Welcome to the big league! You’ve taken the leap and have decided to go it alone. The corporate world just isn’t for you, with its dress codes, red tape and endless meetings.
The only problem is – it can be scary out there. When suddenly there aren’t HR, Finance, and Legal departments, or a pumping marketing machine, you realise that being in a start up can be a lonely and difficult place. And you find you’re wearing so many hats that Jack-of-all-Trades has become your AKA.
Before your blood pressure reaches boiling point or you wake up having chewed your pillow to smithereens, here’s a basic list of management skills to keep you sane. Some need urgent attention – others you’ll keep learning as you go along. At the end of the day, relax! Most of this stuff isn’t rocket science and there are always knowledgeable people (potentially in your social circle) who can give you plenty of free advice and help.
Here are 3 basic skills that you need before you even get started
1. Know exactly what you want to achieve
Too many start ups are vague about this. It’s not enough to have an elusive idea that there’s a gap somewhere in the market and you’re sure you’ve got some core skills to fill it. Bad move! You must be absolutely sure that you have a killer service or product and that there’s a definite niche for what you’re going to do.
2. Know a lot about the playing field
As a start up it’s really important to understand the industry you’re going to operate in. Ideally, you will have already established some contacts. You should also know how to stay on top of every trend as it emerges. It helps to know what your competitors are doing in order to stay one step ahead. There’s nothing worse than always being the company dragging its heels behind the leaders.
3. Learn enough to be legally compliant
For most people, this is really like watching paint dry! Unfortunately, making sure you’re following the correct rules and regulations is critical to all businesses. Get your paperwork and any legal requirements done quickly. Learn about the ins and outs of reading a contract to make sure you understand the basics of what you’re signing if you need office space or are renting any kind of equipment. Then there are labour laws and employment contracts. A handshake is always great when you get going, but there’s a reason why things get put in writing.
People, people, people
Yup – it really is all about the people. The moment you start bringing in partners and staff, you need to start delegating and trusting that others will have the same passion for your business as you do.
Building talented and energised teams will be the most important management skill you need (besides bringing in great clients). Everyone wants an awesome group of people to help them make their business fly.
So your next question is – How do I achieve it?
Here’s the recipe:
- find the best people you can that fit your culture
- make certain they have the skills you need
- train them and give them clear roles
- put them together with your existing team
- motivate and reward them
- sit back (while working hard!) and watch your business grow.
There it is – sorted! Right?
And that’s the crux of the problem. There actually is no simple recipe for successful teamwork, for the very reason that you need human ingredients – and they come with all the varieties and idiosyncrasies that our species produces.
Recruiting and managing people will never be an exact science. But, before you start thinking of running away and avoiding the situation entirely, there are ways to reduce the risk and to stand the best chance of getting teamwork right.
Take the bite-sized pieces of the recipe and focus on each one. For example, be able to describe your culture in elevator-pitch form. Tell each candidate exactly how you operate and have them meet your existing team. Culture often trumps skills, so walk away from people who will probably never fit in. Skills can be learned while personalities can not.
People management is a never-ending learning curve. Read books and keep learning about the vagaries of human behaviour (and you’ll still find yourself surprised quite often). Constant talking to your team and listening to their feedback is another great (if sometimes eye opening and painful) way to develop these skills fast!
Sales / Marketing
Could you sell your business idea to these guys?
From the moment you get going with your start up, you’re it – you’re the brand. Getting clients interested in a new business takes great charisma and a lot of persuading through facts and projections (think Dragon’s Den). You might not be a dynamic presenter, but you have to know what buttons your clients or investors need pushed.
If you’re not a marketing guru – learn! You can outsource this to professionals, but you’re still the one who’ll be face-to-face with your customers. Whatever you do, hold onto the first clients who give you a chance. Do everything to keep them happy – because now they’re your flag-bearers and will recommend you. One or two good clients will give you the breathing room to develop the other skills you need to keep your start-up humming.
If you’re not a number cruncher, this is another function that can be outsourced (including your payroll). But you have to have you finger on the cash-flow pulse. You have to be able to read a balance sheet and a profit and loss account. You have to understand something about costing. You need to be able to set budgets and to track your progress against these. Most start ups fail because they can’t balance the books (hardly news, we know, and you have probably developed an involuntary twitch when you hear the ‘bankruptcy’), so keep an eye on the numbers yourself – every day!
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you can master these skills you’ll be well set. Stay humble, keep learning and don’t stop listening to everyone who offers advice or input (and weigh up according to the source). Your skills will keep on growing every day and in a few years time you’ll be having a drink with a young entrepreneur agonising over a recent start up, and you’ll say, “Let me tell you how I managed to grow my business…”