Entrepreneurs' checklist

Many of the following reflections and entrepreneurial ideas are not original, but are concepts compiled and adapted from published sources over several years. Most, however, represent the original thinking of Cummings Properties' founder, Bill Cummings.

Readers will not find these items particularly awe-inspiring, but certainly there are many concepts to benefit both the newest businessperson and the seasoned serial entrepreneur, as well. More so for the latter, because he or she will have the experience to recognize the value in so many of these nuggets:


  • Experience is a name men can give to their mistakes. And entrepreneurial mistakes must be freely accepted because risk is so inherent in the concept of entrepreneurship. When companies become conservative and sluggish, whatever innovative talent they have will go overlooked very quickly.

  • Good managers will seek out bad news more aggressively than good news. The answer to "What is the worst thing that happened today?" gives so much more useful information than does the opposite question. Hearing bad vibes on a timely basis gives the good executive the opportunity to react to the problem, and promptly do something about it. Managers need an acutely tuned sensitivity to both problems and opportunities that do or can affect their businesses, and not be blindsided.

  • Opportunities may occasionally just fall into our laps, but more often they are created through hard work and hustle. People who are striving to achieve something are also far more likely to recognize opportunities when they do see them, and then be in a position to do something about them. Conversely, others will be too unsure of themselves or too timid, and they simply won't be willing to act.

  • Executives whose subordinates simply try to imitate them are at a great loss, and sub-managers who will not call the shots as they see them lose much of their value. They are "imitation" managers rather than "authentic" managers. They either don't know enough to come up with correct answers, or they are simply too timid to speak up on their own. Executives who fail to strongly encourage their subordinates to express their opinions and "second guess" the executive will simply not hear the information they need to make the most intelligent decisions.

  • What do you want to accomplish and where do you want to be in three months, or three years, or three decades? Set goals and consciously work toward them. This thinking would seem to apply to developers like Cummings Properties, which builds and leases buildings, as well as to every one of the 2,000 or so client firms that occupy Cummings' 10 million square feet.

  • In addition to selling the product itself, "selling quality" usually also means marketing to quality accounts. Once a firm creates a good product or service, and creates an image to accompany it, that firm should try very hard to forget about the prospects who care only about price. Seek out clients who will pay the necessary premium for reliability, consistency, and service. Mostly, this implies finding prosperous customers who can't afford anything less than quality service from their suppliers.

  • The surest way for a business to be successful is for someone to design or invent a high quality product or service and then produce it cost effectively. Very often, if a product is truly only 10 percent better than the competition, it can be portrayed and sold for much more than that. Even if the product is only different from the competition, it may often be perceived as better, with appropriate merchandising.

  • Incalculable money, time, and effort can be thrown away by owners or managers who rely on inaccurate or misstated "facts." Top management in any company must have the intuitive sense to know when it is receiving puffed up or misinterpreted information, offered as facts. Management must be sure that its information is absolutely reliable, and not some third party's suppositions, when that information forms the basis for decisions. Add up the real facts and then intuit from there. How often we see elaborate spreadsheets purporting to project the enar certainty of rosy future profits.

  • There are few more important attributes in business than the ability to communicate properly and to solve problems. Conversely, however, there is probably no area where people who enter business professions are less prepared than in the area of business writing. The general ability of the average college graduate to write an effective, well-structured business letter is shameful. Then, when it comes to writing even the simplest business agreement, that ability seems to deteriorate even further.

  • When we put our ideas on paper for others to read, poor thinking is much more evident than it is in speech. Writing things down is the ideal way to test the clarity of our thinking, before it is scrutinized by others. Illogical statements and conclusions are far less likely to achieve their objectives in writing than they are verbally. The fine points of documents do not always have to reflect technical brilliance, but they do have to always be well ordered and logical from start to finish.

  • Jobs that are tailor made for workers will often pay big dividends. We are always far more productive if we feature people's strengths rather than their weaknesses. Get people working on the things that they are good at, and they'll get better and better. If managers keep employees busy enough working with their strengths, their weaknesses will be far less likely to hurt them. This is one more area where flexibility and accommodation in the workplace can be to everyone's advantage.

  • The essence of managing in most businesses is people contact. Many executives greatly increase their effectiveness either by circulating a lot, or by being very available for brief comments or consults to help focus others or give them direction. Brief, unplanned interludes give a good manager the opportunity to react to work-in-progress, so that shifts and adjustments can be made before all of the work is expended to create a final product, which then must be changed. Sometimes this is referred to as "management by walking around."

  • Most people who get things done are inherently gamblers of a sort. Certainly, they will sometimes come up short, but some failures always come with the play of the game. These people who do get things done will always have some sort of a reasonable fall-back position, and in the end, they will rarely ever "lose," unless they walk off the field.

  • There often is so much information that it can't possibly all be taken in. Sometimes it's like trying to drink from a fire hose. When setting up a business deal, it's usually far more important to reach agreement on the overall concept of the deal, rather than it is to try to work out all of the details in advance.

  • One of the greatest challenges for business leaders is to quickly identify employees at all levels who have the capability to advance quickly, and then see that they do. It is truly unfortunate when potential company leaders are needlessly lost, simply because no one has encouraged them to stay and grow with the firm.

  • Entrepreneurs will always do well to heed Ben Franklin's sage advice, "A penny saved is a penny earned." New firms bootstrapping their way to profitability cannot overlook any expense, no matter how seemingly trivial. Pennies matter, they do become dollars, and sometimes very big dollars. Recurring expenses or repeat purchases are great places to start; e.g., phone plans, pens, pencils, copy expenses, utility bills, coffee costs and the like. By saving pennies and other precious resources, entrepreneurs can build funds for truly critical expenses, such as growth or research. For example, recycling paper that would otherwise be thrown out, for notes or for internal messages, saves more than avoidable stationery and trash expenses. Much more importantly, such practices reinforce a culture of frugality and attention to detail that will pay dividends well before the nascent firm is ready to pay dividends. JW

  • Oftentimes in business we don't need to be smarter than people in other firms, as long as we are willing to OUTWORK them. Enduring enthusiasm for work, and for achieving results, can be far more important than financial backing or power.

  • "A speculator is one who runs risks of which he is very much aware, while an investor is one who runs risks of which he is often not at all aware."

    John Maynard Keyes

  • When finding solutions to problems, and sometimes very difficult situations, it stands to reason that our first answer or the first solution to most problems will probably not be the best answer. Those with strong leadership qualities will review the decisions of others, and then try to build and improve upon them for better ultimate decisions. Similarly, we must second-guess ourselves. Never assume that our first workable answer to any problem is the best answer, and then run with it. Instead, lay back a little and think about what might make the solution a better one, or invite co-workers to think about it, too.

  • It is the constant process of paying attention to even the smallest details that make ventures successful. A few examples of the little details we think about in the commercial real estate business include such things as: dirty glass, or loose thresholds, or loose push plates, etc., at entrance doors. Snags or loose threads hanging from carpet, especially on stairways; loose papers or trash or icy patches in parking areas; burned out bulbs or bad photocells in outdoor lighting fixtures, all are other telltale signs of property neglect. Even the simple courtesy of routinely encouraging smiling and saying "hello" to strangers whom employees regularly encounter in their travels through various buildings is a "detail" easily overlooked, but readily improved, for free. Anyone and everyone who is involved in the management of a company must pay attention to details like the above. We need to see that whatever we do is done correctly, and always encourage suggestions for improvements at any time.
Cummings Properties LLC, 200 West Cummings Park, Woburn, MA 781-935-8000