Mentoring budding companies is often nothing more than asking: “What are your revenue targets for next year?” And then breaking that down to “what are your revenue targets for next quarter, next month, next week?”
With that, we start to focus on the building blocks of the organization: “How are we going to reach these targets?”
These answers break down into questions about “what needs to be done today and this hour to get to the goal?” So, building a business is done like building anything: one step at a time.
Recently, I picked up a running magazine. Instead of saying “get out there and run two miles a day,” this magazine had a full-page breakdown with specific instructions each day over an eight-week plan.
They began with teensy steps like run one minute, walk two and repeat seven times. Not everyone I know thinks he or she can run a 10k. However, I know few people who can’t run for one minute.
That is the trick in mentoring startups. Begin with something the entrepreneur can do now: “Call a prospective customer.” I try to fend off the distracting questions at this stage: “Which is the right prospective customer to call first?” “Shouldn’t I wait until my product is perfect before I get their feedback?” “Will I have enough customers to call?”
Entrepreneurs often shirk off setting out a specific plan with excuses such as “no one ever sticks to the plan anyway,” Or “I don’t have time for that. There is so much to do.”
To the contrary, it is exactly because no startup ever sticks exactly to their plan that you need one. It is your road map. It is true that you may not stick exactly to the route planned, but you certainly need to know how far right or left you have gone so you can adjust and get back on course.
Similarly, I would argue that an entrepreneur doesn’t have time to ignore a road map. Staying focused on the course may be the key to survival. Whereas running in circles is the likely outcome when there is no plan and such circle running is surely to be the death of any entrepreneurial endeavor.
The importance of a plan is even more critical as the team grows and communication needs to streamline.
Savannah-based Oak.Works co-founders Rob Lingle and Steve Ross learned the importance of planning early on as they launched their strategy and software development company. Knowing where they are heading as a firm allows each partner to run full steam ahead independently but toward a common goal.
Tracking progress is important and can be revealing. I noticed in the running realm an inspirational song can make the three minutes on the stopwatch seem negligible. Yet later when my son called out that the minute of rest was up, I was sure he was kidding. My body’s rest timekeeper must have been lying to me.
Similarly, sometimes entrepreneurial timing is surprising, and the end of the month (payroll, rent, etc. become due) comes faster than the target of “sell X deals” is accomplished. In these cases, we need to really commit to getting ahead of the curve: Calling on, talking to, getting meetings with and signing contracts with even greater numbers of customers and, of course, watching expenses.
At The Creative Coast, we are blessed to have many great mentors who share their time, experience and expertise to encourage our growing community of entrepreneurs. Glenn Gibney is one who specifically helps build great sales practices. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Glenn is also a great cross country and track coach.
Currently, we are recruiting business mentors who brought their companies from $0 to $1 million in annual revenue. If that is you, please reach out so we can introduce you to Savannah’s vibrant and innovative entrepreneurial community.
You have a great deal to offer an emerging business, and the reward of helping someone else succeed is a better return on your time than any other activity imaginable.
Bea Wray is executive director of The Creative Coast, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the creative and entrepreneurial community within the region. Bea can be reached at 912-447-8457 or firstname.lastname@example.org