Every day new companies are born, but of those only a tiny percentage succeed. What makes them succeed? Here's what to think about when you're launching a business so that it's still going strong in two years time.
You need to pick your moment. This doesn't mean procrastinating endlessly until everything is absolutely fine tuned. Nothing in business ever goes to plan, so you have to be prepared to be flexible and adjust your strategy along the way.
Too many businesses fail because they never actually materialise. But it does mean keeping an eye on the wider picture. What state is the industry in at the moment? Has a major competitor just launched a new initiative? What's happening in politics, how's that going to effect your customers?
If you choose to start your company when your potential clients are suffering financially, you'll never establish the following that's necessary to take you forward, whilst a well timed launch can massively boost a start-up's growth rate and improve it's chances of surviving the first few vulnerable years.
More than anything though, it's important to remember that most companies take a very long time to succeed. Whilst there are stories of overnight success, they're rare and more often than not they're exaggerated by the media. In desperate, over zealous attempts to get off the ground, start-ups end up nose diving because they forgot about the stuff that will sustain them in the long run, like hiring great employees, and they lose enthusiasm when there's little palpable return for their efforts.
Your knowledge of your industry, clients, competition and business in general is vital to the growth of your business. Of course, the longer you're in business, the more you'll experienced you'll become, but you need to be active about your learning too.
When I set up my first business at the age of 21, I was too arrogant to listen to the advice of older and more experienced entrepreneurs so I ended up making mistakes that could have been avoided. I'm now a member of the business organisation, EO which connects CEOs from around the world, organises discussions and facilitates meetings. It's a really great way to share knowledge and to continue learning.
If you don't have direct access to other people in the industry, there's masses of information available to entrepreneurs on the web: blogs, magazines, forums, podcasts. Soak up as much as you can even if it doesn't seem immediately relevant, it could provide inspiration for innovations further down the line.
It's crucial too, to learn about yourself. What are your strengths? Where are your weaknesses? Self-knowledge will make you a more effective and productive leader, as you'll be able to focus your attention on what you're good at and bring people in to help where you're struggling. Sometimes it can be worth partnering with a more experienced entrepreneur who can offer mentorship when you're starting out, or a professional with specialised skills who can take care of your accounting for example or marketing. It will save you a huge amount of stress and ensure that your business is as strong as it can be right from the start.
Never underestimate the power of your contacts. Especially in the early days, take every opportunity you can to widen your network. Unlike a lot of things in business, networking is free and if you go to the right events, it will be more than worth your time. Not only will you get to chat to like minded people, but it could lead to exciting opportunities; future collaborations, partnerships or ideas. Make sure you stay connected to the people you meet by taking their business cards and dropping them a follow up email whilst they're still fresh in your mind.
When you're frantically busy trying to get a business off the ground, attending events can seem like a waste of time, but it's good to take a break from your desk and to remind yourself of what's going on in the outside world. It's a chance to relax and develop a strong contact base that will serve you for years to come. More than that though, speaking to people is inspiring and motivating.
Starting a company involves a lot of administration. There's office space to rent, software licences, databases of contacts, budgets, HR, your schedule to manage. Those first few years will inevitably be the busiest and most stressful. You should be focusing your time on working towards your vision, on tasks that directly impact the growth of your company, but if you're not careful you can easily get stuck in time-consuming tasks and end up struggling to scale.
So what do you do? Hire a personal assistant. It may seem like an indulgence, but think about it like this: your single most valuable asset is your time so you have to use it wisely. Spending hours on the phone to British Airways to book flights is like throwing money down the drain and it's certainly not going to help your business grow.
It doesn't have to be expensive. If all you need is a little extra help for a few hours a week, find a part time employee or a virtual assistant. My view is that if the task isn't the best and productive use of my time or if someone else can do it better, I don't do it. I use numbered priority lists to help me work out which tasks are the most important or urgent and those which aren't number one (highest priority), I delegate to my PA or to another member of my team. Plus if you learn to delegate early on it will massively improve your productivity in the long term.
The most important thing to remember is that you are the key to your start-up's success. So if there's something holding you back, you need to delegate, outsource or step-away to give yourself time to breathe, re-focus and prioritise.
Richard Walton is the Founder of AVirtual, a company that provides virtual PAs to small business, entrepreneurs and start-ups. He is regularly featured in the press talking about topics such as work life balance and productivity.