Deciding to be an entrepreneur is a lifestyle move, and should be part of a long-term strategic plan. You shouldn’t be making this decision just because you are mad at your boss, you would like to be rich, or someone else thinks it’s a good idea. In these changing times, if you already have a startup, with no plan, maybe it’s time to think ahead for a change.
Formally, that’s called developing and maintaining a strategic plan. Usually that means writing something down, since it’s hard to maintain something, or track yourself against it, if it’s not written down. From my experience, and the experience of other entrepreneurs, here are the key elements you should think about as part of the process:
1. Personal interests and aspirations. Do you love managing your own schedule, overcoming obstacles, starting a new adventure, facing financial risk, and relish the opportunity to change the world? Money should not be the big driver here.
2. Right idea at the right time. Do you believe that you have an idea for a company that you can implement better than anyone, and maintain a competitive advantage? If you are thinking non-profit (social entrepreneur), can you rally the world around your cause?
3. Take inventory of what you have. Look critically at yourself and your existing organization for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). What resources do you have, skills and functions, and what do you do best?
4. Assess customer demand. Do customers really need what you want to do, or might they see it as “nice to have?” In the relevant market large enough, and growing fast enough, to make it a profitable opportunity?
5. Providing minimal resources. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for all entrepreneurs is time and money for the ramp-up period. Do you have money saved, or available from friends, or current employment to support the transition?
6. Visualize the future. What do you envision your business looking like in five to ten years? Is your mind full of ideas for repeating the experience, or are you looking to build a family business that you make your legacy?
7. Manage existing relationships. How important to you is the balance between family, outside relationships, and work? Do you have dependents that must be factored into every career and lifestyle equation? What personal support resources are available?
8. Education and training roadblocks. Does your dream require additional time and money for training or academic credentials? If so, can these be done concurrently with an entrepreneurial rollout plan? What other roadblocks exist?
9. Location, location, location. Most entrepreneurial efforts can best be done, or can only be done, in a specific geography or country. Are you willing to relocate as part of your strategic plan? Can you start where you are and relocate later?
10. Willing and able to measure. Can you define measurable milestones to help you track progress and provide feedback? Strategic plans that cannot be measured will never be accomplished. Are you committed to achieving milestones and measuring progress?
I’m not suggesting here that a strategic plan is a one-time set-in-stone effort. In fact, quite the opposite, every plan must be improved and adapted as you learn more and the world changes around you.
On the other hand, if your way of doing business might be described as fire first and aim later, to seize today’s opportunity, you are charging into the future on only a wish and a prayer. The crash landings can be tough, and definitely won’t feel good as a long-term strategy.
CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc.; Advisory Board Member for multiple startups; ATIF Angels Selection Committee; Entrepreneur in Residence at ASU and Thunderbird School of Global Management.