When you are starting up a business, automate as much as you can. You’ll have enough headaches along the way even if you automate everything, so save yourself some trouble up front and automate as much as you can figure out how to automate. Here are some examples:
Set up your payroll to be automatically sent out every two weeks. There are some online services for this, or you can simply outsource it to your accountant.
Use a software based calendaring system to remind you about everything you have going on. Not just the usual stuff such as meetings and dentist appointments, but also about writing blog posts, changing the oil in your car, and to check in on new employees once in a while.
If you can write code, then write code to automate as many tasks as you can. For example, I write Perl programs that automatically bill my customers, automatically cross post this blog post to other feeds, to automatically collect and analyze hundreds of data points from my various businesses so I can make better decisions, and to automatically remind my employees when they go to order some supplies that there are other supplies from that same vendor that are getting low (which saves time and shipping fees).
If you can’t write code, there are a ton of coders out there who will write some for you; and in many cases you can even find prepackaged systems that will do all kinds of stuff for you. Check sites like appstorm.net for ideas.
You can also often negotiate things with your suppliers in advance (if you have suppliers). For example, to get better pricing on some things that I have manufactured for my businesses I’ll buy 10,000 units instead of the 1,000 that I actually need each month. Then I pay the manufacturer a tiny warehousing fee to hold on to and ship 1,000 units to me every month. The cost of getting a small amount manufactured each month is far more than getting a larger bulk manufactured in advance plus paying the warehousing fee. And because this arrangement is set up and recurring, the new shipment shows up at my loading dock each month without me doing anything.
Learn to automate everything, and you’ll have more time to deal with the things that really need your attention.
If you have a customer who complains about something, don’t ignore it, no matter how crazy you think the complaint may be. If it can happen once, it can happen again; and more importantly, how many times has it already happened and nobody brought it up?
Of course not all criticism is valid, but you don’t know if it’s valid if you don’t take it seriously. Investigate every claim. Find the root cause of the complaint just as you would find the cause of a software defect. And once you’ve found it, see changes you could make, or what systems you could put in place to either stop it from happening, or mitigate the damage it could do.
If you treat every complaint as a defect, you’ll have fewer and fewer complaints over time. In addition, there’s simply nothing better than good customer service to promote word of mouth marketing.
I own a successful software consulting company called Plain Black, but I also do a fair bit of business consulting through Plain Black as well. Whether my team is writing software for a client, or I’m evaluating the performance of your technology business, I like to offer options, and you should too. Whether you’re doing consulting work, helping out another department in your company, or just talking about a project with your boss, be the person that presents options.
That said, know when to present options. Here are some simple rules:
1) Only present options when there’s an important decision to be made. Don’t waste anyone’s time with trivial options you could have easily decided upon yourself.
2) When you present options, narrow the scope to just 2 or 3 options. Eliminate variations on a theme, as the details can be worked out later. By providing 2 or 3 choices, you’re giving the customer/department/boss interesting and important decisions to make, and they’ll appreciate you for it.
3) Hold the outliers. If you have some options that are crazy, hold them close to your vest. You can pull them out later when the customer has either ruled out your initial options, or if while discussing the options the customer triggers an opening to present the crazy idea. This way you’re not burdening the customer with an idea that is way off base until you know they’re interested in such a thing.
If you find yourself spinning your wheels while trying to implement something, it’s usually a red flag that you need to step back and take another look. It might mean you didn’t put enough thought into designing whatever you’re building, or it might mean that you’ve discovered and unforeseen hiccup that may require you to change direction.
Learn to recognize when you’ve lost focus, or are having a harder time than normal completing a task. Use this recognition to re-evaluate the situation. You’ll ultimately produce better code, and you’ll get back to being productive faster.
In life, and especially in startups failure is always an option. Just because your first idea, or your first 10 ideas, didn’t turn out the way you wanted, doesn’t mean you should give up. Take a step back, regroup, and attack the problem another way. Or if you don’t know how else to attack it, go on to your next idea, perhaps over time you’ll realize a new way to do the thing you failed at. You can fail a thousand times, you only need to succeed once.
So many people prioritize their lives around “project X needs to be done by date Y”. Sometimes that’s true, but often those are self imposed deadlines.
If you are working on one thing, but you’re really amped up to work on another thing, then work on that other thing. Take advantage of the extra energy and motivation while you have it. You’ll be happier and more productive.
Sure, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, buckle down, and do something you don’t want to do. But most of the time, you can find a way to spend your motivation more wisely.
So many times over the years I assumed I knew what I needed to know about something, and later it was revealed that was not the case. I can’t stress how important it is for you to gain as much knowledge as you can before making an important decision. Whether it be purchasing a piece of equipment, forming a partnership, or making a policy decision, having knowledge isn’t going to hurt, it’s going to help.
I know some of you will likely argue with me that knowledge can’t hurt. You don’t want to know when you’re going to die. You don’t want to know if your spouse is cheating on your. You don’t want to know that Pepsi is actually better than Coke. You don’t want to know that the Easter Bunny isn’t real. However, there’s a difference between not wanting to know, than actually being hurt by it. Making good decisions is far more important than the temporary pain of having your assumptions crumble around you.
Whether you’re creating a startup or just living your life, you need to know and understand your weaknesses to succeed.
I have many; among them are megalomania, poor small talk skills, and inability to accept feedback graciously.
The point is, if you don’t accept that you have weaknesses, seek them out, and understand them then you have no hope of overcoming them.
Overcoming weaknesses is much more difficult. Sometimes you can outsource it. For example, if you’re bad at accounting you can hire an accountant. Sometimes, you just need to accept responsibility for them and attempt to overcome them. For example if you’re mean spirited, then bite your tongue.
Whatever the case, the first step is recognizing that you have weaknesses.