When building a business from the bottom-up, you've got to be ready for anything. Here's how to avoid bungling things up, even on shaky ground.
When Amazon.com and the United Parcel Service bungled countless Christmas orders last year, it wasn't a just a PR nightmare for both companies. It was a teaching moment for fledgling small businesses. If those guys could bungle it up, what was to stop a no-name business from doing the same?
The answer is that when doing the impossible, bootstrapping companies must constantly be looking for ways to improve their processes, even without hindsight or millions of dollars at hand. So if you want to avoid being a Grinch in 2014, here's how to ensure you stay sharp:
1. Don’t fear the pivot.
In Silicon Valley, a pivot is a nice way of saying things aren’t working and it’s time to do something else. That's a bitter pill to swallow, but the fact is very few businesses start out in one direction and continue in it. So when you realize something is no longer working, don't be afraid to forge a new path.
2. Be frugal.
You don’t need a fancy new office unless your customers are visiting on a regular basis. As a rule, don't overcommit to something that's not a priority before you've established yourself. This goes for investing in high-tech computers and software as well. Thankfully, this is much easier in today's world, thanks to the advent of the cloud and other technologies.
3. Keep up the momentum.
Momentum is one of the hardest things to attain, especially in the beginning. So once you get your first order and then your second, do everything in your power to keep that momentum going. Whether that means increasing your marketing budget, adding more inventory, or perfecting your sales pitch, think of momentum as lighting a campfire in the wind.
4. Realize your team will make or break you.
Ask any great entrepreneur and she will tell you the key to success was her team. Take great care in hiring the right people. As your business grows, you'll likely need a team that can change along with it. And when you're starting from scratch, your path to becoming a growing business will be filled with diversions. You can’t predict how your customers, the economy, or even your own vision will change.
MICHAEL ALTER is president of SurePayroll, America’s leading online payroll service. He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Northwestern University. @michaelalter