As someone who has been called a serial entrepreneur, I’ve had more than my fair share of experience starting new enterprises, turning around under performing enterprises or re-vamping operations. During that time, I’ve learned a thing or two about some critical factors you absolutely need to know before you jump into the proverbial entrepreneurial waters. In the majority of cases, start-up success or failure is all about knowing both the how and the why of taking action, and always being clear about which steps to take next.
To help this process, here are 10 essential things you need to know about running a successful business. Use it as a checklist to make sure your thinking and your business plan are on the right track, or if you need to get more information, strategic education or clarity for yourself on your overall vision, your market, or your product or service.
1. Offer what people want to buy, not just what you want to sell.
Too often, people jump into a business built around a product or service they think will be successful, rather than one that is already proven to have a market. What do I mean?
Instead of creating and selling a new sports shoe with the latest trendy design and materials, you’d be much better off from a business perspective to focus on the shoe category generally (a proven category because people buy shoes every day) and then focus more specifically on the niche of high-performance sports shoes, (which you may even sell in a section of a shoe retail outlet). Better to have a small slice of a large category than a large slice of no market at all.
2. Get cash flowing ASAP.
Cash flow is the lifeblood of business, and is absolutely essential to feed bottom-line profits. So you need to find ways to jump start cash flow immediately.How do you do that? In a professional services business, you can ask for deposits on work up-front, with balances due on delivery.
You can do the same in retail, especially on a high-ticket or speciality item, and position it as an added value and a way to insure delivery by a specific date. You can also add value to generic items by creating private labels, and develop continuity programmes where customers pay an up-front monthly fee to ensure delivery or availability of items they will buy on a repeat basis. Of course, the key is to make sure there is little or no gap between when you pay for labour, stock inventory and when you actually get paid. Ideally, you’ll find ways to get money up- front, and your cash gap will never be an issue.
3. Always find new ways to keep costs low.
All the cash flow in the world is worthless if it’s not positive cash flow, which means you have to bring in more cash than you pay out. To do this, you need to keep your costs and expenses low. We’ve touched on this before, especially in terms of outfitting a start-up.
The main idea is to never pay retail, and look for used or gently used items to furnish your office or your retail space. Paying vendors up-front also gives you leverage for negotiating better prices. Especially in this economic environment, where credit is at a premium, vendors are more willing than ever to find creative ways to finance transactions, and that trend is likely to continue over time. So do some extra work and research now to discover how owners and vendors are finding ways to work out deals, and you just may hit on whole new ways of doing business.
4. When planning, always overestimate expenses and underestimate revenues.
I was trained as an accountant, so the numbers side of business is part of my entrepreneurial DNA, and was also a big part of my early business education.
That said, I’ve never seen a start-up business where expenses were at least 30% more than initially planned or anticipated, and revenues at least that much less. Being conservative in your numbers doesn’t mean you are willing to accept those numbers, it just means you are arming yourself with information you can work with and work over. It means you can gauge the kinds of efforts and activities you will need to put into sales and marketing.
5. Focus on sales and marketing manically.
In business, nothing happens until a sale is made. From the jump, you’ll need to find a good way to get leads, convert leads into sales, and make sure you keep getting repeat sales from your customers. The way to do this is to find or create a marketing and sales funnel system that you can work, test, measure; one that anyone in your company can utilise.
Too many entrepreneurs focus on getting their brand right before they start to generate leads. That is exactly the wrong way to go about business. Leads are always more important than your brand, so don’t waste money getting your brand right at the expense of spending that same money to buy new customers. Soon, you’ll discover you can build your brand from the ground up, versus spending years and hundreds of thousands of rands building it from the top down. Don’t presume you’ll even survive that long, because without leads, you won’t!
6. Find ways to exponentially increase profits.
In business, there are five drivers that impact profits. If you can master them while keeping your costs in check, you will run a successful business. It’s as simple as getting more leads, converting more leads into customers, increasing the number of times those customers buy from you, increasing the average price point of your sales and increasing your profit margins. Do any one of those, while also keeping costs down, and you will see more profits. Do all of them and you will see your business really take off.
7. Test and measure everything.
You can’t change what you don’t measure, and you can’t tell if a programme or strategy is working if you are not faithfully testing, measuring and tracking your results. Another way to look at this is to think in terms of your doctor. Most like to get baseline stats of your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing before they delve into identifying symptoms or recommending corrective courses of action. The same is true in your business. Why keep literally throwing money away on an ad campaign that costs thousands of rands but doesn’t bring any people through the door?
8. Accept that learning more equals earning more.
If you’ve never run a million rand business, you don’t know how to run one – simple as that. But you can learn to run one, even if it is your million rand business you are building from the ground up. However, you need to accept right now that learning always comes before “earning” (except in the dictionary).
