It’s time. Whether through personal choice or circumstance you have made the decision to start a small business.

Next comes the reality check, where you realize that along with the new-found control and freedom, the responsibility to oversee everything from sales, production and client relations, to making sure there is ample supply of coffee and paper clips, is squarely on your shoulders. For the most part, the mdays of assistants, support staff and department heads are going to be a thing of the past, at least until the business is up and running with a proven track record.

Juggling priorities in this new “all encompassing” environment will be challenging. Add in the need to focus on the activities that generate much-needed cash flow, and before you know it, corners are being cut as critical items free-fall down the priority list, undermining the viability of your new business.

The reality is that you cannot do everything. However, there are areas that simply must not be ignored.

One indisputable fact of human nature is that “what gets measured gets done.” Applying this basic premise to your new business requires the creation of goals, measurements and projections. In other words, a business plan.

This doesn’t necessarily need to be an extensive document, and for many small businesses it may never be seen by anyone other than the company principals, but it is one of the most important tasks you will undertake. Without a plan, how do you know where you are going? How will you know if you are succeeding? How will you know when your business will become self-sustaining, and how much cash you will require to cover the initial start-up phase? Even for a one-person operation, it is critical to take the time to put your plan down on paper. This will provide you with a reference that you can use to monitor your progress and re-assess priorities.

New businesses involve a variety of relationships. Customers, suppliers and employees are just a few of the parties upon whom you will rely in your new venture.

In each case, there are expectations, sufficient in nature to entice a party to undertake their specific role. No different from any other relationship, challenges will arise when there are different interpretations of an arrangement. Add the fact that you are juggling multiple roles and responsibilities, each of which is accompanied by its own set of information and data, which can leave your entire business subject to the quality and availability of your memory. Were shipping costs to be included in the price? What was the agreed-upon delivery date? How are employee bonuses calculated? While clarification on items of this nature can likely be handled as they arise, every minute you spend addressing these, is a minute you are not generating revenue or growing the business.

It is also important to remember that these disagreements have the potential to undermine key business relationships. The solution? Documentation. Live by the mantra “good paper makes good friends.” This can take many forms. A written quote, a contract stipulating the terms of the relationship or a letter of understanding may all play a role in documenting your intentions. Creating the documents that your business will rely upon can be time consuming and it may require incurring legal expense, but in the long run your company will avoid unnecessary conflict, and you will be glad you took the time.

An up-to-date bookkeeping system is the equivalent of GPS for your company. Properly maintained, it tells you how much cash you have on hand, who owes you money and what financial commitments you need to plan for. It also provides insight into the profitability of your business and allows you to assess the viability of individual projects or areas against the measurements you established in your business plan. Unfortunately, unless you are in the business of keeping financial records for other companies, spending time in front of the computer with the latest bookkeeping software is not going to generate revenue and is often not a top priority. Of course, in the absence of current financial information, you will be forced to make decisions without it, potentially placing the future of your business in jeopardy.

For every one of these examples, there are multiple administrative tasks that will require your time as you embark on this new venture. They are not exciting and are often the easiest items to procrastinate about. At the same time, avoiding these areas opens you and your business up to risks that can bring your company to a halt before it even gets going. The good news is that you are not alone. According to Statistics Canada, there are in excess of one million small businesses being operated in Canada and more than half of these companies have less than four employees. As a result, a multitude of resources are as close as the Internet, local libraries, bookstores and office-supply retailers.

Owning and operating a small business is both an adventure and an opportunity to achieve personal goals. Just remember that while the word “small” may describe accurately the size of the company in one respect, the amount of work and attention required to start and support it is the exact opposite.