My most popular Inc.com column last year was How to Get Everything You Want in Life. Now, I'd like to focus not on what you want--but what you need--how to get everything you need to run a successful fast-growth company. That may sound bold, but I learned from my friend and mentor Verne Harnish, the founder of Entrepreneurs Organization and current CEO of growth consulting firm Gazelles, that there are really only three things you need as CEO and entrepreneur.
Here then are the three things you really need to do build a great company.
1. Set the vision and strategy.
Your first and most important job is to set the vision and strategy for the company. Harnish's free, one-page-strategic plan is an excellent tool to help you do this. It's literally one page (!) so it's not too overwhelming, but it's the most dense, packed page you'll ever see, and filling it out will force you to be concise and focused as you set core values, a vision, a strategy and a three year plan for your company. It helps to have advisors or a management team to help you fill this out, but if unavailable, a coach, friend or family member will do. Book one to two days to do this work, and plan to revisit it for a day once per quarter to analyze and reassess.
2. Put the right people in the right seats to lead the company.
The biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is to try to do too much on their own. To truly build a meaningful, scalable company, you need to have great leaders under you to lead the way, and let you focus on what really matters (the three things on this list). To find these people, use your network. LinkedIn is the best free tool to find competent professionals, so use it to reach out to the connections of your connections. Once you meet them, take it slow. Don't fall in love too fast. Make sure anyone you're considering for a leadership role is well-aligned with you on mission, vision, and strategy. And the moment you realize that a leader isn't the right person or in the right role, it's time to make a move--immediately.
3. Make sure you always have enough money in the bank to make payroll.
As long as you're growing, it doesn't really matter how much money you have in the bank--as long as you enough to make payroll--and of course keep the lights on. There is plenty of helpful advice about raising money available. But it's not just about raising money from investors or obtaining a credit line--it's about managing cash flow. This excellent, free set of cash flow tools via Google Docs can help you keep track of this all-important resource.
Is this a simplified version of everything you need to build a great company? Perhaps. But I've found it's always better to simplify things as much as possible, for yourself and for others. Do just these three things right, and you'll be well on your way to building a great company.