It’s ridiculously hard to be successful over the long haul. It’s a lot harder if you don’t know the basics. Factors like global competition, channel conflicts and supply-chain issues are tough enough to overcome; you don’t need internal problems to make it even harder.

When it comes to running a business, even small internal problems have a way of becoming big ones that create barriers to growth over time.

Aside from obvious stuff like making sure you always have enough money in the bank, understanding finance and knowing how to manage your business, here are five things that every company, big or small, must have to make it over the long haul and yet, surprisingly few do:

Goals: What do you want to achieve in x years? Keep it simple. As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you may not get there.” Famous understatement.

Strategy: How are you going to achieve your goals in terms of key product, channel, marketing, operations and supply chain strategies?

People: Who does what and how should they behave while doing it? Do you having the right people doing the right things the right way? Roles, responsibilities, culture.

Process: How are decisions made? Do you find yourself endlessly debating the same questions over and over? Most companies lack even the most basic processes.

Plan: All the above documented, including a timeline for key product, supply chain, marketing and channel developments, milestones and events. Not a one-time thing; it’s a living document that you revisit periodically and as things change.

I’ve heard every excuse you can imagine for not having these bases covered, none of them legitimate. And not just from small business owners — big company CEOs too. The three most common objections I hear are 1) we’re too small, we don’t need all that stuff; 2) we want to stay entrepreneurial, not bureaucratic; and 3) now is not a good time.

My response?

1) Au contraire mon frère. Not having “all that stuff” creates problems that become bigger as you attempt to scale. Having “all that stuff” enables you to grow so you don’t stay small.

2) Without the basics you don’t have entrepreneurialism, you have chaos. Basic structure is not bureaucratic. If you do it right you can remain nimble and adaptive as you grow.

3) There is never a good time but now is always the best time.

If you run a business and are missing any of the basics, quit making excuses and fix it. Now. Don’t wait. Any questions?

Image credit Ed Suominen via Flickr

  • Steve Stamatis

    I think I heard this same great advice recently (thanks Steve)! I appreciate your insight as it’s simple but really it makes sense.

  • Barry Duck

    People amaze me in industry, times get hard and the options are to let go the part time people making minimum wage and to stop doing maintenance on the machinery. The machines that are making the products we sell. So we do our best to keep the machines running, and the plant manager claims he is saving so much money and gets a bonus for that. Then he leaves for another job, then the next plant manager comes in and has to spend a lot of money to get the plant back up to shape before it falls apart and he looks like the bad guy. Forecasting always seem to be a big problem for people to do for some reason. I have seen some of the VP’s make some real bad choices and everyone just go along with it, like its a great idea. A lot of industries could really use your advice.

    • Steve Tobak

      Funny, you just described what we do as a nation, as well. It’s as true in government as it is in business.