“C Vaughn-19,” read the headlines. It was an article I’ve written before, but this time I’m going to read the whole thing again just to make sure I don’t miss anything. The title says something different than it did the last time. Apparently, the Russians have hacked into Cisco’s network. Oh, really?

Did they actually hack into the Cisco Network? The article doesn’t say. They may have sent a virus or worm (or more sophisticated malware) through email or IM; or perhaps the hackers gained access by hacking an off-site data repository and then pilfering confidential information including bank account numbers, passwords, and possibly the source code for some of Cisco’s firewall products. While the latter of these scenarios is certainly alarming, if the hackers did gain access to the internal networks of the major commercial enterprise vendors such as Cisco, Avaya, Microsoft, and ShoreTel Computer Services, then this would certainly be news worthy. But in my opinion, the article is simply too jolting and does not give clear enough direction for the reader to understand what the implications might be, especially for small businesses who depend on Cisco equipment and networking infrastructures.

My advice is that anyone reading this article, whether it is an IT professional looking for tips for startups or a home business entrepreneur wanting to understand the latest cyber warfare tactics, needs to stay focused and not lose sight of the mission. Startups need to stay focused on their mission, and compete relentlessly to win the customer. They must stay on top of all of the latest trends to keep leading in the marketplace. It would be difficult to do otherwise, and I believe that reading this article would cause someone to lose focus on that mission.

A good way to keep that mission focused is to read an article like this one, then look at the comments following it. If you read that comments section (which is typically filled with intelligent, articulate people), then chances are good that you can tell that the author has actually engaged in some consulting work and knows what they are talking about. Unfortunately, if the author is just some random person off of the street, without any expertise in the field, their perspective might be somewhat different.

One thing that many people do is start making assumptions about the motivations of others. For instance, I once heard an entrepreneur say to me, “Look, all the companies here want to do the same thing, but they don’t know how to go get to the destination.” What he was actually saying is, “Look, all these companies are trying to get into the P&L, which is profits, and they don’t know how to get there.” Now, I’m not saying that assumptions like this are necessarily wrong. We all tend to think that the successful companies know what they’re doing all the time. The problem is, some of those companies didn’t even have a clear roadmap towards their ultimate goal.

This may sound obvious, but it is absolutely true: You need a business plan. If you are in the very early stages of your business (and I’m assuming that you are, since we’re talking about a startup – you haven’t actually gone out of business yet), one thing you absolutely must have is a very well thought-out business plan. But unfortunately, it can be difficult to come up with a business plan. But I will give you one great tip that can help – start writing!

It’s amazing how many entrepreneurs just throw together some half-baked ideas or half baked campaigns. And because of that, they are doomed to fail. Because they didn’t invest in building a structure for their company, there is no way that they will ever know how to create a sustainable competitive advantage. In other words, they will simply become a victim of their own success. That’s why I always recommend starting out with a plan.

Here’s the bottom line: Have a business plan. If you haven’t started writing it, now is the time to do it. It might seem like an unnecessary step, but remember, this is your business. Don’t try to go off on a tangent and think that you can get away with not having one. It just won’t work and you’ll be sorry if you do.

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