Entrepreneurial spirit has never been as robust and widespread as it is today. Older workers who have been laid off, or retired, as well as young newbies to the business world are starting businesses in every conceivable niche one can imagine.
For those who have already taken that leap as well as anyone who is thinking about it, here is what I call the Thirteen Commandments (a baker’s dozen) for entrepreneurial success. Most of them I have learned by doing them wrong at one time or another.
  1. Play to your strengths. Don’t jump into a business just because you see someone else having success at it. If it is not something that enables and requires you to do the things you are really good at doing, it is not for you. Maybe you are good a selling something, or fixing something, or creating something. Whatever it is, if you are going to start a business, be sure that it is one that involves you doing what you are exceptionally good at doing.
  2. Do something that makes you feel good for having done it. Knowing that what you do has created a positive impact for others as well as for yourself will give you an ongoing tool for perseverance in challenging times.
  3. Do what you say you will do when you say you will do it. Customers, whether they are consumers or other businesses, want to know that if they do business with you, they can count on you to provide them with what they want, when they want it. If you can do that one simple thing, you will separate yourself from the great majority of your competition. This action also applies to your dealings with vendors. If your business relies on others who provide you with essential products or services, they will (more often than not) run through a brick wall for you if you treat them right.
  4. Make a list…every day. Decide at the end of every day what you intend to accomplish the next day, and don’t stop until you complete everything on that list. Not only will it increase your productivity by keeping you focused, it will give you a sense of accomplishment that is critical in reaching your objectives.
  5. Be resilient. There are going to be setbacks, things that do not work out as you planned, and others that you deal with who will fail to perform. Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Just resolve to find another way to accomplish the task at hand. Some of your best discoveries of what works will come from “Plan B.” Some of my greatest efforts have resulted in nothing, but some of my greatest successes have come out of nowhere. Those things even out over time.
  6. Know your market. One of the biggest sins a new business can make involves trying to sell something to people who cannot buy. Another is trying to sell something to someone just to get the sale. If what you have to sell does not make your customer better off, back off. Focus your energies on someone who will benefit from what you do. You will also sleep better.
  7. Understand that you cannot be everything to everybody. If your customer needs something that you do not have or cannot do, you are much better off by referring them to someone who can provide what they need than you are by falling short in your own efforts when you step out of your area of competence.
  8. Do not spend ten-dollar time on ten-cent tasks. This may very well be one of the most common causes of business mediocrity or failure. If for example, you determine that your efforts produce a return of $200 per hour by calling on customers, you do not save money by doing tasks yourself that you can pay someone else $10 per hour to accomplish. Do not remove yourself from what generates your revenue to take care of menial, time-consuming tasks that others can do.
  9. Talk to people. When I first started my recruiting business, I called an old friend that I had worked with in another company when I had just finished school. He had been in the recruiting business for a few years and had done very well. I asked him what he thought was the most important element of success, and he simply said, “Talk to people.” You have to let people know what you do. At least twenty five percent of my business has come from people who do not need my services, but who referred others to me who do need what I do.
  10. Do not accept marginal business. Most businesses learn this the hard way, as I did. If getting an order or a new customer requires you to compromise on quality in your product or how you perform your service, it is a losing proposition. Sometimes you will have to walk away from business. However, marginal business will hurt you in one of two ways…maybe both. You will either have to lower your price to a point where you cannot make any money, or you will have to cut expenses by eliminating essential elements of quality and therefore deliver an inferior product or performance. Either way, you lose, and so does your customer in the long run. You cannot maintain that manner of business. The most effective way to learn this lesson is to have your time and resources tied up in marginal business when good business presents itself and you cannot accept it, but it’s a lot less painful if you just take my word for it.
  11. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Without even looking for them, you will see all kinds of statistics about how many businesses fail within five years. I think those statistics are probably true, but I also think that most (not all) of them got into business for all the wrong reasons or, more commonly, without a plan. If you start just to make money but do not enjoy it, you will fail. If you think you will succeed just by working hard, but without a clear sense of direction, you will fail. However, I have always believed and have seen it more times than I can count, that in any business, there is always room for a good one. There will be a lot of well-meaning people who will tell you all the reasons why you should not start your own business, but if you like what you do, you do it very, very well, and you do not let setbacks derail you, you will succeed, no matter how many others are doing it besides you.
  12. Remember that almost all businesses run in cycles. There will be great times when you think you have it all figured out, and lean times when you will ask, “What the hell was I thinking???” Neither of them will last forever. Put something away in the good times to get you through the lean times. You will pick up business during recoveries that was abandoned by those who do not make it.
  13. Have a diversion that helps you think about something else and relax. Exercise, reading, a hobby…whatever works for you. You need a break from thinking about business all the time. Truthfully, when you’re in your own business, it’s always simmering in the furthest recesses of your mind, but you will operate a lot better when you can come back to it with a fresh head after some activity that takes you away from it.
When people ask me what it’s like to be in your own business, I tell them that is a lot like being an animal in the forest. You know there is food out there, somewhere. You just have to find it. Some days you may run across it easily...maybe it even comes to you...and some days no matter what you do, you cannot find anything. Remember that it’s a numbers game. If you do the right things, the right way, enough times, you will be one of those who defies the statistics.
Ken Murdock is the owner of Murdock and Associates Recruiters and New Wave Resumes. He recruits top talent in sales, project management, accounting/finance, manufacturing operations, and engineering for the manufacturing sector, oil & gas, construction, and the packaging industry. New Wave Résumés offers professional résumés and interview coaching for executives, mid-level professionals, recent graduates, and anyone seeking to take their skills and talents to a higher level.