Rules for Entrepreneurs: Pay yourself first

Over the last 9 years and two startups I have learned many things and screwed up royally in some cases. This ongoing series is about providing you best practices of lessons learned and avoiding the mistakes I have already made.

In the past, I have had good years and bad years. When you have employees, they expect to be paid and when you mess with payroll (and payroll taxes, but that is a post for another time) you create such a negative culture that nothing will get done.

With that said, when you are starting your business regardless if it is a service or product company, you will have startup costs and probably forgo paying yourself for 6-12 months to keep growing the business. That is fine and to be expected. What you should not do (and what I did) is keep adding staff and sacrifice your own salary in the name of growth. If you keep going like that and have a bad quarter you will have nothing saved for a rainy day and if the business fails you will probably be in immense debt and got nothing out of the business.

Granted, the balance between growth and cash flow is a tenuous one but it is one thing you should never defer to someone else in beginning. Plus, there is a difference between creating a lifestyle business and an enterprise. A lifestyle business is really making enough money for yourself and having some contractors or 1-2 people that gives you a good salary but is more about freedom. An enterprise is a business that scales and gets big over time but you will be working intense amounts in the beginning but will need to hire those smarter than you with the intention that you are looking for an exit and will have time for freedom when you cash out.

So when you are growing the business you should work the first 6-12 months paying off the initial capital expenses and getting about 6 months of cashflow for yourself before you hire anyone else. Once you have that done, start paying yourself something, even if it is small and will ramp up over six months, pay yourself first. This will get you in the habit of being committed to making the business pay for itself and you so you are not worrying about living month to month and let you find some resources to help you deliver while you continue to sell and grow the business.

Once you are looking at hiring someone use these two rules as a starting basis:

– Have six months of payroll for that person in the bank on top of your salary

– Have 90 days of projects or sales committed for that person to deliver so they not only have something to do but are earning their keep.

So I hope I got my point across on this one. You might have to be conservative at first in your growth but in the end you will scale better and create a business that is focused on delivery and customer service without putting you and your employees on a cash flow roller coaster.

What have been your experiences in starting up? When did you start paying yourself? Do you agree with my conservative approach? Did you do something different?

I look forward to hearing from you.

New Series: Writing a Marketing Plan

Since the Business Plan series came to a close I thought of the next logical step in what you have to do in your business to support the business plan and its operations.

This next step is the marketing plan.

Logically, your CMO or VP of Marketing would be in charge of this effort but in many startups you don’t have someone in that position so it is probably you with the ultimate responsibility. So my dear reader, I am here to the rescue to guide you through very important part of executing your overall business plan. Each one of these headings will generate one or more posts so here is an overview of what you can expect.


Describe product or service. Emphasize unique or innovative features and/or protection by patent,
copyright or other legal means.


Situational Analysis lays out the overall marketplace you are competing in and the various environments your business will have to address.

The Market

The market is a description of your total potential market (your potential customers). It will also address how your product/service satisfies the needs of this market. You will also need to describe the particular customers that you will target. This includes the size of (1) total potential market (number of potential customers), and (2) your target market. Here you will have to support your estimates with factual data. It must also discuss the growth potential of (1) total potential market, and (2) your target market. You will have to look at local, national and international markets. Support estimates with factual data. Lastly will be the market share you expect to garner.

The Competitive Environment

Here is where you will identify major competitors: name, location, and market share. You will also compare your product/service with that of your major competitors (brand name, quality, image, price, etc.). This leads to you having to compare your firm with that of your major competitors (reputation, size, distribution channels, location, etc.). You must address how easy is it for new competition to enter this market and what have you learned from watching your competition. Some important elements to include are how competitors’ sales are increasing, decreasing, steady and why.

The Technological Environment

Since every company these days incorporates some type of technology to be competitive, how is technology affecting this product/service? How soon can it be expected to become obsolete? And is your company equipped to adapt quickly to changes?

The Socio-Political Environment

One area that many marketing plans forget to address is the outer social-political environment that may impact your market potential and competitive edge. You will have to describe changing attitudes and trends plus how flexible and responsive is your firm. This will also include a list new laws and regulations that may affect your business an what might the financial impact might be.


This section is open for other situational factors that will affect your marketing plan.


This is a wide open field and specific to each business. Here you will have state each problem or opportunity and what you will do about them.


The objectives section are the milestones that you will achieve as you execute your business on a daily basis. You must state objectives in precise, quantifiable terms. (e.g. “œTo obtain a sales volume of 3000 units by the end of the fiscal year.”)


At the high level, the strategy section addresses wow will you reach your objective? (New market penetration, expansion of market share, entrenchment, etc.). This will also address how you have taken into account the previously mentioned problems and opportunities, and the potential reactions of your competitors.


With all goals in sight, there must be an action plan to meet those goals and objectives. How will you implement the above strategy? What is the quality, branding, packaging, modification, location of service, etc? How will you price your product/service so that it will be competitive, yet profitable? What will you do for promotion/advertising? What are your selling and distribution methods? How will you service the product?


All of your plans must be supported by financial data that ties into the overall business plan financials. This includes sales projections for the next five years (optimistic, pessimistic, realistic), a Breakeven Analysis (See Appendix B), and monthly cash flow for Year 1, quarterly for Years 2 and 3.


As in the business plan, the appendices are the data that would bulk up the core plan too much but are important to support your information.

Appendix A – Market Share

This includes market share data tables and more detailed competitive analysis data.

Appendix B – Breakeven Analysis

This is in support of the financial data section and shows how with your objectives met, when you will breakeven with the revenue goals and expenses detailed out and tied with the various parts of the action plan.

Appendix C – Cash Flow

As important as when you will break even, you must be able to show how, on a monthly basis, you will manage the cash flow to support the business and not sink it from an overly ambitious strategy and action plan.

Do you have any experience writing a marketing plan?

If any of you have experience writing a market plan, I would like to know what elements I might have missed and any war stories that will help other entrepreneurs learn from your experiences. Please use the comments and let’s get this conversation going.

New Series Introduction: Rules for Entrepreneurs

As you all know I just wrapped up my Business Plan Series and will be starting a Marketing Plan Series next week.

So I started thinking about what smaller bits of advice I could organize in a great ongoing series of posts. This is where I came up with “Rules for Entrepreneurs”.

These rules will range from how to hire lawyers, leveraging PR the right way, setting up your first site, how and when to hire your first sales person, putting together your sales/venture pitch, etc.

I would welcome from all of you requests for how-to’s that will help me provide you and the rest of Venture Files readers with the rules that will guide you through building a successful company.