15 Tips To Start on the Right Foot
Do you have a great idea for a business? Or have you just always had the entrepreneurial bug? Starting your own business is an exciting and exhilarating experience. There will be highs and,most assuredly, lows. Hopefully, we can help you avoid as many of the lows as possible. That's why we wanted to provide you with 15 steps that can help anyone looking into running their own business get out of the gate quickly and start generating cash as soon as possible! Aren’t we nice?
1. Sell Something Worth Buying
You can sell ice to a polar bear, but you can’t force him to buy anti-freeze. That was a really bad metaphor to say that you can’t force people to buy what they don’t want…or polar bears, for that matter.
Some entrepreneurs get caught up in a new product they have developed or invented. They will focus all their resources, effort, and time into trying to push it. But if whatever it is they came up with isn't something people want, all their hard work has come to naught. It is believed that only 2/10 products will catch on in today's market. If you are planning on marketing a new product, make sure that it's up to snuff. To ensure that it is, be certain that your product has value. What is it worth to the consumers? Position your service or product in a way that shows people it can solve their problems, alleviate their pain, or relieve their annoyances.
It's also a good plan to consider selling something that has been sold before, something you know people already buy. This is not as big of a risk, but there are still hurdles to overcome. For instance, why should a customer buy this product from you when they can get it from other vendors? What makes getting it from you better? Do they get it faster? Do they get it cheaper? Are they getting involved with some sort of charitable cause when they buy it from you? These are all questions that can help you think of ways to add value to the products you plan on selling.
2. Find the Underserved Niche
Figuring out the right product to sell can often be answered by finding the right people to sell it to. You won't make money if you don't find a hungry market. To enter the right market you need to find what lots of people are searching for, something that is highly demanded yet under-supplied. People are always looking for something new.
Make sure that you're following trends, keeping up on new technologies, and aware of new fads. Try to stay abreast of the market so you can offer consumers what they want.
If you're starting an online business, try looking at some of Google's top searched words. Conduct some research and see where some of those search terms take you. If you find a commonly entered keyword that leads to no one who offers it, try to start a business selling around that. What are people asking "how to?" questions about on the Internet? What are they blogging about? Keep your eyes open for things people are passionate about. That's where they'll spend money.
3. Don't Offer Too Much
Have you ever been to a restaurant where the menu overwhelms you? This restaurant serves sushi, spaghetti, hamburgers, soups of all kinds, and pad Thai, all of which are completely…mediocre. Sometimes businesses begin to be a lot like this restaurant – the offer many different products or services and most of them are fairly low-quality. Avoid being that business! Aim to be the business that specializes in a few products or services and truly masters it. Think about In n’ Out and their hamburgers orWetzel’s Pretzels and their pretzels—both are successful chains with a small menu and a product which they have mastered. Doing this help unite your brand in the mind of consumers. If you’re trying to sell everything under the sun (sushi, sandwiches, meatballs…), what will people associate with you? Mediocrity? What will your brand stand for?
Pick a niche and fill it the best you can and your customers will understand what you stand for. Play to the strengths you already have rather than trying to master everything else. Trying to be a jack-of-all-trades can end up amounting to jack-squat. Do you see what I did there?
4. Write a Business Plan
Think of your business plan as your company's road map. Business plans provide direction and peace of mind. If you write a good business plan, you won't have to keep worrying about what to do next or stress over how everything will work together. Go back to your business plan.Get your footing again. Let it be your guiding light.
Not only can it serve as a walk-through, but it can also attract investors, partners, and coworkers. If your business plan is well written and well thought out, pitch it to investors. Maybe they can help you get your company off the ground and running, earning you and them both the money you've always dreamed of making.
5. What if's and Why Not's
We've all heard the phrase, "Think outside the box." In fact, we may have heard it so many times that it has become ironically conventional. As cliché as it sounds, you need to be doing just that.
Examine the typical practices of the field you want to break into. Ask yourself "what if" questions. See if you can bend the rules of your industry or even break them completely. Don't pay too much attention when people say, "It doesn't work like that," or "That's not how you do it." Try to flip the tradition on its head. Look at your business from different angles. Who knows what you'll find.
Many times, just making one change in a common system of practice can lead to a competitive advantage. The adjustment doesn't have to be anything completely radical or world changing. It can be something simple. But in either case, it must be something that gives you some kind of unique advantage that your competitors don't have.
6. Leverage the Effort of Others
Are you breaking your back, working 60-hour weeks trying to get your company off the ground all by yourself? Working hard is good, but working smart is better. If all our ancestors were focused on working hard instead of working smart, we'd still be dragging carts that had no wheels. And I’d be constantly complaining.
