STRATEGY

3 Business Basics to Review Constantly

With all the distractions in trying to make a venture take off, it's important to take stock and make sure you're getting the fundamentals right.
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In a recent Wall Street Journal blog post, Eze Vidra, head of Google for Entrepreneurs Europe, enumerated five things entrepreneurs need to know.

There were some good points, the most important being an indirect one: It's always time to reconsider the basics. These aren't points you check off a list and then move beyond any more than a great baseball player can stop paying attention to throwing, catching, and hitting. Lawyers and doctors must regularly learn new developments in the basics in their fields, so that their practices are as effective and relevant as possible.

Of course the basics must be incorporated in everything you do, but that doesn't mean you can take them for granted. When you stop paying attention is exactly when things can lose their way. Here are some things you never want to take for granted.

Know your customers

Vidra says that entrepreneurs should know their markets and build products and services those markets want. That's correct. But at a more fundamental level, you want to forget about markets and pay attention to people. Actual individuals will either buy from or pass on your company, whether you sell to a consumer market or are in the B2B space. The more you understand what they want, what they lack, where they feel pain, and what they hope for, the better your chance of developing something they want, rather than taking a more hit-or-miss approach. Steve Jobs understood his customers--not all customers, but his customers--so well that his flops were relatively few and far between. Spend time with your customers, talk with them, and, most importantly, listen to them.

Look for simple yet big ideas

Forget what everyone says customers are clamoring for, unless those people are actual customers trying to buy something specific. Take your customer knowledge and start to solve their problems. That means you identify the problem and find a way to solve it as simply and completely as possible. Also recognize that the full solution might take time to develop. Vidra mentions that Google Maps started as a simple mapping service. Later, it started offering specialized directions for driving, walking, or cycling. Then it started offering alternatives to traditional maps, with images from street level and overhead satellite photos. Now the company is working on self-driving cars. The big problem Google is solving: how to get from point A to point B.

Hire smart

Hiring is a tough one. Vidra warns against working with friends just because you have the relationship. You want people whose talents and strengths complement yours. If they happen to be people you went to school with or who were coworkers at a previous employer, that's fine. And having loyalty is important. (Just look at the legal problems facing SnapChat and Square, where people claimed they were instrumental in the founding then pushed to the sidelines.) But people need to have the right fit. Best to make things clear up front than to dodge an issue because you're uncomfortable discussing it.

By the way, that also means you have to consider yourself in the same light. There may come a time when your talents run thin, as a company grows and you need to find more qualified management. You may also find before that point that some employees are better suited to dealing with certain aspects of the business. Get out of the way and let them.

The more you focus on the fundamentals of business, the stronger your undertaking will become and the more effectively you will manage. Every day look at what you're doing and ask yourself, "How will I strengthen the basics today?" If you can't list a handful of ways in which you can do that, better work harder and smarter until you can.

Last updated: Feb 24, 2014

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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