Sometimes all I can do is shake my head. Some business guru’s will make you jump up and down and cheer and sing, and then send you to the back of the room to spend your mortgage on their cd’s and book. Others will proclaim that they’ve discovered the magic elixir of business success and you can buy it now, exclusively in four easy payments of $99.99 before they run out.

Relax, I have a better way.

I’ve lived an entrepreneur’s life with lots of success and as much failure and If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you can’t do anything fancy until you master the basics. And most of the master list of basics are so darned obvious. They are so obvious that only a few does them, so they must be a secret, otherwise everyone would do them and thrive and prosper in their business. However, most entrepreneurs will fail because they try to build the business of their dreams without first laying this important foundation. The number of business failures seem to be going up and up every year. I make it a point to know them. This year looks much like last year as nearly 90% of all business started two years ago are now closed. That continues to be an incredible number when you also think about all the money that was borrowed or loaned, and life savings drained with the hopes of building a successful business.

Many of these failures could have been reversed. It’s really a matter of doing your homework and learning exactly what it is that highly successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople do, and then replicating it. It might not be flashy. It might not seem like much fun. It’s kind of like forcing yourself to kiss that aunt with the big chin mole and too much bad perfume. You don’t like it, but you know you must do it.

Here are a few of the OBVIOUS secrets to business success that I’ve discovered over the years. These are the ones that business athletes apply every hour of every single day, from start-up to exit.

  1. Write a business plan and don’t use a template. Whether a banker or investor sees your plan or not, you really need to write one just to force yourself to answer the tough questions about your business idea. This takes the emotion out of the decision process. Sometimes, when you’re done, it’s still a great idea. Sometimes you’ll find that in reality, it stinks.
  2. Create a PLAN B and C and D: Always think about what would happen if Plan A doesn’t work. Always have some idea about what your Plan B, or C, or D might be if the first plan doesn’t work. Be ready for anything.
  3. NO Surprises: One of my hardline rules for any start-up business I was a part of was, NO SURPRISES. I wanted to know everything, good or bad. If something was going on I wanted to know about it so I could cheer or prepare for damage control.
  4. Look the Part: I gag sometimes when I see entrepreneurs who show up for an investment pitch in baggy jeans, t-shirt, unkept hair and sunglasses. Would you give this person a million dollars? You must look like you’re ready to run a successful business. Once again, I will say that in todays business environment, there is no reality! There is only the perception of reality. So, what is your perception by those that you wish to believe in you?
  5. Protect your Money: A billionaire told me once that this was his prime thought that drove his everyday thinking. Never waste a penny. Always know if your strategies and plans; your marketing; your new hires are working or not. But protect your money at all costs.
  6. Track everything with metrics: One way to protect your money is to try to create a metric for everything you do so you truly know exactly what GOOD looks like. If your marketing isn’t working, you should know what element of it isn’t working and you should stop it immediately.
  7. Learn to Sell: Whether you want to admit it or not, the only purpose of any business is to sell its products or services. There is not chicken, or the egg discussion here as happens many times in software companies. If you don’t sell your product then no one gets paid. And when no one get’s paid, the party is over. Learn to sell!
  8. Set Goals: You must know why you’re doing what you do and you’re objective in doing it. I can always tell when a company has not set goals. It’s so easy to see when everyone is satisfied with mediocrity and living with a survival mentality.
  9. Find (hire) a mentor or trusted advisor: Find yourself someone that has “been there and done that.” Someone who knows the twists and turns of building a business. It will be worth every penny if you find the right one.
  10. Never Give Up: No matter what happens you need to keep pushing, to believe in yourself and to believe in your business. Bankers and investors alike look for this “never say die” attitude.

This list could get long but these are some of the rock-solid rules that the “Big Dogs” of business have tattooed to their eyelids. Their minds never stray far from these elements. Don’t be a statistic. Build your business right and you’ll be around for the long haul!

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