One of the easiest ways to work smart is to let others help you. You know the expression, "Many hands make light work." It may be tempting to fly solo in the business world, but odds are, there will be no rewards to reap if you don’t seek and accept help.
7. Find a Mentor
Aristotle had Plato, Dan Rather had Walter Cronkite, and Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan Kenobi. As Sir Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." Isaac knew that he could not have made the breakthroughs in science he did were it not for the efforts and discoveries of those who came before him. Whose shoulders will you stand on?
We all need someone who has gone before. We need guidance, help, and experience to draw from. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, so why not go in with a 20/20 perspective from the beginning? Who do you know that has walked the path you now hope to tread? Find someone you trust that can help. Pick their brain. Get their advice. Let them coach you. Ask them questions like, "What did you wish you knew before starting a business?" "How did you motivate yourself to keep going?" Don't go through the pitfalls they did if you don't have to.
8. Hire the Right People
Happy employees are successful employees. The same goes for entrepreneurs. When you start a business and eventually begin hiring, remember to hire positive, responsible people. Surround your company with energetic achievers, individuals that can do more than just dream about success. Recruit people who have a passion about getting things done and people that you can get along with. Sometimes, when a company is just starting out, a small business owner may just feel lucky to have anybody to share the load with as long as someone's willing to help. Don’t settle for people who just want to tag along for the ride! Employ people who exude fervor and determination to get your company up and running.
When picking your hires, consider whether or not the person will contribute to the energy of the work environment or simply leach off it. One way to spot this is through resumes. Look for people who have listed things they have done rather than listing things they can do. Also avoid the thought that you can only hire the best of the best, those with the most impressive grades, the best test scores, or the top class rankings. These things can be a poor yard stick for measuring whether or not the potential hire can add positive energy to your team.
You want your company to have a unified atmosphere, where everyone's achievements are recognized and appreciated. Hire people that you will be willing to praise and people that will praise each other. Don't take all the credit for yourself when things start going well for the company and don't put the blame on others when things start tanking. United you stand, divided you fall.
9. It's a Business, Not a Family Reunion
Though we suggest hiring people you get along with, we say that with the following caveat: avoid hiring friends and family. Yes, most of us do get along with our relatives or our pals, but have you ever had to work with them for hours on end in strenuous conditions or in deadline situations? Remember your last family game night? In our experience, we have seen that many start-ups run by family and friends tend to lean toward negative working atmospheres and lower amounts of energy. Business can put stress on those relationships and sometimes leads to arguing over money and who gets what share and so on. Try to keep it out of the family and out of your circle of friends. We're not saying that it never works but you don't want to see your company succeed at the expense of your personal relationships.
10. Get Feedback
When you start a company you need to make sure that your product works. Ensure that your
means of distribution can get people the product. Most importantly, do all you can to guarantee your product will deliver on the benefits and values consumers want and expect from it.
To do this, consider using beta customers. Find and contact a test group of people who you think might be interested in your product. Offer them some kind of discount or free trial on your product or service. Have them order it from you and use it for themselves. Afterward, meet with them and see if the experience fell below, met, or exceeded their expectations. Based on their suggestions think about ways you could enhance the experience future customers can have with your company.
11. Chin Up, Back Straight
If you are the camping type, you may have heard what you're supposed to do when a cougar crosses your path. Look as BIG as possible. Straighten your back, puff out your chest, raise your arms into the air. The bigger you look the more unlikely it is that the cat will want to mess with you. The same is true of customers, except the bigger you are, the more they trust you.
It's all about posturing. People like knowing that they are dealing with an established, structured, and legitimate business. If your company is noticeably amateur, unorganized, or in shambles, people will see doing business with you as a risk. Always appear professional. Look as big as your company aspires to be. Let yourself be confident. Customers and investors can smell fear. Try to come off as a competent and in-control business. Be appreciative for people's business but never make it seem that getting business is something new to you. If you are pitching your services to two companies, let them both know who else you have pitched to or plan to pitch to. This will help them see you are in demand and force them to make a decision sooner rather than later.
Don't get us wrong. We're not asking you to be dishonest. Never promise anything you can't deliver or flat-out lie to people. Falsehoods can your bring your company down in a flash. Keep in mind that it's not about fabricating a reputation. It's about building one. All we are saying is to portray yourself in the very best light possible without distorting the facts. It's like dating. You don't go up to a girl and say, "Hi, I have strange mole on my neck and have never had a girlfriend. Would you like to go out this Friday?" No! You have to play it cool. Focus on what you do have going for you. Play to your strengths and emphasize the things you do best. Maybe those unsavory details will eventually come out, but hopefully it won't matter because by then she'll like you.
