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Start-up Advice

Bringing Back the Early Magic

Remember how fanatical you were when you opened your doors?

Ed Hatton

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The plateau phase can happen when a business stabilises after the initial survival struggle, and growth becomes static.

The company may be at break-even or making a small profit; it falls short of its sales forecast and cash is tight. The entrepreneur is frustrated, customers pay late and suppliers are demanding. All of this has a bad effect on the staff.

If you are in this position or have been there you will know about searching for ways to solve the problem. How-to books, mentors, motivating speakers and training will be considered. Sales people will come under pressure and some will succumb and leave.

Some entrepreneurs will blame the economy, the government, the banks, trade unions or suppliers, and become helpless.

The simple answer

There is a simple answer to the problem. Cast your mind back to when the business launched, when making the next sale was a life and death issue for the business.

You would have walked on hot coals to satisfy a potential customer, you would have tried desperately to anticipate their needs. Carelessness or laziness affecting a prospective customer would see the perpetrator in real trouble.

A mistake in an order or a telephone that was not answered promptly would have been cause for a tantrum. You would celebrate with the entire company when you got orders that today seem trivial, and the enthusiasm would have spread.

Every time you saw a competitor’s products you would worry that your products were inferior or too expensive by comparison. You would lie awake at night redesigning products or finding ways to reduce costs. The business operated at peak competitiveness because it had to.

Where did it go?

What happened to that drive, innovation and creativity? It may have been lost in VAT returns or website design, or in frustration with banks or staff.

You may be tired from the long hours, constant worry and excessive paperwork, or complacent, with an established business, functioning relationships with your customers and a steady income. Or maybe you have just forgotten about how wonderfully well you performed, and how exciting it was.

You Need to Start Thinking Like a Big Business. Here’s How

Starting again

Carl Bard said: “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”  You can start from now and take your business off the plateau into vigorous growth and development.

Apply the same determination and energy that got your business off the ground. Reprioritise, separating the urgent from the important and focus on important issues. Talk to all your customers, and assess your competitors. Make changes based on what the customers want and need, and make your products and services more competitive.

Put the fun and excitement back into getting new customers and making big sales. Find and reward people doing good things. Make high standards non-negotiable and subject to peer pressure.

Show optimism; your staff, customers and suppliers will come to share your enthusiasm. See every lost sale as an opportunity to improve and every win as a champagne occasion.

Is all of this easy? Absolutely not, it is very difficult because you will have to change the way you and your staff work. The good part is that it brings rewards and an immense feeling of success and pride. Can you do it? Absolutely – after all, you’ve done it before.

Remember when you were the underdog in the fight with competitors. They were more established and had good relationships with their customers. You worked out ways of winning business from them, and you can do it again.

Apply the energy, creativity and customer centricity you used then. Find other ways to handle the administration and distractions, ignore negative talk.

Ed Hatton is the owner of The Marketing Director and has consulted to and mentored SMBs in strategy, marketing and sales for almost 20 years. He co-authored an entrepreneurship textbook and is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to succeed.

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Start-up Advice

Where Should You Begin?

It goes without saying that the right people on your team make all this possible. But this is a topic for another day.

Peter Castleden

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When I first started what was to become IndieFin, I really didn’t know where to begin. I had been granted a tiny bit of funding – enough to last about a year – on the basis that I could figure out how to reinvent financial services for the digital generation.

The initial challenges were plentiful. My experience with technology was exclusively as a user. So, I had close to zero knowledge on how to execute anything that I dreamed up. I also was very aware that the financial services industry had a reputation for offering awful customer experiences, so the bar there was very low. And finally, having spent a good few years working on developing financial products in the industry, I realised the opportunities to improve on the industry’s products were vast.

While this sounds like a fairly ideal situation for an entrepreneur, and while I feel very grateful for the opportunity, the real challenge was that there were simply so many things that could be built, all of which would present radical improvements on the status quo.

First steps

A couple of us sat in a room and started putting ideas down on a white board.  We went wild, and kept coming up with more and more great ideas. In fact, we came up with both a very compelling retail investment proposition, as well as what turned out to be our insurance proposition.

Related: 4 Things Your Start-Up Needs When It Opens An Office

What this exercise revealed, was that ideas alone are pretty useless. And, too many ideas can paralyse you.

Our small team got stuck in that trap, which was made worse because we didn’t (yet) have the skills to bring any of those ideas to life.

