Wisdom in business leadership is knowing that success is never a guaranteed right. No matter how much funding, energy and thought goes into a project, plans can always be disrupted from anywhere at any stage.
From large established organizations to the smallest newcomers, there’s always something to keep a leader awake at night. For founders who are dipping their toes into the business world for the very first time, these early challenges may seem especially daunting.
When you’re starting out the first roadblocks are inevitably often financial. Whatever your funding model, it’s not just about the cash flow you have on hand, but about having the right resources in place and at your disposal at the right time to move forward. It takes time as well as funding to build up a business and have everything in place.
But despite the advice that you always need to be ready for the unexpected to happen, there are still tried-and-tested ways to mitigate business risk when starting out, through diligence and early planning. Most of these techniques for success cost nothing, and are skills that we earn from an early age.
Follow them closely and your business is certain to be on a better footing.
1. Make sure you know your market well
At the beginning of a business journey, investing time and effort into researching your potential market and how your product idea will fit in sounds like elementary advice. But have you really done this properly, and devoted enough time to it?
At the early planning stage, you’ve committed a minimal amount of resources. It’s much easier to change and tweak ideas when nothing is set in stone and there is little at stake. Make the most of it and learn as much as you can. And are you certain you are asking the right questions?
You will want to figure out the basics, such as how will your product compete and what the market is hungry for. What needs or desires can your business fulfill? But there are deeper long-term questions too. What direction is the market moving in? Where do you think it will be in five years, and how will you adapt to those changing conditions?
A roadmap is a great way of laying out your plans and preparing, forcing you to think in the medium-to-long term. At every stage it’s important to ask yourself what it is you’re trying to do. What is your unique selling proposition that makes you stand out from competitors? Will it be enough in the future? This early business planning helps avoid problems further down the line, and costs very little.
2. Assemble a great team
You’re the founder, the chief, the one with all the plans and the source of inspirational thought in the organization. Fine, but you simply can’t do everything, and you absolutely don’t know everything.
There will be knowledge areas you will struggle with, and that’s why you need experts you can trust to execute the company vision and offer you the information you need.
It helps a lot if you can assemble a team of trusted co-workers and managers right from the beginning and carry a team with you as the business develops. These individuals will be with you every step of the way, and their expertise and experience will only become more valuable as you grow.
As a leader, your job is not to know more than your teams, but rather, to know that their valuable skills and expertise are part of your business machinery. Your role, then, is to keep them on board, communicate the business plan and maintain a unified vision to keep everyone moving in the same direction.
3. Thoroughly test your core ideas
You should be able to narrow your main business plan down into a few simple, core ideas. They are what differentiates you from competitors, will attract customers and be the foundation of your whole business. You’ve got to get this part right before finishing the smaller, less critical aspects of your product.
Therefore, it’s worth spending extra time on these core parts of your product and making sure that your potential customers respond well to them before moving on.
Testing is key. By releasing those features to a limited pool of users and gathering valuable feedback you might find out that some things work better or worse than expected. You have time to tweak, get feedback and follow up with that audience before opening your doors to the wider market when change is more difficult and the stakes are higher.
4. Be honest to yourself
Emotion can get in the way when making hard choices along your business journey. You might have big dreams, but are you in a position to turn them into reality?
When you see the right opportunity arise, you need to be able to act decisively to take advantage of it. But you also need to recognize what is not the best business choice and when not to act. It’s equally important.
Be honest about the things you can do well and those you can’t. What’s really good about your products and organization, and what isn’t? What’s actually possible? You may want to go in a certain direction, but are you ready for it? Is everything in place? Is it the right time?
Sometimes it can be harder to say “no” than to say “yes.” Even if you have followed all of this advice, are confident in your plans and are certain that your business is in a promising position, there will always be new and different challenges that you might not have anticipated.
Being ready for the unknown is just part of the business journey, something you should expect and be prepared to adapt to rather than fear. How you react to these challenges and the actions you take may certainly make both you and your business stronger, and in better shape to tackle the future.
Timur Khabirov is an entrepreneur, designer and investor best known as the co-founder and CEO of Prequel, Inc., the company behind the Prequel mobile photo editing app. Based on AI technology, Prequel launched in 2018 as a complete package of graphics editing tools for mobile, and to date has been downloaded over 100 million times by users around the world.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.