12. Forget the Big Ad Agency
Sometimes you think that you'll never be noticed without a huge advertising campaign flaunting your name on every billboard, radio show, and TV commercial for the next six months. But how can you afford all that? Our advice is to not worry about it. Every company had to start from square one at some point.
It may cost millions to produce and launch a national ad campaign, but it costs nothing for you to use your own imagination.
Be creative. Think of something your company you can do to be different; something to get noticed by the community. Coming up with your idea can be frustrating at times. But don't go ape stressing over it…go guerilla! (That was painful, wasn’t it?)
Guerilla marketing is a growing trend even among real ad agencies but it is something that can be done by anyone with drive and the right creative juices. Guerilla marketing is perfect for startup entrepreneurs because it relies on imagination rather than a budget. Even better, you can make Guerilla marketing more effective than broadcasting because you can target as a narrowly and specifically as you need to.
Let's give you an example. While I was at college, I was part of a campus performance club. As a member of the club, I was responsible for helping out with advertising to get fellow students out to our shows. For one of our big end-of-year shows, we set up a table with some flyers and advertisements in one of the high-traffic areas of campus. Then we went guerilla.
To get noticed even more, we bought a few boxes of otter-pops to "give away" to passersby. The students who crossed our path were invited by shouting club members to come get a "free" otter-pop. But when the hapless students went to claim their complementary treat, we would let them in on the catch - "You can have the otter-pop if we can stamp your forehead with our logo."
Some refused yet hundreds of people said, "Why not?" (Never underestimate what a college student will do for free food.) But in most cases, everyone laughed. Everyone had a good time. It was positive, fun, and noteworthy. Soon the campus was full of kids stamped with our club's logo. We had hundreds of our own walking, talking billboards all for the price of a few cheap boxes of popsicles, a custom hand-stamp, and a couple of ink pads.
The possibilities are endless. Guerilla marketing should be unconventional. The concept relies on being thought provoking, surprising, and completely buzz worthy. It's a method of marketing that tries to engage people in unexpected places in order to break through the clutter. Successful guerilla marketing plays off people's psychology and emotions, creates a positive brand experience, and comes off different enough to generate positive word of mouth.
13. Who Doesn't Like the Little Guy?
Starting your own company makes you the underdog and good news: America loves underdogs! Use this to your advantage. People want to see come from behind victories. They want to watch the 8th seated basketball team beat the number 1 team in overtime. They want to hear stories about your ordinary people winning despite insurmountable odds. Involve customers in your story to help you find your victory.
Positioning yourself as the little guy can give a "bash-on-the-big-guys-for-free" pass. Focus your consumer messaging on how you are different from the bigger competition. Why are you better? What is it about being small that lets you do things the big guys can't? Make your communication bold. Bare some teeth. Scratch a bit. Don't be afraid to lay into your opponents. You can do all that because when you're the little guy, you're not seen as the bully. You're seen as the "Everyday Joe," fighting for his shot at realizing the American Dream. People will find themselves rooting for you.
14. Find an Achilles Heel
Werewolves die from silver bullets, Frankenstein ran from fire, and Vampires seem to be allergic to garlic. It seems like the bad guys always have at least one weak spot you can exploit. The same is true with your competitor. Find their weaknesses and cash in on them as best you can. Talk to the competition's customers. What are they unsatisfied with? What would they change about their experience when doing business with the goliaths you want to tackle? Examine where the top dogs in your industry are falling short and equip your company with the tools and resources you need to make sure you can do it better.
15. The Price is Wrong
Obviously products are sold for more money than it takes to build them. That's where we get profit. But just because you can sell a product for more than the cost of making it, doesn't mean you should overdo it, even if people are willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money to have what you’re selling.
The reason why? You don't want to attract competitors. When you are making outrageous profits, your competition might smell blood in the water and come sniffing into your market. Many times you might attract a company to your market that has more resources than you, more employees, more assets, more experience, or more money to spend on advertising. You don't want to bring that down on yourself. You might find yourself quickly undercut and no longer able to compete.
At the end of the day, these tips mean nothing if you're not willing to get out there and start moving. No perfect opportunity is going to fall into your lap. No wave of a magic wand is going to turn the economy into a risk free environment. No mysterious benefactor is going to bequeath you a million dollars that you could use as capital. Companies that succeed are headed by entrepreneurs who have the willpower and courage to just go for it. You need to forge ahead despite uncertainty. Stop waiting for that perfect moment because odds are, it will never come. If you see an opportunity, pounce on it and don't let go. You can't wait for every surrounding circumstance to magically align. Press on and give it your best shot. We wish you the best of luck!