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Six tips for bucking the small business failure rate

Starting a company is no walk in the park. Entrepreneurs and small business owners will tell you growing a business requires dedication, hard work and strategic planning to succeed. A recent Industry Canada study concluded that 30 per cent of small businesses won't survive longer than two years, and only half make it to five years. While daunting for some, this doesn't have to be you.

Here are six tips to avoid being a casualty:

1. Declare how big you want to be in 24 months and use this revenue goal to develop your game plan. Why 24 months? Because if you are to survive for two years while others die, you need to keep your eye on execution and the short-term results of your efforts. It makes no sense to waste your time on a five-year plan, for example, since the latter years may not matter if your short-term efforts fail.

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2. Choose who you intend to serve. Where will you generate your revenue? Choose customers who have the potential to deliver the growth you want and be specific in your selection. Look for discrete groups of people who you believe want the value you provide. I always guide people to go after the 'fast and easy' customers since survival depends on how fast you ramp up sales. You can't afford a six-month selling cycle in a 24-month game plan.

3. Determine how you intend to compete and win by answering the killer question: "Why should I buy from you and not your competitor?" This is where most businesses choke. You need to be clear and specific on how you are different than your competition. If you can't answer the question, you will be judged as essentially the same as everyone else and will be invisible to the customers you're targeting. The only statement is the claim that will distinguish your business from the herd: "We're the only ones who..."

4. Focus on the critical few, not the possible many. You don't have unlimited bandwidth and resources to do it all. Pick three things that you believe will help you drive your game plan forward and do them quickly. Many entrepreneurs fail because they are mesmerized by possibilities and try to achieve too much. Keep your to-do list short and get stuff done.

5. Cut the crap. Your game plan is as much about stopping things as it is about starting things. You can't afford to continue activities that are not directly related to executing your game plan. Take an inventory of all the tasks you have on the go. Create a cut list of all the things you are now doing that should be stopped, and a keep list of the things you should continue to do as strong game plan contributors.

6. Plan on the run. Stay loose on your game plan – it's not carved in stone. Be open to tweaking it based on what you discover and learn through execution. No plan ever turns out the way you intended; there are too many unforeseen variables at play. Plan, execute, learn, adjust, execute, learn, adjust is the planning model that works in a volatile world.

Final word: don't get mesmerized by your long-term potential. Focus on the next 24 months; earn the right to stay in business longer.

Roy Osing is a former executive vice-president and chief marketing officer with over 33 years of leadership experience. He's a blogger, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead.

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