I am often asked what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. What skills or qualities are prerequisites for successfully launching a business? In my opinion, the most important ability in any successful businessperson is the ability to prioritize.
Let’s look at a hypothetical example. Let’s say there are four wildfires raging at one time. Three are relatively minor, but one is large, and is getting closer to civilization. What should the firefighters do? Should they attack the smaller ones first and claim easy victories? Or should they go after the largest, most life threatening blaze first? The answer here should be obvious.
Starting a business isn’t easy, and it will never go as planned. If you are setting yourself up to captain that ship, you had better be ready for an unending string of crises. So when things start to go wrong, how will you handle it? I have seen dozens of people and businesses fail when their leaders fail to prioritize.
One thing is true of all new businesses: they will have very limited money, and nearly unlimited problems. So just like those wildfires discussed above, it is important to attack the biggest, and most immediate problems first. They may not always be the most exciting problems to solve…it is much nicer to put out a small fire and take an “atta boy”, but that is not the way to handle things if your goal is longevity.
For example, I have recently noticed a ton of new businesses focusing on branding, employee culture, and customer experience. Sure, it is fun to release an immaculate brand book, set up the perfect office space, and define the ideal customer process…but absolutely none of those things should be a priority before you have customers! The largest fire is always customer acquisition. You can have an amazing customer experience set up and ready to go, but what happens when you open your doors and no one walks through? In order for a business to succeed, you need to provide a good or service at a price customers are willing to pay. And here’s the real secret, your best guess on what the customer wants is never going to be right. If you waste your time and resources perfecting something that no one is actually going to buy, then you are dead in the water. It is always better to spend your time and energy on customer acquisition first, and then deal with branding and user experience further down the line. That means more time spent on research and development, operational flexibility, and course changing early on. Once you have figured out what your true value proposition is to your customers, you can focus on perfecting the customer journey. When problems like that come along, they are great problems to have, but don’t waste your time and your money solving them before you need to.
Always, always, always, attack the biggest and most threatening problem first.