by Jim Martin
Don’t be afraid to take risks. You cannot succeed without taking risks. The simply act of opening a business is a risk. If you never take a risk, you will never offer anything that is not already available in the market. Being novel is a risk. If you interview a prospective employee that you feel good about, but who doesn’t meet the metrics you defined for the job, take the risk and hire her. You can always teach here the metrics later, but you can’t teach others to have what attracted you to her. Some business decisions are high risk; some are low risk. Let your judgment rather than your fear direct your answers.
Don’t be afraid that your product isn’t good enough. Some entrepreneurs treat production as if it was another beta test. They are constantly changing the process in order to tweak the product. They confuse their employees, spend more than they should and watch the market pass them by because they didn’t think they were ready to participate. When your product does what you wanted it to do, take it to market. Stop fearing that it isn’t there yet.
Don’t be afraid of technology. Automate everything you can. Computers and other high-tech items can simplify your efforts and (in many cases) let you shorten your product’s development. They can keep track of your employee’s hours better than you can with a pencil and scratchpad. They can be programmed to look for warning signs of problems that might be costlier to fix if you waited until your customers complained. And the technology of social media can help you reach more potential customers in less time than conventional market techniques. Rather than fear machines, go to your local junior college and enroll in a night class that will teach you how to better use them.
Don’t be afraid of the competition. Make them afraid of you. Pay attention to the competition, but don’t try to copy them. Instead, stay ahead of them. Watch your market and anticipate its trends. The firms that win are those who make the best (and most intelligent) estimates of what to develop for their next generation of business.
Don’t be afraid to delegate. If you want to have enough time to act on the items above, you won’t be able to do it all yourself, or even to micromanage your staff. If your employees are worth what you pay them, then you ought to trust them. The more of your routine you offload to your staff, the more time you will have to do the more important things, like making key decisions and planning for your business’ future. Spend the time you save through low level delegation to train your employees for higher levels of delegation. An added bonus is that the employees who are given more responsibility will become more motivated and more creative.
Don’t be afraid of managing your money. There are two aspects to this. First, some managers are so terrified by bookkeeping that the turn all of the financial questions over to their CPA. The downside of this is a tendency to ask whether they can afford to buy a new piece of equipment when the question should be how they will pay for the new equipment (assuming the equipment is needed). Your CPA can offer advice, but he should never make the spending decisions.
That out of the way, let’s look at the second half of this fear. Because many managers are afraid of managing their money, they don’t realize how they can use financial management to the benefit of their cash flow. For example, when you pay bills when they are due rather than when they come in, you can keep a lot of your money “in float.” If you keep your business’ money in an interest paying checking account, you can earn a little extra each month (although I will admit that current interest rates are truly anemic). Be careful that you don’t stretch your payments beyond what your suppliers view as reasonable—you could earn yourself a bad credit rating. You can also gain more use of your money by timing some purchases. If you have suppliers with good delivery records, set your delivery dates just a few days ahead of when you need their product (but place the orders well in advance so you help your suppliers’ planning). You don’t want to live on the financial edge, but you do want to be close to it.
Don’t be afraid to change suppliers. If you check around, you may be able to get lower rates for utilities, insurance and other overhead expenses. If you check with your suppliers, you might be able to get them to give you discounts. If they don’t, you might find other sources for the same items who will. But don’t keep your supply lines in a constant churn. You should investigate these possibilities every couple of years, and continue to reward those who provide you good service. Also, before you switch, check with those who have used your new source to make sure they perform as they claim.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to seek advice. You have to make your own decisions, but you don’t have to do it in a vacuum. On minor decisions, you actually improve morale if you ask your more experienced employees what they might do in a given situation. When you socially interact with other entrepreneurs, ask them if they encounter similar problems, and how they resolve them. Be really daring and get yourself a SCORE mentor. SCORE volunteers provide free mentoring to a wide range of businesses, and they have decades of experience that you can apply to many of the problems that might arise in your business. Go to our web site and you’ll find the process easy.
If you’ve ever watched a great NFL running back, you’ve probably noted that they run toward groups of linemen who outweigh the runner by a hundred pounds each. What the commentators say (and what interviews confirm) is that they have no fear. They get buried under two tackles and a nose guard, and they smile defiantly when they get up. Become the running back for your business. Conquer fear.