Most successful entrepreneurs share some common qualities that may impact their prosperity, including discipline, confidence, motivation, and persistence. However, business owners won’t find success overnight simply by possessing these characteristics. Entrepreneur and public intellectual, Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, has developed a set of guidelines you can use to help you launch a profitable startup.
Terrell Strayhorn is the founding Chief Executive Officer and President of Do Good Work Educational Consulting Group. His company is a private education research firm devoted to strengthening families and communities, speaking out against oppression and injustice, advocating for social change, and promoting student success by partnering with leading colleges and schools. Before starting his own company, Strayhorn has served in progressively responsible faculty and administrative roles at major universities and continues to teach today.
Strayhorn has outlined ten rules for you to follow, which have helped him thrive as an entrepreneur:
Don’t fear failure
Many aspiring entrepreneurs let the fear of failure stop them before they even have a chance to get started. The fear of humiliation and inadequacy are strong factors in deterring individuals from breaking out and starting something on their own. In regard to launching his own company, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, stated, “I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t regret that. But I knew the one thing I might regret is not having ever tried. I knew that would haunt me every day.” To manage your fears, Strayhorn suggests taking ‘calculated risks.’ For instance, to determine if your business idea is worth the risk, engage in thorough research to establish whether there is a sufficient market for your product or service. If there is enough evidence to suggest your business venture could gain viable traction, this should reduce your fears enough to allow you to move forward. For instance, we now offer campus climate audits and surveys to our clients at Do Good Work. Before adding this service, I pressure-checked it with a group of presidents and provosts with whom we’ve worked in the past to see if they saw this as a useful addition. With strong positive response from them, we moved forward with the idea.
Follow your passion
If you are going to start a business, then it needs to be a project that you are passionate about so that you are motivated to work hard and see it through. Launching a company isn’t a walk in the park; it requires tenacity and demanding hours to get it off the ground. Consequently, you must follow your aspirations, as you will spend the majority of your life pursuing your big ideas and dreams. Not to mention, most entrepreneurs will fail at some point, but it’s the passion they hold for their company that fuels them to get back up, brush themselves off, and keep trying. However, if you don’t have an innate sense of devotion to your mission, you will undoubtedly ‘burn out’ as soon as times get tough. Strayhorn asserts that hiring employees that are equally as passionate as yourself will increase your firm’s chances of survival. “I’m blessed to lead a team of incredibly creative, productive professionals who believe in our mission, our impact, and the collective ability of our team.”
Make a plan
While there is an on-going debate over the need for a business plan, Terrell Strayhorn suggests it can enhance business performance and guide all future decisions. By developing a plan, you are preparing yourself for what you can expect once you launch your company. In-depth research will force you to investigate market share, customers, competitors, financial projections, and more – all of which can make or break your startup. Not just that, according to one study with more than 800 aspiring entrepreneurs, creating a business plan increased the chances of actually going into business by two and a half more times. In addition to encouraging founders to follow through with their ideas, developing a plan is essential to secure financing for your company. Most banks and investors want to see a well-thought-out proposal before dishing out monetary support. “A business plan does not need to be complicated or overwhelming; I think it needs to be useful to the entrepreneur and those expected to see and believe in the company.”
Be willing to put in work
Entrepreneurs that have a go-getter attitude and are willing to work hard are more likely to experience success. When you first launch your startup, it’s not uncommon to work grueling hours and have the business occupy your mind at all times. However, Strayhorn stresses that this type of schedule is not sustainable in the long run, and instead suggests ‘working smarter, not harder.’ This means hiring a capable team, finding ways to balance your schedule, and delegating work as necessary. If one person is doing all the work, it will inevitably lead to exhaustion, burn-out, and inevitably mistakes being made. “I probably work at least 70+ hours per week, but the thing I know is that I would have to work even longer hours if I didn’t have such an incredible team of full- and part-time staff. Early on, I worked hundreds of hours each week, but things got better as I rolled out the company.”
