Being your own boss requires laser-like focus, which can often be daunting for entrepreneurs trying to wear too many hats at once.
When distractions are the norm, priorities can blur and the business can sputter before you even land your first client.
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Here, experts share five key steps to successfully navigating a new business and how to stay focused while you do it.
1. Know your destination. Before anything, experts say you must picture your business with the end in mind. "Your vision has to be crystal clear or you're going to flounder because the day-to-day grind will wear you down," said Shawn Brodof, founder of Charlotte, N.C.-based Clarity Coaching.
How to do it: Write down what your business will look like in one to three years. Get specific, advised Dan Murphy, founder and president of The Growth Coach, a nationwide business coaching franchise. Get started by asking yourself: What array of products or services will you offer? What about revenues? How many employees will you have? What kind of lifestyle do you want?
2. Create a roadmap. Once you know where you're going, the critical, yet most often overlooked, next step is figuring out how to get there: the business plan. "A lot of folks won't do it; they'll say it's in their head," but it really needs to be on paper, said Brodof, who is also the self-published author of The Termite Effect: 25 Common Business Mistakes and Their Hidden Consequences.
How to do it: At the very least, fill one page with your top five goals spelled out in a 90-day action plan and then update that every quarter, suggested Murphy.
"It should all be about driving revenues; don't get caught up in administrative details," he said. "What are you doing to do to find customers, sell to customers and then satisfy those customers?"
3. Cue yourself to stay on track. A plan won't help if it's tucked away in a filing cabinet gathering dust. Keep it front and center, post it in a place you'll see every day.
"It will force you to constantly look at your vision for your business, and then you can ask yourself throughout the day: 'Is what I'm doing right now going to get me there?'" said Brodof.
How to do it: Post your visionary plan in more than one place, advised Brodof. Write it on a whiteboard, tape it to a mirror or computer monitor and carry it in your wallet or purse. You can even schedule a daily reminder of your goals on your smart phone.
4. Monitor your path. Even the most organized business owners have to be vigilant about time management. Experts say it's far too easy to become distracted by trying to tackle too many tasks at once. Before you know it, the day is gone and you have nothing to show for it.
"When you lose that focus, your passion and enthusiasm starts leaking like an oil leak in your car," said Brodof . "Then your motivation and drive starts suffering and that's where you see the breakdown." If that happens, he said the best way to get back on track is to keep an activity log.
How to do it: Write down everything you do on an hourly basis from sun-up to sundown. Within just a few days you'll look at the log and realize exactly where you're wasting time -- and then prioritize.
Murphy suggested assigning a dollar amount to your time and before every task ask yourself: "Is this really worth your time?" Then, at day's end, take five minutes to write down tomorrow's three most-important tasks to grow your business; do those first before anything else.
5. Be accountable -- and not just to yourself. Experts say few people have the discipline to follow through on their business plan, without having someone to turn to. The key is to find someone who will be your reality check.
"It is going to keep them accountable to their plan and challenge them when they have new ideas," said Murphy. "A partner provides some discipline and objectivity that is sorely lacking for entrepreneurs."
How to do it: Whether it's a coach, friend, colleague or even family member, find someone to hold you accountable to your goals. Commit to a weekly chat or e-mail your progress on a regular basis.
"You may be willing to disappoint yourself, but you're less likely to disappoint someone else," said Brodof. "Once you have someone to be accountable to, it changes everything. It's by far the best thing an entrepreneur can do to ensure their success."
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