Starting a business is incredibly hard, but only in our heads. The truth is that a business in the legal sense isn’t hard to start at all. You can simply register a company with CIPC and poof you have a business. What’s hard is, what we really asking is how do I start a business that is successful, makes money, and I can support myself and family on.
The first tip is that there is no silver bullet.
I wish I could tell you differently but I’m afraid that there just isn’t anything more honest than this. Starting a successful business is hard. There are just so many influences that can get you off track and looking at all the wrong things that you may never launch your business
I found that the hardest part of anything is not the thing, it’s the talking about the thing. We talk about it so much that sometimes we talk ourselves out of the idea of doing the thing. Take gym for example. I need to lose some weight … just a bit (okay maybe a lot) but every time I decide I need to go to gym, something comes up that just can’t wait like watching some new TV program or researching an idea, or I just have to check on my online campaigns to see how things are going. None of these things are that urgent but I distract myself with nonsense and never make it to the gym. The other approach is to talk about going to gym, what work-outs we going to do, asking others what gym is the best gym or what membership level you should take out. We search the internet for workout programs and accompanying eating plans. We spend months on this and in the end we never actually make it to the gym.
The more we talk, the less we do.
Some people say that you need to be careful about talking about your business ideas because that other person may just steal the idea. I say stop talking about it because you may talk yourself out of it.
In this post I outline 5 key actions I’ve used in starting my business and projects within the business through the seven years that we’ve been in operation. We’ve grown from a one man show to now just over twenty team members.
1. Define your audience.
Defining your audience is such an important task for two reasons.
a. It takes the focus away from you and centers it around the person that will be buying your thing, product, service. This is incredibly important as most of us start with a lot or me soup, and how our amazing thing will solve everyone’s problems.
b. It allows you to really understand the problem that your product or service is solving.
Defining your audience and a customer profile are kinda the same thing and there’s advantage in doing both so don’t worry about which is which at this stage. Just get going and get to the doing. If you end up with something like this then you are on the right track:
“My customer is between the age of 20 and 35, female that like an active fitness lifestyle but prefers to be outdoors rather than in a gym”
This will help you when you decide to market your product. So if someone was to ask you where you advertise/promote your product, it may be just outside a gym or maybe in the ladies toilets at the gym.
2. Don’t worry about scale but focus on that first sale
In the age of the internet with google and Facebook audience/customer numbers that run into the hundreds of millions or even billion seem to be the common standard. If we start our ideas thinking about 100 million users then we will never move forward. The numbers too big and the thing about starting a business is that you will always Pivot. There will always be some lesson that you will learn that will bring a change (however slight) in direction for you and your business.
If you focus on just that one customer, you will learn more about you than you will about anything else. Even if that lesson is “I don’t want to do this”.
Improve your general business workflow and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Most people that change a service do so because of bad customer service.
3. Get Feedback but not from your mother
I love my mother dearly but she is not an entrepreneur and know’s nothing about starting a business. She knows even less about what makes a business stand out from the next and how to win people over or get them to buy a product. The same goes for friends. Unless they are your target audience then their opinion, while it could make you feel good, has low value in understanding who your potential customers are and what they want.
Go find your customers.
This could be in the form of a survey that you run on Facebook, asking people to share it on their timelines or twitter or any other platform that you think is the place that your audience will hang out online.
Find a conference or usergroup/forum that people subscribe to that is what you think and reach out to the owner or post your survey. Structuring your survey questions is equally important. You want to make sure that you get the response that you want that answers a question but be careful not to ask them “Would you want this product”. It’s easy to say yes but that’s not a commitment, that’s just clicking a button.
Review the feedback and measure that against the ideas you had before the survey and see if they match or if there’s maybe some insights that requires you to think more deeply about what it is you are offering.
4. Sell your product even if it doesn’t exist yet
The point of business is to sell something. Many may argue about all the other fluffy stuff about service and solving a real problem and I would be one of those people but, the point of a business is to sell a product or service in exchange for profit.
I’m a big believer of learning on the job. It took me years before I actually got going with my business. One of the biggest challenges I had was the fact that everywhere I researched said that you need to have a business plan. This business plan document cost me five years before I said, “to hell with it”, and just got that first client. Once you have that first paying customer everything else starts to become clearer. No business plan makes a sale for you. It’s not like you go to a shop and ask, “Can I see your business plan” before you buy anything. You buy things you like.
For me that lesson was the most important – get off your butt and go get customers. Let them tell you if your product is ready or not.
5. Learn, adapt, and keep pushing forward
Starting a business is the easy part. The statistics, although not posted with that message, tell us that all the time. You will often hear about how businesses fail after two to five years. I’m crazy so I think that’s great news because that means that with all the odds stacked against you being successful, many people continue to try.
The reality though is that starting the business isn’t the hard part, it’s keeping it going and growing it that is the real challenge. My only advice is to hire smart (smarter than you), believe in yourself, and always adapt from what you learn.