You’ll need to be committed to learning as much as you can about sales and marketing and operations if you want to have a truly successful business. Once you do that, however, the sky is the limit. Knowing and applying those simple fundamentals in a highly leveraged way is one of the reasons many top executives and entrepreneurs earn so much. Identify those areas and you can then decide to learn it yourself or hire an expert and learn as much as you can from that person – because you never know when you can run across a distinction in thinking or a strategy that can really take you and your business to a new level of success.
9. Don’t discount, add value.
Whenever you discount, you are taking money directly out of your pocket and directly from your bottom-line profit. So don’t do it. Instead, create added value propositions all the way up and down your product or service line.Whatever the industry is, look to hold your price points, increase your margins with the low-cost or no-cost extras and any kind of freemium offerings. In the end, those little things won’t cost you a lot, but will build up tremendous goodwill and word-of-mouth with your customers and customer base.
10. Get a coach.
Even if you don’t get a business coach at first to help you and guide you in your planning and operation, get someone who is objective and outside your business who you can rely on for nitty gritty business advice and to hold you accountable to getting results.
Too often, we think we have all the answers and are the only people who can really get things done. The reality is that another set of eyes can work wonders for how you operate both on and in your business. An outsider can also make sure you are getting the numbers you need both on the top line and the bottom line to survive.
Selling The Dream
When you’re starting a business, the secret to success is getting everyone — from customers to suppliers — buying into your vision.
I started a company in 2016 offering road building in residential areas for local municipalities. I realised that there is too much risk involved and I do not have the capital to purchase machinery. The overheads are also too high. I feel more comfortable supplying municipalities with commodities. I have been in sales and have good people skills and sales experience. However, I’m struggling to get a foot in the door. Manufacturers are reluctant to give me a credit advance. As a result, I had to let go of many opportunities. How do I overcome this obstacle? — Martin
I can only speak from my own experience selling to municipalities. I did it once, successfully. This is how I did it:
- I convinced the municipality to roll out public WiFi in low-income communities.
- The municipality awarded me a contract.
- With that contract in hand I shopped around to find a company that I could sub-contract. That company had to take a risk that the municipality would pay me, and I would in turn pay him. I had to take the risk that the sub-contractor wouldn’t deliver the goods.
- I found a sub-contractor.
- We deployed the WiFi.
- The municipality paid its bills.
- There was never a hint of corruption.
In retrospect I realise I was the beneficiary of a succession of benevolent miracles.
Miracle No. 1: Meeting a political leader that shared my vision and was competent.
Miracle No. 2: Getting a legitimate contract out of a municipality.
Miracle No. 3: Finding a sub-contractor I could trust, and that trusted me.
Miracle No. 4: Successfully working with the municipality to fulfil the contract.
Miracle No. 5: Getting paid by the municipality.
Miracle No. 6: Avoiding corruption.
If you believe in miracles, keep going. If you’re slightly more risk-averse (or less desperate) than I was, then rather don’t target municipalities to build your business.
You’ll note that I solved the supplier credit problem by finding a sub-contractor that trusted me. That’s the only way to do it. Not only do you have to sell the dream to the customer, you must sell the dream to the supplier. I recommend reading Shoe Dog, the story of Phil Knight and Nike.
I want to start a business, but I don’t know how to approach my local bank or investors, probably because I don’t have any experience in the business field. I am currently in a full-time job and holding on to the security of the monthly salary (which I know is wrong) but I have responsibilities. How do I break out? — Lorenzo
First, the security of a monthly salary is under-rated. Don’t be so quick to wish it away! Of course, a salary is a long-term dead-end. When you’re forced to retire at 65, you’re likely to be staring at 35 years of supporting yourself and your family relying on pension and savings alone. Assuming they don’t retrench you before age 65.
Be grateful for a salary, but be on the look-out for a way to make a living on your own terms.
That way you will learn skills that can be used after forced-retirement age, and even more important, you will be able to keep yourself busy rather than spending your old age pottering around the house in boredom and driving your significant other mad.
Forget about banks and investors. If you want to start a business, you must do it without ‘other people’s money’. Find a problem in your industry, solve that problem, get paid for solving the problem. Repeat.
Ideally find a like-minded colleague that you trust, pool your efforts and partner to find a way to make a living in your own business. Partnership massively de-risks entrepreneurship.
Related: Pay Your Dues Before Raising Capital
Alan Knott-Craig’s latest book, 13 Rules for being an Entrepreneur is now available.
What it’s about
It’s easy to be an entrepreneur. It’s also easy to fail. What’s hard is being a successful entrepreneur. For an entrepreneur, there is only one important metric of success: Money. But life is not only about making money. It’s about being happy. This book is a collection of tips and wisdom that will help you make money without forgoing happiness.
