Here’s my short answer to the question about priorities: Whatever is burning the fastest gets the most attention.
For me it’s all about urgency. The frustrating part about focusing on the most urgent part of the business is that the long-term priorities, the slow-burners, are often the things that unravel later on.
The longer answer below is about finding a balance between the things that are on fire versus the things that haven’t started to warm up.
The always-on focus
I firmly believe that even in the earliest of days, businesses should do a few things well and do them well forever after.
Offer a great product. This is the most basic rule and without it, no amount of hustle will save your business.
Provide incredible customer service. When you’re asking people to part with their hard-earned cash, it’s so important to be polite, pleasant and useful. If you lose a customer at this early stage of your company, they’re probably gone forever.
Trust me, it’s more difficult to find new customers than to retain existing ones. So if someone is willing to walk into your store, visit your website or engage with you at all, make it count.
Related: Why Donna Rachelson believes the secret to your business success lies with women
Do not die — sell sell sell!
Every SME should have a single main goal in the first three to five years: Don’t die. Do whatever you can do to stay alive. That’s the important part.
What does that mean? Earn more money than you spend and if you can’t do that, raise enough money to get to that point.
As I see it, no matter the stage of your business, selling is the priority. The best way to raise money is to make more sales. More sales ensures that you have more time and money to build the business you want.
While you're selling, make sure you're also focusing on a few other important parts of the business.
The right people do right
It’s easy when there are only two or three people in your company to build a culture. The culture consists of the founders. That’s easy. But when you bring new people on board you better make sure they are the right people.
Related: Know the true cost of employee disengagement on your business
Spend time on your hiring processes
Make sure that you find the right people. It’s a hard thing, finding the right people and making sure they fit. There are no guarantees that your processes will work perfectly but a bad hire can set you back more than no hire. This is not new advice, but hire slowly and fire quickly.
Set your goals
It might sound simple and obvious but it's an often overlooked task to set goals for your company.
I try to set a single goal for the year
What can we reasonably achieve in 12 months. This is not to be confused with your big hairy audacious goal of world domination. The 12-month goal is something tough but achievable. Set it and then go for it. Work every day to achieve that goal.
Setting a single goal to aim for requires a pretty deep understanding of your business objectives and what’s going to move the needle. If you set the wrong goal, the chances are you’ll chase a ghost for a year and then have to pivot into another focus.
Work small, think big
For a few years I’ve been trying to think in stages about my life and my business. It’s easier said than done but I use a simple set of guiding principles that may help you: Plan in decades. Think in years. Work in months. Live in days.
Every day make sure that you are working towards a bigger goal. Sure, some days you’ll be reactionary and find yourself scrambling, but try to refocus on the bigger goals and find out if the task you’re working on is going to help your bigger goals.
Celebrated entrepreneur and investor Tim Ferris suggests achieving three small things as soon as you can after waking up. Make the bed, do a few pushups, meditate.
Once you’ve achieved these three things, you’re set for the day. After that, even if you have a frustrating time with little achieved, mentally you will know you started the day off well and achieved something, no matter how small.
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