Your list may differ - feel free to rant (or rave) in the comments - but this is the list that I've come up with after 24 years running my own businesses and teaching and coaching other people to do the same. The choice of which is most important has changed in those 2+ decades, but I can look back over the entire time and find them all firmly installed.
If you can not imagine where to go, you will end up somewhere you would never have imagined - yes, a tautology, I know, but stay with me. Others have said that if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail and while that is true, I do not view "vision" the same as "plan".
Vision (to me) is more like a "big why" or a BHAG whereas a plan is how to get some distance closer to that imagined long term outcome. Vision is what must inform all the plans, both large and small, along the way.
You can't think long term while worrying about next week's dinner budget. The primary cause of business failure is time and again listed as "under capitalization" which is kinda of catchall like the NTSB's findings of "pilot error". Running out of money, or crashing the plane, is not the cause of the problem, just the result of it.
If you don't have enough money to stay the distance until you can get to breakeven then you should stop the bleeding, change the business model or accelerate revenue. At least one of those is always possible so the real cause of failure is "pilot error". But there we are again - what caused that? Almost always it is fear.
It does not take much in the way of brains to cut expenses, help with your business model is available for free from SCORE or for a beer from your buddies, and accelerating revenue is more often than not just being aggressive with sales or doubling down on production. Business is not really all that technical, but it is damn scary!
Pretty much of the entire job is scary:
- we are the top sales/marketing person; we hold all of our employees' livelihoods in our hands;
- our own financial future and good name are at risk;
- we are always out of balance in terms of work, pleasure and health;
- and with the exception of other business owners, no one appreciates what we do or can even understand it.
Sounds like a great gig, eh? You have to control fear. Choose your own poison, but mine is a unique form of faith long enough in form that it must wait for another day.
Check Your Ego
Where confidence leaves off and ego begins I have no idea, but I have seen many owners - myself included more than once - fail because they would not ask for help or admit they were wrong. That's a big problem. When you get married to your decisions and refuse to correct them to save face, you will eventually make that one big mistake that crashes the plane.
BTW, ego is the primary cause of failure to delegate so if you are not hiring and outsourcing and doing the work yourself instead ... check your ego ... you'll find that you are NOT nearly as good at your job as you think.
No one in your company will ever do more than 75% of whatever you do, so do absolutely as much as you possibly can. Set the bar high and by demonstration show other people where they work and how they are expected to behave. This is not just about "hard work" - that's easy - this is more about emotional discipline.
That means being on time; remembering action items, milestones, deliverables and appointments; and it means always being a productive mood and never losing your cool. Companies do not run themselves, people do, and they (we) are emotional creatures.
All The Things Not On The List
Here are a few common "secrets of success" from other lists that are not on my pwn because they are not causes - they are symptoms. If you have these symptoms, check for your likely underlying causes above.
- Hiring and Outsourcing: Yes, you should be. See Ego.
- Documented Systems and Procedures: See Vision, Fear and maybe Ego.
- Delegate Authority as well as Responsibility: See Fear and (as important) Discipline.
- Business Model: See Vision.
- [Enter your choice here]: See all of the above.