Get it now
To download the free eBook or purchase a hard copy, go to www.13rules.co.za. To browse Alan’s other books, visit bigalmanack.com/books/
5 Lessons To Follow As You Take Your Product To Market
Don’t overly complicate things when launching your business. Instead, follow this advice from a successful entrepreneur so you’ll do things right.
When launching a new business, product, or service, the most common mistake entrepreneurs make is trying to do too many things at once in the belief that going to market with “more” is better.
It isn’t. During your initial launch period, or when relaunching new products or services, “more” means additional risk. More also means unnecessary complexity, as well as additional time to market, so more capital will be required.
Below are some important things to remember as you prepare to take your product to market:
1. Don’t try to build Rome in a day
I have a good friend who raised $2 million in a very tough market to start a consumer internet business. Finding that much money to start a new business was amazing, and I congratulated him on a big win. He was ecstatic and told me he couldn’t wait to get to work on the site.
One year later, I ran into him again and asked how it was going. He sang the blues. He said he was doing terribly. In fact, he was on his way to his attorney’s office to shut the company down. They had launched a few months before but had already run out of money. I asked how that was possible, and he talked about his big vision, how his company aimed to provide everything their target customer could possibly want to buy in the category. Their goal was to be a one-stop shop. He and his team invested all their time and money building something big and comprehensive, confident their target customer wouldn’t want to go anywhere else once their website was up and running.
When the company got started, they were solving one problem for one target customer. It was a simple concept. But when the money came in, everyone started working on other “great ideas” and “shiny objects.” They kept building and building and building. They went from solving one problem for one very specific target customer to building a one-stop shop that did a lot of things for a lot of different people. Then they started running low on cash, so they decided to push the product out.
After the launch, they learned, much to their surprise, that about 95 percent of their users used just 5 percent of the site! And that 5 percent was the original product to solve the original problem.
So that means 95 percent of the time and money invested was essentially wasted. What can you learn from this?
2. Focus on one thing, the simplest thing
When kicking off a new product or service, put all your energy and focus into that product or service. Focus on one thing at a time. It shouldn’t be the hardest thing; it should be the simplest, what we’ll call the minimum viable product (MVP). The MVP provides the opportunity to learn the most about your customers, with the least amount of time, money and effort.
The MVP puts you in a position to go to market quickly, collect valuable feedback and not waste time building things customers don’t want. This strategy significantly mitigates your risk and helps avoid the trap my friend fell into. Remember, Amazon started just as an online bookseller.
3. Follow the 85-percent rule: Good is good enough
Striving for perfection is the enemy of any product launch. As a rule of thumb, when the new business or product is 85 percent of the way there, you’re ready to go. In my experience, the level of effort required to reach 100 percent isn’t worth the additional time and expense at this stage. You’d be much better off getting something into the market and beginning to test.
4. Be great at collecting, and learning from, feedback
Once you’ve launched, listen to and learn from your users. Develop feedback loops to learn everything you possibly can.
- What do users like and dislike about the product or service?
- What features would they like to see added to enhance their experience?
- Which features don’t work or generate little interest?
Do whatever you have to do to engage with your users. That may include offering incentives to get feedback on surveys or in focus groups, reaching out on social media, or generating outbound calls to learn more.
The hardest part of this process for many entrepreneurs is to be completely receptive to what customers tell you. Given your passion and all the time you’ve spent on the project, you may not want to hear negative feedback. You may be inclined to think the customer just doesn’t get it. But feedback is the most valuable tool you have as an entrepreneur. So listen, consider, and use what you learn to iterate, improve, or even throw out some of what you have built or planned.
5. Avoid the shiny ball syndrome
As you start developing your MVP, you must fight “feature creep” at every step. You, your team, partners, and everyone else you share your vision with will have ideas about what should be added. While many of them will sound good at the time, they are instead shiny objects that distract you.
Your job is to stay focused on one thing, get it to market and then deliver the next thing. By focusing on one thing at a time, you can get to market quickly, learn a great deal about your product or service from actual customers and make changes based on their feedback And if your launch doesn’t fly, you have significantly mitigated your risk.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How To Launch An Online Coaching Business
Cut through the noise and create a viral product.
Work from home? Control your own schedule? Impact people across the world with your product or service?
Internet marketing is on the rise for a reason. It gives you the ability to scale your business to a global level without forfeiting your personal freedom. Still, there’s one question that still prevents entrepreneurs from entering the online space: “Is it really possible to make a living off the internet?”
Not only is it possible, it’s lucrative when done correctly. We live in the Golden Age of internet marketing. Thanks to social media, everyone can get in front of a camera and pitch their idea to the masses. Good enough, right?
Not quite. These days a big idea will only get you started; it’s what you do to bundle and package that idea that matters. Here are the three steps you need to take to launch a profitable online business.