Find good people
It’s impossible to grow a company on your own. Be prepared to hire a team of people you can trust, and who hold similar visions for the company as your own. Research by the Harvard Business Review indicates that teams that rate higher in cognitive diversity are more likely to be successful. Groups that exhibit cognitive diversity include people with unique ways of thinking, different viewpoints, and a variety of skill sets. As a result, hiring with cognitive diversity in mind can lead to improved decision-making and increased innovation. However, finding good employees won’t mean anything if they don’t want to work with and for you. As the founder of the company, it is your job to set a warm, judgment-free company culture that attracts and nurtures good talent. “I’ve worked to identify and hire good talent and I trust them and their skills to help get our job done…we’re all different and that’s our greatest strength.”
Outsource tasks you aren’t good at
Is anyone really good at everything? In general, we may have a few outstanding talents, a lot of things we perform mediocrely, and some things we just can’t do. For example, you may have the technical prowess needed to develop your product but lack the business skills needed to market your idea. Websites like Upwork.com and Fivrr.com provide you with access to talented individuals who are skilled in graphic design, web development, financial analysis, copywriting, multimedia production, and much more. Strayhorn believes if you aren’t particularly good at something, it will be a waste of time and resources to attempt it yourself, only to have to hire someone to fix it later. “If I’ve learned anything in business, I have learned that I can’t do everything, and I don’t need to do everything. Neither does my team. We contract and hire ‘temps’ all the time to help us with various projects and deliverables. Outsourcing is the way!”
Know your customers
One of the most important aspects of starting a business is identifying who your customers are. If you can’t determine who would be willing to buy your product, or your niche market is just too small, your company won’t succeed. Therefore, it is important to recognize that without customers, you don’t have a business. According to Strayhorn, experienced entrepreneurs know their clients better than anyone else. At a minimum, companies should know who they are, what they need, and why they need it. Entrepreneurs should also know where to connect with them, such as their favourite social media platforms. Therefore, if you haven’t already, it’s time to learn as much as you can about your future clientele. “I try to spend at least an hour per week to learning more about our clientele. We interview past clients to understand what they need and what problems they face. Knowing your ‘customer’ and putting their needs at center is vital to business success.”
The cost of starting your own business has reached an all-time low. As a result, most business owners are funding their startups out-of-pocket. However, one of the main reasons new businesses are failing is due to poor money management. According to a recent study by U.S. Bank, 82% of small businesses fail because of cash flow problems or a lack of knowledge surrounding cash flow. Strayhorn suggests seeking out an advisor to help your company plan for adequate financing. At the same time, reckless spending on unnecessary items has led entrepreneurs to run out of cash fast. Consequently, make sure you know how much you need at the beginning of your venture while spending wisely to ensure you don’t run out of funds prematurely. “Whenever possible, try to find ways to engage in revenue generating activities that fit your industry.”
Listen to Complaints
Recall, without customers, you don’t have a business. If clients aren’t happy with your products and services, this will be reflected in both your profits and online reviews. Bill Gates once said, “that your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Dissatisfied clients won’t be shy to tell you where and how you messed up. While this may seem awful, successful entrepreneurs use this information to enhance the value they offer their clients. Strayhorn asserts that just because a company has failed to satisfy someone in the past doesn’t necessarily mean they are gone for good. If the company takes responsibility for their mistakes and addresses the issue, most clients will give them another chance. “I can’t underscore enough the importance of good customer service. Things will happen. There will be unexpected delays in communication. Issues with scheduling or logistics. It’s what business owners do to respond to such complaints or problems that really matters most.”
Finally, over-deliver on your promises. If you really want to impress your customers, then give them something they didn’t ask for. Over-delivering will help new brands get noticed and encourage a loyal following of clientele. Strayhorn emphasizes that this method can create a stronger brand image and inspire word-of-mouth marketing.
In conclusion, despite how much we prepare, things are not always going to go as planned. As a business owner, you are going to face unexpected challenges, and you must learn to adapt along the way. “A good example is how the coronavirus (COVID-19) is impacting businesses right now, including our own, with so many colleges and schools moving to ‘online-only.’ We’ve had to adapt and ‘build it as we fly,’ so to speak.” Strayhorn understands that pursuing a career as a successful entrepreneur is not easy. However, given his guidelines above, you are now equipped with a set of strategies to help you embark on your exciting new venture. Go forth and #dogoodwork!