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Seven Steps for Start-ups

Posted on 11.01.2007

And established Web businesses too!

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As a veteran business owner, I’ve taken my share of bumps and bruises. While starting and growing your own business can be an incredibly rewarding experience, it can be just as humbling. You can feel like Superman one moment and the village idiot the next. So, it’s important to have a solid foundation, a good business plan and some reliable resources.


1. Keep Your Ear to the Ground

By taking the time to read this issue of Website Magazine, you’re taking a good first step to the holy grail of business growth — knowing your industry. Particularly with the Web and IT, the business climate and technology are changing at a blinding rate.

While magazines and books are a great start, you need to do more. Blogs and forums are particularly good for finding new events and assessing the industry’s take on a breaking piece of news or new technology. But most of the time, this information is not edited and contains more opinion than fact. So, use your street smarts and be sure to feed your brain a steady diet from mainstream sources like magazines and established websites.

Magazines, blogs and forums are terrific resources for getting your daily dose, but getting out, pressing the flesh and attending conferences is a must. Meeting your contacts face-to-face and talking shop over coffee can take a relationship to a deeper level.


2. Feed Your Relationships

A lot of folks talk about networking as if it is the nexus of business. It is. However, if not done properly, your efforts will be wasted and you could even damage your credibility.

Networking with colleagues, vendors and other people important to your business should be seen for what it is — relationship development. And just as you need to work and feed other relationships in your life (i.e. friends, spouse, children), you need to be an active and giving partner in your professional relationships.

Understand the challenges your associates face and help them. As your professional network grows, you’ll have access to more and more people — all with their own skill sets and resources. So, when your Web host complains about dealing with charge backs, you can refer them to your credit card processing rep. As you understand your partners’ resources and problems, new avenues for networking will undoubtedly appear.


3. Honesty Counts

As with any relationship, honesty and good faith with your business partners, employees and vendors are crucial to preserving your business’ integrity. Sometimes, this means sacrificing your own needs in order to further a relationship. It’s a small price to pay in the short term, which ultimately will provide dividends by building a larger and more trusted network of colleagues.

4. Use Leverage

Leverage is a key principle of starting and growing a business. If you’re currently responsible for managing staff, then you know what I mean. As a business owner, I’ve drafted contracts, hired new staff, reviewed financials and cleaned the toilets — all within the same week.

Sometimes, we need to do these things to make the business work. However, as your business grows, you need to understand which parts of that business can be broken down and handed to other people. This could mean your staff, outsourcing to other companies or even hiring professionals, like accountants and attorneys.

As you find new opportunities to leverage the time and experience of others, be careful to clearly outline your expectations. Depending on the scope of the work (i.e. account reconciliation, sales, etc), it is helpful to establish a specific reporting routine and measure your progress against goals set forth by you and your staff. Once this is done, the hardest part for many business owners is simply letting go and allowing others to handle your work.


5. Have a Backup

A few years ago, I was working with a broker to sell a business I owned. After three months of interviewing potential buyers, we had a handful of possible deals to select from. As would be expected, several fell through right at the beginning.

A few weeks later, we had three deals on the table and entered due diligence with the highest bidder. The buyer placed funds in escrow and I began collecting information from my staff to provide to the buyer. Over the next week, the buyer becomes increasingly non-communicative but, according to the broker, is still interested. We kept trying to make contact.

Gut instinct told me that the buyer was no longer interested and an ultimatum was delivered. So when the buyer failed to provide a response, I knew it was time to go to my backup deals. Within 36 hours we had a deal with another buyer and, two weeks later, a completed closing on the sale of the company.


6. Always Pack Your Parachute

Hopefully, the aforementioned example shows the importance of having a backup for deals that you might have, or think you have at any given time. This includes deals for partnerships with vendors, clients and even employees. However, as a business owner you need to be conscious of the fact that you’re working without a net and, as a result, need a backup plan.

The best time to plan your escape is before you’re in danger. If things don’t turn out as planned, how much risk are you willing to tolerate while trying to turn the business around? New businesses need time to mature, but sometimes it takes more time and money than planned. Before launching your business, you need to think of some possible scenarios and how to deal with them.

As a professional in the Web space, you should already be keeping up with trends and maintaining and expanding your network. Both of these activities will help you and your business. If you need to close, sell or otherwise dissolve your business, maintaining your contacts and an intimate knowledge of the industry will only make you more employable.


7. Make Time For #1

Being a business owner makes you an executive. You need to have executive poise, presence, awareness and work ethic. As would be expected with any executive position, your role as business owner will place extraordinary demands on your time. Therefore, it is vital to find ways to renew and improve yourself.

Notice that I used the word ‘renew’ and not ‘rest.’ There is a difference. Simply sitting in front of the TV and watching re-runs of 24 doesn’t do anything to break the fatigue of running a business. You need to find a reason why. Running a business can be fun and exciting but it is simply a means to an end. Working five or six seventy hour work weeks in a row has the tendency to make anyone forget why they’re working hard in the first place.

Find something you love and work at it. This could be anything from woodwork to tennis. The stress of business is what drove me to my favorite hobby. Working day in and day out with little rest, I found that going out for a good 5k or 10k run a couple of times every week helped me deal with stress and gave my brain a break from constantly thinking about my business.

In the end, running a successful business is a monumental task. It takes emotional balance, strength, patience and stamina to make it to the finish line. So, whether you’re already a netprenuer or aspiring to be one; set a business plan, follow these time-tested guidelines and make the most of your available resources — one of the advantages of a Web-based business is having many valuable tools at your fingertips.

About the Author: Josh Ewin has enjoyed a decade-long career in website development, planning, marketing and production. He led the startup development of three successful Internet companies before currently working on a yet-to-be released project. Find out more at www.mrewin.com.
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