critical tools

I am not operating under optimal conditions. I have less time in my life than ever. I receive no regular pay check. I carry the burden of trying to recreate a success. I am an entrepreneur.

Before I was 25 years old, I had co-founded a million dollar publishing company. Before I was 30, it had grown to a six million dollar business. I sold the company at its height when I was 32 and I’ve been creating new enterprises ever since.

Now more than ever I realize how important efficiency and decisive, informed decision making is. To help guide me through fast paced days, the follow five tools are critical:

1. Brainstorming. Executing. Killing. How I start every week.

As a serial entrepreneur, my brain rarely rests. Ideas are always spinning out of my head and I itch to execute them. So I have devised an unofficial way to brainstorm, execute and kill ideas (the bad ones).

Brainstorm Often

When brainstorming, write down as much detail behind your idea as you can. What is the product/service? Who are the customers? What is the problem you solve for them? How much would they be willing to pay? Who are the competitors?

Execute your Idea

If your ideas make it past the brainstorming stage, and you think the idea has legs, act! There is nothing worse than a great idea that never makes it to execution stage.

Poll potential customers: Before you get too deep into any idea (and before you spend any money), set up a survey of those you believe will be your customers. The poll can be in person or using an online service like Constant Contact. Try to encourage as many respondents as possible (we gave away a $25 Starbucks gift card) Ask them to vet your idea. Ask them what they would pay. And most importantly, ask them if you can count on them to be a customer. Do not ignore the results!
If your idea passes muster, then it is time to put together your business plan, raise funds if necessary and enter the market before someone else does.

Kill Bad Ideas

Did you create a lemon of an idea? Kill it, fast! There is no shame in starting a business that doesn’t make it, most don’t. But executing an idea, even those that do not make it will make you a more proficient entrepreneur, increasing the likelihood of success the next time around. If you nurse a bad idea along, it will ultimately drain you emotionally and financially.

2. Samsung Epic 4G from Sprint

I have counted on Sprint to provide me with cost effective communication since I was a young newspaper entrepreneur in 1998. As mobile data services have expanded, and my time has continued to be compressed, I count on Sprint service on my Epic 4G Galaxy S. I am addicted to it. I use it all day long. I would use it all night long, but then my wife would likely leave me.

I appreciate the large vibrant display, flip out keyboard (which I wrongly thought I would use and rarely do), 4G speed and endless Android Apps. One drawback is battery life – I can devour the battery in half a day during a launch of a business. The Epic goes everywhere I do.

3. Find the Talent you Don’t Have

I am an entrepreneur. I am not a programmer. I am not a graphic designer. I am not a writer. Do what you do best, and find professionals for the rest. I use the popular website for almost every new venture I launch. Whether I need a custom Facebook fan page created or an entire website overhauled, I log onto Need a writer? Editor? Graphic artist? Elance. This isn’t to say that I do not value and regularly use local talent, I do! In fact, I have my list of go-to people locally. But sometimes you need more horsepower, extra hands to get your project off the ground more quickly and on budget. If you haven’t, check out Elance.

4. Rolodex

Okay, I know that very few of us actually us a real Rolodex anymore – but we should all have electronic ones. Every time you meet someone, you should enter their details into your contacts, along with any notes from your conversations. Look through your contacts regularly, at least once per month. Most importantly, before you launch a new business or product use your Rolodex. Work it good. Reach out to every contact that might have a remote interest in your idea. Personally, I reach out to everyone. You never know what ideas or other resources might come from someone.

Before I launch something new, I ask for input. Can you help proof read my new website? What do you think of this logo? Is this the right price? Get your contacts engaged with your new venture. Then, when you launch, ask for referrals. They are vested participants in the launch, and they will want you to succeed.

One word of advice: if you ask for input, heed to it. If your contacts all hate your logo, change it. Despite your preference for it, it probably sucks. Remember, these will be your customers, so listen to them.

5. Relationships

Attorney: Find yourself a good one early on. Someone you can count on when times are good and bad.

Accountant: Don’t kid yourself, you need one to review your books regularly and prepare your taxes.

Banker: As banks continue to get bigger and bigger it is easier for entrepreneurs to get lost in the shuffle. Try to do business with a local institution that demonstrates it cares about local businesses. Befriend the branch manager.

Printer: While I use large printers for my books and large marketing projects, I use Staples for everything else. Danielle is the copy center manager, and she is the best. I treat her with respect and she takes care of me. When a 40 page presentation needs to be printed and bound in 15 minutes, Danielle is who I trust.

Your Family: Nothing on this list matters unless you have those you love by your side. They will celebrate your success and be there when you fall. Be understanding, as they probably don’t understand what being an entrepreneur is all about. Be respectful, just because you love working 24/7, they probably won’t appreciate it. Love them, they balance you.

Ryan Duques is the author of 37 Days to Launch (Amazon, which is  the story of his latest start up venture. Duques is a principal of WD Enterprises, Inc., and is also a founder of, an online education company.