Consultants and other mentoring types can fill you up with oh-so complicated advice for getting your business off the ground, but here are five basics that most folks never get around to talking about. And any one of these can cause serious problems that can sink you before you really get into the swim of things.

  1. Cutting corners on safety, insurance, and legalities. Having missing fire extinguishers or blocked fire exits; over-serving your bar patrons; failing at the basics of food safety: this stuff can mess you up for years if you get unlucky. Ditto on being underinsured or spottily insured, using unlicensed contractors, paying people under the table, etc.
  2. Confusing cash on hand with revenue. You'd think entrepreneurs would be smarter than this, but, just like regular folks, entrepreneurs can fall victim to the "I've got money in the bank, so it's o.k. to spend it, right?" syndrome. That cash on hand that's making you feel flush is likely very temporary in nature: It's from customer deposits, it's from a seasonal upswing (that will reverse when the seasons change), it's a bridge loan, etc. Spend it now and you'll be crying tomorrow.
  3. Being a sore loser. One of the very best ways to ultimately win in business is to come in second a lot of times--and to do so graciously. Some time in the not-so-distant future, the company(-ies) you're losing to now will turn out to be unavailable, will start to wear on their current customer, etc., and you want to be a viable next choice when this happens.
  4. Being a sore winner. Eventually you'll be winning those bids, getting those sales and projects you dreamed about, and moving toward the top of the world. Smile, but don't become a cocky jerk, and don't trash talk the competition. It's a long way down when you weren't gracious on the way up.
  5. Letting a single, early success make you lazy. Related to points #4, and to #2, no matter how good things are at this moment, you always need a pipeline of prospective business. A sale is great, but it's just one sale. In fact, as I've written before, the best time to make a second sale is right after the first. So never-never-let up on those business development efforts.