Keep it simple: Startup advice for the nervous and confused
Too many rookie entrepreneurs try to figure stuff out for themselves. Turns out the answers are all around you.
The best advice I could give an entrepreneur-especially a startup-is to not overcomplicate your life. Your biggest problems are probably simpler and easier to solve than you give them credit for.
The other day, I spent half an hour trying to contact customer service at a major utility to solve a glaring problem in a two-month-old bill. Yet if I had taken two more minutes to read the next bill more carefully, I would have seen that the company had already fixed the problem.
I think situations like this happen more often than we think. The world is always sending us signals, but we don't always read them.
This is especially true of startups. Too many rookie entrepreneurs try to figure stuff out for themselves when the answers are manifesting themselves all around them.
Take, for instance, the entrepreneur who wrote me recently asking how to pitch clients for his new B2B business. Why ask generalist pundits like me?, I wrote back. Call up the prospects you want to serve and ask them straight-out. You'll get much better intelligence, and can start building your industry relationships right away.
You might also find valuable marketing insights in your industry trade journal. Read the ads as well as the articles - look how your competitors position their products and address their marketplace. Copy the tactics you love, just making sure that you tweak them so they stand out better than anyone else's, and reflect your brand personality or business culture.
Another startup recently contacted me and said they had just finished their business plan. In what order, they asked, should they look after their next chores: registering the business, choosing a name, ordering business cards, and launching their marketing effort?
Who cares? I believe startups have to multitask-that is, do many of these things at the same time. You can't choose a great name until you have your business plan pretty much complete, so you actually understand your product, your marketplace and the actual benefits you're selling. Still, the plan isn't finished till you have a great name. The name you choose could affect your branding, design, marketing and advertising, and possibly even the look of your products or the way you structure the business.
Don't worry about what other people think is the right order: get these jobs done in parallel, in any way that seems right for you.
Many startup entrepreneurs are also paranoid about telling other people what they are doing. They're so afraid that someone will copy them that they never talk about their business. I can't think of a worse mistake.
Chances are pretty good that you're not the first person to pursue your business idea. It's also likely that the world is not rooting around in your trash trying to guess your next move. An idea represents only about 10% of a business; how you approach it, how you package the product and deliver it to market, and the passion that you bring to it, are all creative variables that will distinguish your business from like-minded entrepreneurs and even blatant idea-snatchers.
Your business is much more likely to succeed or fail based on your ability to execute than on any moves your competition makes.
In fact, I think that the more you talk about your business idea, the more you will benefit. Unless you're surrounded by unethical, desperate people who have the same skills and resources as you do, I suggest you talk about your business ideas as much as possible. Talk about them in business meetings, social events, networking sessions, and idle conversations. Solicit all the feedback, suggestions, criticism or perspective that you can. Many people you meet may have valuable experience or contacts to share with you-but they can't help if you won't tell them what you're doing.
If you always keep the lid on your business ideas, they will only rot in the dark.
Finally, on the flip side, be prepared to steal all the ideas that you can. If you're wondering how to structure your business, design a website, or sell your products, don't feel you have to reinvent the wheel. Just look at what other companies are doing. Keep tabs on competitors in your local market, and cyber-stalk similar businesses in distant markets through the all-seeing eye of the Internet. You'll find all the ideas you need for product names, packaging designs, bundle pricing, marketing campaigns and industry events. Lots of people just as smart as you are facing the same problems you do every day-and the solutions they've chosen are publicly available for anyone to monitor or even copy.
Will anyone sue you for stealing their ideas? Unlikely. They have bigger problems (especially if you're borrowing most liberally from out-of-town companies that don't even know you exist). Just make sure that you don't steal anything too blatantly. Subtly tweak your second-hand ideas, names, designs and plans. Add in your own sense of creativity and market needs so that you customize those ideas and make them truly your own.
Business is a game. Make it simple, keep your eyes open, and play it your way.
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