Flesh out your idea
Of course, before you create your product, you need an idea. Your idea must solve a specific problem that a specific group of people face. Make sure you establish that before you move forward.
Now, before you begin creating your product, you need to write your sales copy. Your sales copy (or sales video, if that’s what you prefer) should be enticing enough to take prospects from “I’m interested in this” to “I need to buy this now.”
Related: Paddy Upton: People Centred Coaching
But, why write your sales copy before creating your product? Too many entrepreneurs write copy that promises a lot but delivers next to nothing. When you write your copy before creating your product, you build the blueprint to create a product that satisfies your customers’ needs –without overpromising.
Your sales copy should address the prospect’s problem, explain how your product is the solution to that problem, and include a list of bullet points that summarise the benefits of your product. Make sure you nail the first 500 words – easily the most read section of your sales copy. Finally, always create a sense of urgency or people at home won’t be motivated to buy your product.
People always ask me, “Well, what if I’m not a good writer?” That’s OK. Just say your pitch out loud, record it and send it to an online transcribing service. For a relatively inexpensive price, you’ll get your sales copy written out for you. Just review it, copy it and paste it to your website and boom – there’s your sales copy!
Build the “know, love and trust” factor
Most people believe you need to sell prospects first, then deliver results. But, what if you flip it? It’s much easier to sell someone once they know, love and trust you as an authority in your space, rather than selling them on your product before they even know if you can deliver the results you’re promising.
That’s why the most successful internet marketers – including myself – give away boatloads of free content via blogs and videos. Granted, the stuff we give away for free could easily be packaged together into a high-priced course, but that would be short-sighted. You don’t want prospects to buy from you once and move on – you want them to become long-term paying clients.
See, you deliver free quality content to your prospects, then they take it and implement it into their businesses. They start to see results in advance, which leads them to trust you more and more. Soon, they begin to crave more knowledge from you, and their willingness to pay for your products and services increases.
Eventually those prospects become your most loyal clients. They buy your front-end products, your upsells and your flagship products – all of which I’ll get to in just a second. But, before you get that far, make sure your prospects know, love and trust you before you worry about selling them anything.
Create your front-end product and upsells
Once your copy is written and you’re building the know, love and trust factor, your next move is to create a front-end product – a product that’s easy to sell. This could be an ebook, a membership site or a course that comes with follow-along videos.
Now, you might be tempted to charge a high price for that product. Here’s the thing: Most of the money is made on the back end. I’ll talk more about this in a second, but for now just remember that the front-end product is not the final product you’re really trying to sell them. I – along with many of my fellow internet marketers – don’t mind breaking even or losing money on front-end products because I know I’ll more than make my money back with my flagship product.
Instead, your aim should be to use that front-end product to upsell them instead. So, after they purchase your front-end product, offer them three different upsells. An upsell is a higher-priced product or service you offer a customer after they’ve bought something from you. These upsells should be done-for-you, and they should enhance the front-end product by making it easier to understand or more efficient at getting results.
Why are upsells so important? Besides adding value to your front-end product, you’ll be able to recruit more affiliates to promote your business. An affiliate promotes your product to their own audience for a commission fee. If you make money through upsells, affiliates will choose to work with your business over your competitors because you can pay them higher commissions. The payoff? You get more traffic going to your webpage and ultimately more bottom line revenue.
Move them to your flagship product
That’s how you set up the front end of your online business. But, what about the back end? Remember I said that most of your money will be made on the back end and not the front end?
That’s why you need a flagship product to pitch your clients once they’re done with your front-end product. But, what in the world does a flagship product look like?
It could be high-end coaching sessions. It could be a spot in your exclusive mastermind group. It could even be a suite of software that teaches them everything they need to know about their industry. The front-end product is a way to get your clients through the door; your back-end product is the money-maker product, the one they’re more likely to buy once they’ve already purchased something from you.
I’ll give you an example. People will often find my products online. Usually when they finish using those products, they’re still hungry for more knowledge and advice. At this point, they’re considered qualified leads for my mastermind program, so we make sure they know about that programme and how to become a member of it.
That leaves you with one problem: How do you send marketing emails to every single person that buys your front-end product/upsells? It’s basically impossible, unless you’re in front of your computer screen 24/7 (which I’m sure you’re not). Fear not, because it’s actually easy to do when you use an auto-responder system to send out all those emails on your behalf.
It’s simple: When your clients purchase your front-end product, the system automatically sends them emails from you. That way, you can build a sequence where you give away even more of your best free content before sending them an offer for your flagship product. By the time they get to your flagship product, they’ll be so confident in your expertise and results that they happily pay the higher price for your higher level of service.
That’s the simple science behind converting your prospects into clients, and your clients into fiercely loyal clients. It’s how you sell your highest-priced online programmes without running into any of the typical sales objections. Follow these three steps and start building your own online business empire today.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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