Much has been written — including my last column on GeekWire —about why it’s important for new businesses and startups to keep from acting like big companies. But that doesn’t mean the startup environment is a model of efficiency and productivity.

There are, in fact, several common startup characteristics that big companies should avoid to increase their chances of success and growth. Here are a few.

Don’t be so reactive

It’s easy for any business to get into fire-drill mode, and equally easy for startups to justify being reactive (they call it “nimble”) to take advantage of market opportunities. But even when you’re blazing a new trail, you need a plan. You should know where you’re going to focus – strategically, for the year, with your department, and yourself this month, week and today. Yes, there will still be fire drills. But know what’s important and put your focus there.

Plan farther ahead

Running a business in a brand-new market isn’t an excuse to execute without a plan. It’s also not an excuse to plan months or just a couple quarters ahead. Have a vision for what success looks like 12 months from now or more, and use that vision to guide your daily decision-making and execution today.

Institutionalize learning & best practices

You tried this trade show last year. What did you learn? What was worthwhile and what was a waste of time and money? It’s particularly easy for start-ups to let institutional knowledge leak out with role changes and turnover, or simply because those minute best practices were forgotten a year later. Take the time to document what’s working, and keep them in a centralized, well-organized place for anyone to access later.

Avoid being penny wise & pound foolish

I attended a meeting with a startup once where we spend an hour debating a $50-dollar expense for an upcoming event. The overall budget for the event was $10,000. Was that a good use of an hour, with six people in the room? Or if there’s a clear opportunity to accelerate your goal achievement with something that wasn’t previously budgeted, do you push for it anyway? Be frugal and watch your pennies, at every stage of business growth, but keep an lookout for opportunities that may not have been planned, but will move you forward more quickly.

Document & leverage processes for repeatable tasks

The person responsible for executing your webinars today? They likely won’t have that job in two years. So when someone new steps in, will they know how to do it just as well? Too often in the start-up world, repeatable tasks of all sorts are executed each time like it’s the first time, without following a process or set of best practices. Document the repeatable tasks and projects so others can easily step in and make them better moving forward.

Keep your best people for more than 1-2 years

Startups are notorious for high turnover rates. But if you’ve identified your “A” players, do what it takes to keep them. Find what motivates them the most (cash, stock, responsibility, recognition) and ensure you’re executing a mutually-beneficial value exchange.


Matt Heinz is president of Heinz Marketing, a Redmond-based sales & marketing firm. You can connect with Matt via emailTwitterLinkedIn or his blog. He writes occasionally on GeekWire under the column Productivity Porn. Previous columns…An introduction to productivity porn: How to be lazy, productive & successful… 15 New Year Resolutions for Entrepreneurs.… Productivity Porn: 7 tricks for beating procrastinationMain photo via Bigstock.

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