Editor’s note: Dr. Stephen C. Harper is an entrepreneurship professor at UNC-Wilmington and the author of “Extraordinary Entrepreneurship: The Professional’s Guide to Starting an Exceptional Enterprise.” This is the latest in a series of guest columns for LTW from the membership of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED).

WILIMINGTON,”To create the child — easy; To raise the child — difficult.”

This Chinese proverb applies very well to the challenges entrepreneurs face who are able to traverse the startup minefield. So much time and attention is directed to the process of starting a business that entrepreneurs are often blindsided or overwhelmed by the constant stream of challenges that follow startup. Entrepreneurs frequently ask, “When will all the trials and tribulations end?” They also ask, “When will I get a chance to catch my breath?”

First-time entrepreneurs tend to be very naïve when it comes to the challenges they will face and how their responsibilities change as soon as they get their firms up and running. Most first-time entrepreneurs do not recognize that they go from being an entrepreneur to chief executive officer the moment their ventures are created.

Some entrepreneurs rise to the occasion and make the transition fairly smoothly. They are able to lead their firms and create an environment that fosters continued growth and success. Unfortunately, many first-time entrepreneurs are ill prepared for the multitude of different challenges they will face. To make matters worse, many either fail to recognize how their role has changed or they do not step aside when it is clear that they may be jeopardizing their venture’s future or even its very survival.

Blame Game

Most entrepreneurs who encounter major problems tend to blame the surprises and setbacks on external factors such as increasing competition, government regulations, tight capital markets, unmotivated workers, and a litany of other factors.

The bottom line is that the entrepreneur is the most important factor in determining an emerging venture’s success.

So much for the sermon. What can be done to increase the probability entrepreneurs lead their ventures rather than contribute to their downfall? The first thing to recognize is that as the venture’s CEO your job is to prepare your firm for the future. Entrepreneurs must be able to differentiate the issues that must be addressed right now for the firm to succeed in the next three to five years.

Entrepreneurs also need to focus on the things that may not be pressing, but will also have a dramatic impact on the firm’s future. Too many entrepreneurs fall prey to the “tyranny of the urgent.” They spend so much time putting out fires that could have been prevented with more foresight and discipline that they never have the time to prepare the firm for a very different tomorrow. Instead of sensing and seizing opportunities, they spend their time just trying to get through the day.

Some Recommendations

Here are a few tips for entrepreneurs who want to lead their ventures:

  • Make sure your business plan for your new venture includes an analysis of the challenges the venture will face after startup, how they will be addressed, and the contingency plans that may be implemented to address them. Veteran entrepreneurs know “stuff” happens. They also know that if you can’t prevent something, then you should at least prepare for it.

  • Do a reality check and ask yourself, “If I applied for the job of being the venture’s chief executive officer, would the board of directors hire me?”

  • Surround yourself with people who are savvy to the challenges associated with life after startup. Make sure your board of directors is comprised of people who add value to the firm through their experience, judgment, contacts, and candor. If you are not willing to have a board that has high expectations, that will ask you challenging questions, and who have the guts to recommend you step aside for someone who is better equipped to lead the venture, then don’t even start your venture.

  • Don’t get too wrapped up in your firm’s initial products, services, markets, processes, and customers. Markets are ever changing. What may thrill customers when you start your venture can become a commodity over night. While capitalizing on your initial products and services, make sure you stay in tune with what the market really wants and that you have even better products and services in your pipeline. Adopt Wayne Gretzky’s philosophy of playing the puck where it will be rather than where it is. Learn how to play at least “one market ahead.”

  • Build a great management team and succession plan from the beginning. Life is full of surprises. Create an environment that attracts, develops, capitalizes on, rewards, and keeps extremely capable people. If you cannot attract and keep outstanding people, then take a look at the example you set and how you manage your people. You may be reason for the lack of motivation, creativity, and productivity.

  • Someone once observed. “If your venture is not changing as much as the world outside then your firm is already in the process of going broke.” The same also applies to your role. If you are not staying in sync with how the world is changing and developing the skills you will need to deal with the challenges they will bring, then you are undermining your firm’s future.

    Dr. Stephen C, Harper is the Progress Energy/Betty Cameron Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Harper is president of Harper and Associates, Inc., a management consulting firm. He is an award-winning professor and best selling author. His latest book “Extraordinary Entrepreneurship: The Professional’s Guide to Starting an Exceptional Enterprise” (John Wiley & Sons), leads entrepreneurs through a 14-step process on identifying and evaluating market opportunities, developing a business plan, and securing appropriate funding. The book incorporates a number of interviews of entrepreneurs in the Triangle. The foreword was written by serial entrepreneur Scot Wingo of ChannelAdvisor. For more information on his book visit: www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0471697192.html or email Harper directly at harpers@uncw.edu.