In my experience with entrepreneurs, there seems to a wealth of self-proclaimed “idea people,” who aspire to start businesses. Only a few who are willing and able to dig in and get the job done. All of the great ideas in the world will not make a business, if the ideas never get implemented. Rare great entrepreneurs, like Bill Gates and Elon Musk, have proven to be both.
I worked with Bill Gates, in the early days of Microsoft and the IBM PC, while I was with IBM. Bill was relentless in his focus on getting the software PC DOS project delivered, while continually challenging us with new business models. Elon Musk is known for his focus on implementation. He is often working 80-100 hours a week, while still able to offer an endless supply of innovative ideas.
Your first task as an entrepreneur, should be to find a co-founder who can deliver. Finding a co-founder is rarely a bad thing. Here are some specifics on how follow-up trumps ideas for success in the key challenges of a startup, or any small business:
- Networking with investors, partners, and customers. Meeting people and talking about your ideas will not get you very far. First, you have to listen carefully to what the other party is looking for. Then, you have to follow-up to meet their connections, do personal dinner invitations for relationship building, and demonstrate traction.
- Tailor investor proposals and term-sheets. Professional investors expect far more than an idea pitch. They are looking for a documented opportunity analysis and realistic financial projections. They watch for formal follow-up to questions, demonstration of real product, and revenue results. Passionate reiteration of the idea will not close funding.
- Detailed product specifications and prototypes. An initial product is rarely fully defined, as features are added and subtracted to meet the audience of the day. Milestones are not met because, there is no implementation discipline. Products from idea entrepreneurs often try to be everything to everyone.
- Productivity and time management challenges. Idea entrepreneurs are largely driven by the “crisis of the moment,” or the next event on their schedule. They are too busy to follow-up on a major partner opportunity, customer inquiry, or a critical internal process, that simply is not working. Communication to the team suffers, and productivity is low.
- Managing marketing metrics and the sales pipeline. Effective marketing, requires converting ideas to real content, creating programs to educate channels, and managing metrics to see what works and what needs to change. Follow-up is required for every sales lead. It is also required for every pipeline that is built, and a sales process documented, with training for new reps.
- Customer acquisition, retention, and support. Ideas do not generate customer loyalty. Most experts agree that acquisition of a new customer costs six times more than, retaining existing customers. Lack of follow-up after a sale, can cost you more customers than poor service or poor quality.
- Maintaining professional relationships. Any business associate will be impressed with ideas for long. They may experience unpredictable follow-up delays in email, phone calls, or delivery commitments. Disciplined execution is as critical to communication and relationships, as it is to the outcome of your business.
For business professionals, if you do not do follow-up well, you should never aspire to be a manager or an executive. Most executives will tell you that their ideas come to them, during their spare time.
Every small business needs to be built around a great idea. Every entrepreneur needs to find innovative new ideas regularly, to stay ahead of the crowd. The bulk of the real work and time to make a startup or small business successful, is in the execution and follow-up.
Idea people will be feel comfortable and appreciated in the design, marketing, or planning department of a larger and mature organization, with an implementation team behind them. Successful entrepreneurs need to enjoy the journey, perhaps more than the destination.
Image Credit: CC by Mike Linksvayer