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Get Out of the Startup Rut

caught in a rutWhen you first start your business, you’re scrambling for customers and doing what it takes to try to keep the doors open. Your choices and business decisions will generally be short-term, planning to have enough money so you can pay the rent, pay your employees, and just make it to the next month. In start-up mode, you wear a lot of hats, and probably every product or service has your fingerprints on it somewhere.

In the beginning, you’re in survival mode.

There comes a time, though, when it’s time to move on. This is the point that is often most scary for an entrepreneur. It involves building beyond what the entrepreneur can personally do and watch. It involves trust. Here are five steps to help you move out of the startup rut:

1 Design, teach, and enforce systems. The only way you’re going to successfully move past doing everything is by getting help. And this is where you can get into trouble if you’re not careful. It’s common to hire someone and just hand them the responsibilities. The problem is that the new employee is not you. He will make different decisions. He will do things differently. And, face it, he’s probably not going to care about the business as much as you.

And when you get a customer complaint, you’ve got a problem. Sure you can get mad at the employee for making a mistake and not handling the issue correctly, but what you do next will determine the success of your business. If you step in and fix it, you’re doomed. You’re in startup mode forever because you will struggle to confidently turn over the work.

The answer is written systems. Write down, step by step, how to perform each task in your business. Then train the system. And finally, enforce the system. If something goes wrong, go directly to the source and look to the system. What happened? Was the system not clear enough? Did the training falter? Or did the employee fail to follow the system? Fix the specific issue and move forward. Your business will grow as fast and as well as your systems allow.

2 Upgrade your team. Every business owner has a team around her. She probably has a banker, a lawyer, a CPA, an insurance agent, and possibly others. When you first start out, cost may be your deciding factor in finding the best team members. But as your business grows, it’s time to look at your team members. Do they have the experience, connections, and point of view to take you to the next step? If not, it may be time to gently move on. You don’t want to be the smartest member of your team. And you definitely don’t want to be the most successful client your lawyer or CPA has. Learn from your adviser. Don’t train them.

3 Develop new circles. It’s said that your economic success can be forecasted simply based on the economic level of the five people you spend the most time with. You don’t need to leave your friends behind. It’s more a case of expanding your circles. One effective way to do so is with a mastermind group. A mastermind group is defined as 2 or more people who come together for a common purpose. In this case, the purpose of your mastermind group might be to give each other context and support as you all expand your businesses to the next level.

4 Learn to move faster. In the beginning of a startup, you may need to carefully consider the decisions you make. It is new territory and this could be your first business. If you’re moving beyond the startup phase, you’ll need to start trusting your advisers and your analysis. You can’t be hands on with everything.

5 Eye on the road, but watch the horizon. There are two big mistakes small-business owners make when it comes to marketing planning: they focus too much on the short term and ignore long term. Or, they focus too much on long term and ignore short term.

Come up with a list of 20 contacts or activities that will bring cash in during the next 30 days. Focus on that list, and every business day do at least 3 things that will further your business in the long term. If you follow those two rules, you’ll have a good mix of bringing in the cash to keep you operating, and keeping your eye on the horizon.

It’s tough to make change, but the rewards for moving out of startup mode for your business can be huge.


Diane Kennedy, CPA US Tax Aid. Diane Kennedy, CPA helps business owners legally pay less tax. She’s the New York Times best-selling author of “Loopholes of the Rich,” “Real Estate Loopholes,” and 7 other best-selling financial and tax books. She’s also a business owner and real estate investor. Her motto is “It’s Your Money. Keep More Of It.”