Q: I am inundated by emails from people who have started businesses. It's impossible to know who is and isn't successful. I've had a colorful career — from odd independent jobs to dead-end jobs. I've had no job search guidance and my parents' motto is "do what you have to do." They've had regular jobs all their lives and think of me as their wild card. They admire my creativity and courage, but can't help me make decisions. I'd like good advice before I start. If I fail after knowing what I was getting into, then it's OK.
A: It's important to know who to listen to for business advice, since many people are willing to offer it with or without knowing the facts. Bruce Tulgan, author of 20 business books and CEO of Rainmaker Thinking, a management training and consultant firm, has worked with managers and entrepreneurs since 1995. His experience and field studies have revealed what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Tulgan says, "Entrepreneurs must be self-starting high performers who have lots of ideas and high energy." If you lack these qualities, you may not have what it takes to create a successful venture because the first person you must manage is yourself. If you don't know how to move forward in a particular direction, you will be unable to guide those you hire.
When hiring employees, no matter how few, pay close attention to their people skills. A person must have the hard skills needed for the job, but according to Tulgan's 2016 survey, soft skills are more important. The lack of soft skills is the biggest cause of failure. Soft skills include clear communication, self-awareness, interpersonal/social interaction/manners, listening, teamwork, leadership, adaptability/flexibility, problem-solving, decision-making, stress management, time management, and confidence — not arrogance. But hiring good people isn't enough.
A good boss interacts with direct-report-employees daily. Avoiding direct communication can create unnecessary problems that continue for days, weeks, or months, and get out of control before anyone notices. A lack of communication allows low performers to hide in their failures, while high performers see the problems and leave. Overall, the result will be low morale and continued failures. To guard against this, you need one-on-one meetings, as well as team meetings. Employees must learn how to be good self-managers and good followers, all showing they can take personal responsibility and exhibit a service mindset.
Keep in mind that with only two or three employees, you will be creating your company culture, either by design or by default. As a successful entrepreneur, you will want a culture of high performance, accountability, strong leaders who can also follow when needed, and solid teamwork where every member engages in clear communication in all directions, minus the proverbial red tape.
When you recognize a problem, deal with it at that time. Nothing is more destructive to a company than a weak or flawed leader. Ultimately, your success will stem from your creativity and communication, leadership, and implementation ability. You will need to be the life-long learner you wish for your employees to be.
According to the Small Business Administration, 50 percent of businesses fail in the first year; 66 percent of small businesses fail in the first two years. Here's why: The business owner can't pay the bills; is selling something people don't want; has a product that isn't cost-effective; doesn't have skills to manage the business and doesn't want to learn; doesn't know how to build a team and doesn't know how to scale and grow a business. No matter how small your business may be, get information from www.sba.gov and www.SCORE.org.
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