually trips them up, sooner or later.

Don’t let that happen to you. Admit that you don’t know what you don’t know about business, starting with these 15 tips guaranteed to help keep you and your company out of hot water. Some are straightforward, others are counterintuitive, but they’re all true. And some day they’ll save your butt.

Always make sure there is and will be enough cash in the bank.
Period. The most common business-failure mode, hands down, is running out of cash. If you know you’ve got a cash flow or liquidity problem coming up, fix it now.

You can’t fire bad employees fast enough.
You just can’t. Just make sure you know they’re the problem, not you (see next tip).

The problem is probably you.
When I was a young manager, my company sent us all to a week of quality training where the most important concept we learned was that 90 percent of all problems are management problems. When things aren’t going well, the first place to look for answers is in the mirror.

Take care of your stars.
This goes for every company, big and small. The cost of losing a star employee is enormous, yet business leaders rarely take the time to ensure their top performers are properly motivated, challenged, and compensated.

Your people are not your kids, your personal assistants, or your shrink.
If you use and abuse them that way, you will come to regret it. Capiche?

Learn to say “yes” and “no” a lot.
The two most important words business owners and founders have at their disposal are “yes” and “no.” Learn to say them a lot. And that means being decisive. The most important reason to focus – to be clear on what your company does – is to be clear on all the things it doesn’t do.

Listen to your customers.
It boggles my mind how little most entrepreneurs value their customers when, not only are their feedback and input among the most critical information they will ever learn, but their repeat business is the easiest business to get.

Learn two words: meritocracy and nepotism.
The first is how you run an organization – by recognizing, rewarding, and compensating based solely on ability and achievement. The second is how you don’t run an organization – by playing favorites and being biased.

Know when and when not to be transparent.
Transparency is as detrimental at some times as it is beneficial at others. There are times to share openly and times to zip it. You need to know when and with whom to do one versus the other. It comes with experience.

Trust your gut.
This phrase is often repeated but rarely understood. It means that your own instincts are an extremely valuable decision-making tool. Too often we end up saying in retrospect and with regret, “Damn, I knew that was a bad idea.” But the key is to know how to access your instincts. Just sit, be quiet, and listen to yourself.

Protect and defend your intellectual property.
Most of you don’t know the difference between a copyright, trademark, trade secret, and patent. That’s not acceptable. If you don’t protect and defend your IP, you will lose your only competitive advantage.

Learn to read and write effective agreements.
You know the expression “good fences make good neighbors?” It’s the same in business. The more effective your agreements are, the better your business relationships will be.

Run your business like a business.
Far too many entrepreneurs run their business like an extension of their personal finances. Bad idea. Very bad idea. Construct the right business entity and keep it separate from your personal life.

Know your finances inside and out.
If you don’t know your revenues, expenses, capital requirements, profits (gross and net), debt, cash flow, and effective tax rate – among other things – you’re asking for trouble. Big trouble.

You don’t know what you don’t know.
Humility is a powerful trait for leaders, and that goes for new business owners, veteran CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and everyone in between. More times than not, you will come to regret thinking you knew all the answers.

Behind every failed company are dysfunctional, delusional, or incompetent business leaders. The irony is, none of them had the slightest idea that was true at the time. Even sadder, most of them still don’t. Don’t end up like one of them.

7 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Invest in Themselves

Image credit: shutterstock

Image credit: shutterstock


Startup entrepreneurs often go it alone or almost alone, serving every function in their new companies. They are the idea people, the passionate leaders, the team builders, engineers, marketing experts, logistics officers, bookkeepers and strategists all in one.

The reality is that often this phase is necessary. That means that one of the most challenging things for the startup-minded to do is to keep investing, keep building their own personal skills and abilities. Time and focus-wise, it’s a monumental challenge. Most entrepreneurs skip the personal investments because those investments seem disconnected from their businesses and products. If an entrepreneur has an extra hour, for example, many prefer to invest in their company over investing in themselves.

The problem with that approach is that most entrepreneurs are their brands and products.

Moreover, if you can take a step back and see that your entire entrepreneurial venture rests on a single set of shoulders, it makes business sense to ensure that those shoulders are as prepared, as skilled and as strong as possible. That means investing in yourself because, from that perspective, it’s the same as investing in your product.

Because entrepreneurs spend so little time thinking about boosting their personal skills and strengths, remaining focused on their work, they often don’t know where to start. Since I’ve spent most of my professional life at the intersection of business and education, I have a few suggestions on how you can keep making investments in yourself, even if you’re an overwhelmed entrepreneur. Here are seven:

Go to school

Few things do more to enhance both your credibility and intellectual capacity than higher education. The learning environment itself can provide new connections and spark creativity. There are incubators offering specialized training now in every city. Finishing your degree or starting a new one can make a big difference and just about every school has a part-time or returning student or executive program.

Teach

A school environment is just as powerful if you’re teaching. And, like an advanced degree, being a teacher confers a great deal of credibility. Teaching also forces you to know what you’re teaching at expert level, confront and consider new ideas and explain things in new ways. If you’re an expert in something, reach out to community learning programs or colleges in your area and get in the classroom.

Online program

While the online learning environment is still buyer beware, more and more very credible institutions and incubators are offering online courses and programs. It’s possible to earn certifications in a variety of business-related subjects from places such as Harvard or Stanford or any number of state universities. Even if you’re just exercising your mind or staying up-to-date on current topics and trends, it’s a good investment.

Read unrelated things

If you’re a reader, make sure your reading list includes topics that are unrelated to your business endeavors. Read crime thrillers or romance novels or theoretical physics – whatever will distract you from your hour-to-hour obsessions. Giving your mind a break will inspire creative problem solving and invigorate your work when you return to it. Just a few hours a week of reading about ants or Adam Ant can make a big difference.

“I read spy and espionage thrillers exactly because they district me from trying to run and grow my business,” said Edgar M. Duarte of Duarte Monteiro Group in Miami. “If I read all business books or things in my field, I’d absolutely get sick of it. Taking a mental break allows me to really focus on business when I need to.”

Physical health

Among the biggest oversights entrepreneurs make is neglecting their physical health. If your ability to work is the most essential thing to your business success, it makes no sense to risk it. I know how hard it is, but get to the gym, make good health and diet choices. Take vacations. As with all these suggestions, staying healthy is an investment in your business – it may help to think of it that way.

Co-working

Consider moving yourself and your business to a co-working community. The collaborative, entrepreneurial spirit of shared ambition and sacrifice can be intoxicating and empowering. By co-locating, you’ll find mentors, partners and different-thinkers – all of whom can add to your personal growth and strategic creativity.

Network

Join organizations and attend events. Most people view networking as opportunities to advance their businesses. But they are just as important in building personal connections – assets you can take with you from project to project or business to business. Investing in networking and getting to know your network personally will increase your personal reach and capacity.