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 have 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