15 Great Lessons for Entrepreneurs

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For over 15 years, I’ve worked with entrepreneurs – as a member of the management team or on the Board. It’s been a mind-expanding journey.

Along the way, I’ve been privileged to dive into several fields – consulting & strategy, brand management, social media, technology and non-profits. I’ve enjoyed ring side seats at management and gained incredible hands-on experience. I’ve learned that to grow beyond a one-man business, certain principles are non-negotiable. Most of them are about people.

Here are some of my top lessons:

1. You must match the scale of your vision with the quality of your operations. Vision doesn’t produce great products; operations and people do. To bring your vision to life, you must invest in a well-oiled production machine.

2. Give talented people operational responsibility. To develop your management cadre, allow your staff to run business lines; with freedom to hire, fire and operate the balance sheet. If you don’t trust them after a few years, then you’ve either not replicated yourself or they do not have leadership capacity. You now need to seriously consider recruiting outside managers.

3. Encourage your staff to join boards and to deploy latent skills outside your organisation. After a couple of years in a company, staff begin to lose their competitive edge and may develop tunnel vision. Working on external projects refreshes them and exposes them to new ways of doing things.

4. Remember that many of your top managers put their lives on hold to help you achieve your vision. Don’t let them regret it. Reward them and show appreciation. Money isn’t everything. Managers need to know they matter and that their contributions are appreciated.

5. Any appraisal system that is not characterised by clear reward, punishment & staff development is redundant. Without these factors actively operating within your system, hardworking managers will become disillusioned and demoralised.

6. Demand performance. You can’t keep chasing staff for deliverables. You will be mentally exhausted. Your best managers are those who require the least supervision. Focus on those managers. Without them, you will never have the freedom to enjoy the fruit of your labour.

7. Hire people who want to do the job and who like what they do. Don’t hire people who just need the money. They’ll make excuses for non-performance and eventually leave when they’ve built a nest egg at your expense.

8. Consistently hire people who are as smart or smarter than you and hire young people for generational perspective. You need quality minds to rub against yours or you won’t produce groundbreaking solutions.

9. Every organisation needs a manager who looks out for staff. Many times CEOs are consumed by the business vision and staff issues are not top of mind.

10. Communicate your vision all the time. Regularly tell your managers where the company is headed or else they’ll lose passion and drift away.

11. Never judge people for expressing their minds or dissatisfaction. Address the issues or else they’ll will never tell you the truth again.

12. Create a deliberate wealth plan for staff. Make up your mind that if people give their lives in service to your vision, in the future, they’ll build their own homes, send their kids to great schools and live well. Plan ahead for this.

13. When a business unit persistently loses money, don’t wait forever to act. Take drastic steps to fix it or discontinue it.

14. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Channel the money you make towards projects that will sustain your business. Put project funds to use immediately. That way, you can’t conveniently reach for them in an “emergency”. (And anyway, you should have savings for emergencies). If you do not fund the future and keep spending the present, you will never grow.

15. When in doubt, ask those that have successfully done what you’re trying to achieve. You don’t have exclusivity of knowledge.

I wish you great success.

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