Hard lessons

We wasted a good few months (and some money) simply working on the details of multiple ideas. We were generating lots of documentation, and a few pretty pictures, and truly believed we were making progress.

In reality, we were running on the spot. Things changed with the addition of some new talent – who brought with them a completely different approach and complementary skillsets. This combination of people changed how we were doing things, for the better, and we managed to launch something into the market a few months later.

If I could take out the key lessons from this early stage of our business, they are:

  1. Choose one thing to do, and focus all your energy on doing it. This does not mean you throw out the other good ideas… but put them on the “not yet” pile.
  2. If it’s going to take you longer than three months to build and deliver your one thing to the market, it’s still too big. Strip it down to its core, until you can confidently build it and ship it within a quarter. This may feel like you are watering down your idea, and maybe you are. However, working to a longer timeline than this will stall you, with the risk of never getting anything shipped.
  3. Launch what’s ready. You will know what can still be done to make it better. It’s scary to launch something that is nowhere near your mental picture of what it can and will be.  Do it anyway.
  4. Be ready to learn. The best market research you can conduct is with real people using something you’ve built in the real world. Sure, you run the risk of brutal feedback (and perhaps it’s because it was launched early), but the free lessons you learn will be priceless in developing version 1.2 and 1.3 and 1.4.

Related: 3 Dangerous Entrepreneurial Myths You Need To Ignore

Fear is your enemy at this stage of the business. Personally, I needed others to challenge that natural fear, and push “go”. And I’m glad I did. Most of what we built in the early versions of the product releases were not even on our original roadmap. The stuff we have built since launching, and which we are still going to build, have been inspired by our customers and the lessons we have learnt in launching something incomplete.

It goes without saying that the right people on your team make all this possible. But this is a topic for another day.

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Start-up Advice

4 Things Your Start-Up Needs When It Opens An Office

There are certain things you should definitely ensure your office has. If not before you move in, then as soon as you can set it up.  

Jessica Edgson

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So, your start-up is finally up and running. You’ve been dreaming about this moment for as long as you can remember. And now you have clients or customers, a small team of dedicated employees and you’re turning a decent profit. Which means it’s time to move out of your garage and into a proper office.

You don’t want your staff filling up your personal space at home. Your garage, although creatively decorated, simply is no longer big enough. Plus, there simply isn’t enough parking on your street. It’s time you go from a bunch of youngsters with a big idea to a proper business with a premises you’re not afraid to invite clients to.

But, first, you need to choose this office and it’s that’s not a task you should take lightly. Obviously, you want to keep that creative startup vibe you’ve worked so hard to build up, so a space in a corporate office block isn’t going to work for you. You need to choose something that conveys your independent nature and inspiration-led work ethic.

Related: The Unwritten Rules: Real Start-up Advice To Launch A Game-Changing Business

However, there are certain things you should definitely ensure your office has. If not before you move in, then as soon as you can set it up.

At least one boardroom

You and your employees may be all about a “shared space” where everyone knows what everyone else is up to. But, unfortunately, it’s time to face the fact that you’re going to need at least one boardroom in your new office. Why? Because you will now be hosting clients and investors and they will want to discuss their wants, needs and expectations in a quiet place where they can hear themselves think.

Of course, this boardroom doesn’t have to look like it belongs in a big corporate office. You can decorate however you want. If you want to give the appearance of transparency with your staff, so they don’t freak out every time you drag all your senior employees into the room, you can always have glass walls that are easy to see through.

You’ll also want to incorporate some impressive tech into your boardroom to wow your clients and investors. Interactive whiteboards and touchscreen tablets at each seating place will give the appearance that you have, literally, got technology at your fingertips.

Security you can trust

And with all the tech that comes with owning a startup, you’ll want security to protect all your assets. This is not an area where you can afford to skimp on costs and save money.

If you’re in an office park of sorts (the kind that still allows you to keep your creative vibe), there’s probably already a security guard doing the rounds regularly. However, it’s up to you to ensure you can monitor who enters and exits your premises.

A great way to do this is with a fingerprint scanner at your front door or a tag system. Just make sure you take ex-employees off the system as soon as they leave and are able to add new employees just as quickly.

Now you need to focus on internal monitoring. A video wall controller paired with strategically placed cameras around the office is always a good idea. That way if there’s ever an incident, it can be caught in real time and even recorded for later use as evidence.

You’re investing a lot of money in your business assets as well as your space, so it’s important you’re able to protect everything and everyone.

