It’s a simple case of market saturation. When looking for information and advice on starting a business, there’s such a vast abundance of information that it can become very difficult to separate the valuable insight from the noise. Much of the content available can be very useful, when taken in isolation. However, because of the sheer volume of content available, the list of things you “must” do to run a business successfully seems to never end.
This can be a bit overwhelming and daunting as a business owner, especially if you’re running a start-up. As someone who offers this kind of advice, I’m part of the problem myself. With that in mind, I’d like to cross off a few items on the “to-do” list of business owners. Here are a few things that you do not need to worry about, when you’re first getting started in business:
1) Don’t count until there’s something to count. You don’t need a formal accounting system in place when you’re first getting started. In the very beginning of a business, there’s nothing to count. There are expenses, and there’s certainly a checking account, but there’s no real revenue. You should keep track of what you spend, but you don’t need a profit-loss statement in the very beginning. Now, you still have to apply common sense. If the business starts to scale and you start to get revenue, then it’s time to get a simple accounting system: something inexpensive that tracks revenue, expenses and cash. However, at the start, stick with a checkbook balance system.
2) You don’t need an office. Office space is overhead, plain and simple. Overhead is the enemy when you’re starting a business. Many businesses can be started from home, and I’d highly recommend doing this, if possible. One of my best friends runs a successful recruiting practice. In the first eight years, he made this business incredibly profitable, all while working out of his house. Eventually, he rented office space, using the cash flow he generated from bootstrapping early on to pay for the space. Most entrepreneurs increase their overhead way too early, and it can have disastrous implications on a company’s cash flow and solvency.
3) You don’t need a “management team.” Many entrepreneurs try to develop a management team, which, like renting office space, unnecessarily increases overhead. This senior-level team should be built once there’s proof of concept for the business model, and once you need structure to allow the business to continue growing. It often takes several years to achieve the level of growth and proof of concept that warrants an experienced executive or management team. One big misconception is that all businesses will grow rapidly. Very few companies experience rapid, Inc 5000-esque growth within the first few years. Adding layers of management (and the expensive titles that accompany these layers) is one of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make in the early stages of their business.
4) You don’t need insurance. This varies by industry, but don’t worry about an insurance policy at the beginning stages of developing your business. If you’re starting a medical practice, it definitely makes sense to get malpractice insurance. But if you’re starting a landscaping company, you don’t need insurance in the beginning. Focus instead on growing and developing your business.
5) You do not need to be incorporated. The concept that businesses need to be incorporated is incredibly frustrating, and one of the largest near-frauds to be hoisted upon the entrepreneurial public in the past few years. You see commercials for legal services websites and platforms targeted at businesses, and the not-so-subtle implication is that that you need to be incorporated to be a successful business. Hair dressers don’t need to be incorporated. For many businesses, the risk is low, and you don’t typically need a division between your personal assets and your corporate assets. Incorporation is something you do when you have significant business liability and you want to separate that liability from your personal liability. It’s certainly helpful to consult a lawyer, when you have enough money to afford one. They can give you decent advice on this subject, although they tend to err on the side of risk management even before there’s any risk.
There’s an old expression that “many people play business while few people do business.” People who “play” business have a need to look bigger, put structures in place and have titles. People who “do” business focus on the basics. The best entrepreneurs I’ve met are monomaniacal on developing successful products and winning their first customer, especially in the beginning stages of developing their business.