Starting a business is not a cinch. Both failed and successful entrepreneurs will tell you the road of building a business is littered with curves, turns, bumps and lots of see-saw rides.

Lots of stars have to align to build a successful business, but the one ingredient that needs to be in the mix is serious homework, homework before the start of the company and homework during the operation of the business. Most company owners just go about their day-to-day business without a real full, well-defined game plan in mind, and that's where doing your homework comes in.

I equate the homework you need to do prior to starting a business to golf course management. For those of you who don't play golf, course management is all about getting up to the golf tee, concentrating and preparing yourself to hit the ball in the most strategic well-placed location so you can be in the best position for your next shot. Most importantly, "studying" the landscape of the particular hole can make you or break you on that hole. There are hundreds of yards of beautiful grass, but also potential hazards, like the rough, sand traps, water.

Given the obstacles to your hole in one, the few extra seconds that good golfers spend understanding what's ahead for the next few hundred yards, the better they will score. Even Tiger Woods, who has played all of the championship courses, together with his caddy, does his homework and evaluates the course landscape before he hits a shot.

So, when you are ready to "tee-off" a new business, and during the life of any business, spend quality time understanding every nook and cranny of the business. Become more knowledgeable than anyone about the market, competition, products, pricing and everything else that would increase the odds that you don't land in a sand trap.

No one has a crystal ball, but as my first -- and only -- boss told me, "knowledge is power." So, here are my top five suggestions for doing your homework and surrounding yourself with the knowledge that can help lead your business to success.

  1. Spend some time every day doing Internet searches. Look up competitors' websites. Scour news articles. Read weblogs. If appropriate for your business, search the patent database ( Bookmark all of these sites and come back often. Every time you go back, you will find something new.
  2. Sign up for Google Alerts. Load in the most important words you want to follow: products, competitors, and people involved in the industry. I have my alerts go to my Blackberry. It's amazing the information I get as it happens.
  3. Select a few trade shows to attend each year. Invariably, every time I go to an industry conference, I learn something or meet a new contact that helps make my business more successful.
  4. Talk to as many people that will listen to you about your business as possible, and ask lots of questions. Though it might hurt, I think the most important feedback is the negative type. The kind most business owners get defensive about. So, get opinions, particularly if they are from the "target," your potential buyer or customer.
  5. Make sure you have a written business plan, no matter how long or short it is. Look at it every month. Keep on tweaking it based on all the information you learned from the previous month.

The more information you have, the better position you will be in to propel your business forward. So don't become the entrepreneur that says, "If I only knew that before I started." Stay informed and you'll be building a platform for success for your new business.