Related: Which Side Hustle Should You Try? (Infographic)

A kitchen with all the necessary appliances

office-kitchen

Yes, you’re going to need somewhere for your employees to make that coffee they need in order to work like the rockstar machines they are. But you’re also going to need a place for them to store their lunch, heat up food and even make food if necessary.

This is especially important if there’s nowhere near your office for them to purchase food. And if you want people to socialise while they eat, make sure your kitchen is big enough for a giant table where everyone can eat together. If that’s not possible, try setting aside space inside the office or even outside the office.

Space for people to move around

As a start-up made up of young people with bright ideas and a collaborative working style, you will likely want to have an open plan office. And that’s great. However, you have to ensure there’s enough space for everyone to move around.

Your team will eventually grow, so you can’t simply create space for the staff you have. You don’t people feeling cramped and uncomfortable.

It’s time for your start-up to move out of your garage and into your own office space. But that doesn’t mean you have to let go of that creative environment you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

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Start-up Advice

How To Build The Right Mindset For Start-up Success

When clarity, consistency and execution become your signal characteristics, getting what you want becomes automatic.

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Mindset matters. Whether you’re a founder, CEO, first-day-on-the-job newbie, or bold, would-be entrepreneur, if your mind isn’t right then your decisions aren’t right. And with suboptimal decision making comes suboptimal results. How you show up everyday determines how you tackle the challenges that come your way.

However, oftentimes what gets in the way is ourselves – our thoughts and emotions. If you dislike public speaking, for example, what might go through your mind if asked to present in front of an audience is that little voice in your head saying something like, “I hate speaking. I’m not good at it!” Your heart skips a couple beats, your hands become uncomfortably moist so you pat them on your pants which doesn’t exactly help your self image and then you begin stammering. Congratulations, you’ve just entered the realm of weird.

Don’t let emotion get the better of you. Stay focused on what matters by learning to separate emotion from reason so you can focus on what you need and not be swayed by what you want.

Related: Smart Money For Small Businesses

Here’s how:

Clarify winning

Having the right mindset begins with identifying what you want. Without a clear picture of what winning looks like you’ll never know if you’re on the right path, which means you can’t course correct. Take the time to clarify what “success” looks like to you.

You might want to become more disciplined, improve your focus, or learn to talk to yourself more effectively (yes, self talk is a skill). Clarity creates two things. It creates meaning, and it creates guidance for you to focus on which allows you to better communicate not only with yourself but with your team as well.

It’s easy to take leadership, teamwork or any of those “soft skills” for granted, but without them a company wouldn’t exist. Get clear on what good leadership looks like; what effective teamwork looks like.

When you know what right looks like, you can make immediate adjustments to get back on track even after they’ve gone wrong.

Make consistency a habit

Being great at anything requires two things: Consistency and effort. You have to do the work to be great, and you have to do it consistently. Muscle doesn’t build itself (trust me, I’ve tried). You don’t get stronger by doing some pushups whenever you feel like it. You improve by going to the gym consistently and doing the work to get stronger.

Leading a team or a company requires the same consistency of effort. You get better at communicating by communicating. You get better at focusing by focusing. You get better at working together by working together to get better – and doing so consistently.

Now, while consistency and effort are two critical ingredients to crushing anything in life, so too is learning. After all, you can be as consistent and as diligent as you want, but if you A) don’t have a clear definition of success, discussed above, or B) don’t learn from past mistakes, then you’re only getting to the wrong place faster. Make learning a habit by consistently learning, and you’ll develop the mindset of constant improvement.

Suspend judgment to get stuff done

SEAL training

I remember in first phase of BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training) an instructor giving us an example of the type of mindset that every SEAL has – the type of mindset that gets stuff done. He told us that if he had to go run 25 miles right then and there because it was critical to mission success, he would. He would’ve done it not because he liked running or because he was ordered to, but because it was something that just had to be done.

Related: 4 Hacks To Overcome The Struggles Of A Running A Small Biz

The takeaway is that you don’t have to like everything you do. You just have to do it (whatever it happens to be). To really make an impact in your work or in life in general, suspend judgment. When you suspend judgment you forego any emotion attached to that judgment. Then, all you have left is action versus inaction, do or do not do. It’s not easy, but then again nothing good ever is. Do it anyway.

Being right in anything requires clarity, consistency and effort. There’ll be bumps in the road, no doubt, but those bumps are what make you better.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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