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Start-up Advice

10 Start-up Tips Learned the Hard Way

We hope these pro tips help you level-up your own agency’s game. But whatever you do, don’t stop experimenting and learning as you go.

Rameet Chawla

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Ouch

We’ve learned quite a lot from our humble kitchen table beginnings since 2009, when we founded Fueled. Our now global, award-winning mobile-design and development agency has offices in New York, London and Chicago, with more on the way.

While we’ve hit some bumps along the ride, we’ve learned from them, adapted and worked out how to build Fueled into a thriving agency. We’ve come up with a ton of pro tips along the way. Here are 10 of them.

1. Brand with a single purpose.

From day one, we branded Fueled as mobile first and only, and we’ve ridden the wave of mobile’s dominance ever since. We’re grateful to receive the bulk of our new business through client referrals and friends. We do more than mobile apps — website design, branding, SEO, community building – but it’s our mobile brand and expertise that gets people in the door.

Related: 10 Businesses You Can Start Part-Time

2. Fire fast.

If someone on your team is not working out, part ways now. It might leave the team crunched and you might have to work on Saturday and Sunday. Suck it up and do it. You’ll thank us later.

When we hire someone, we tell them up front that it’s for a three-month trial period. At two months, we have a check-in and assess the relationship from both sides. This gives them a month to improve or keep on keeping on. If major issues remain unsolved by the end of that three months, we say goodbye. When something is not working out, it’s a mutual feeling more often than not.

3. Only charge flat fees for very discrete deliverables.

Hourly rates or project fees? We finally found the perfect balance: charge flat fees for a series of well-defined, discrete deliverables with clear, inelastic boundaries.

Once a project is rolling, we move to a structure with a flat fee for a set amount of work. For us, that usually means a build of an app with a certain set of features. Clients know what they’re paying, and we know what we’re delivering. If the client adds features, we layer on more deliverables and flat fees.

4. Get paid up front.

Don’t start working until you get paid up front. Seriously, stop. Do something else until you get the money.

It may feel cheeky, but there’s no faster way for an agency to fold than to carry the debt of your clients’ unpaid bills. We ask our clients to pay in advance for each two-week period of work. If they don’t pay, we don’t work.

5. Avoid cheap clients.

If a potential new client tries to lowball you or asks for deep discounts, shut the door.

It’s this weird, inverted ratio: the law of discounting. The deeper the discount or the more generous the favor we give, the more unrealistic clients’ demands will be. For some reason, the clients who demand discounts will never be happy with your work, and they’re hardly worth your time and aggravation.

6. Build a lean product.

Bully your clients into building less, not more. Some clients are surprised when we push for a smaller contract (which means less cash for us). But experience has taught us that six-month builds of apps with 150 screens is effectively a guaranteed disaster. Focus first on what you can build in eight weeks, max. Then add and release the most compelling additional features in one- or two-week increments.

Related: This Business Model will Boost Your Profitability

7. Have plenty of conference rooms and phone booths.

Remember this ratio: one to 11. Fueled runs and houses its NYC team in The Fueled Collective, a coworking space with 150 members and 35 startups. We’ve found that the magic ratio of conference rooms to people is 1 to 11.

Spacious conference rooms for five to eight people are great, but the number-one use of conference-room time is phone calls made by one or two members, so to be efficient with space, try creating phone booths or micro-conference rooms. A few nooks for impromptu breakouts is also very useful.

8. Managing the client and managing the process are two different jobs.

When we started out, we had “producers,” managers who handled both client relations, project management and the actual product. We’ve since learned that people are either really good at building product or really good at managing the client relationship, never both.

Now we have separate project managers and product managers. The tension between their different skills and priorities creates a healthy conflict that gets a quality product delivered on-time and on-budget.

9. Experience is valuable.

Particularly in the tech world, the value of experience is easy to overlook. We had a bias, when we started, toward young talent rather than experience. We’ll just train them, we thought.

But we’ve since learned that experience matters massively. Bringing in seasoned talent and managers is absolutely critical to our success and happiness, and it’s been worth every extra penny.

10. Think before sleeping with your co-workers.

Talented, creative human beings doing exciting work in intense environments? Love and other pangs of the heart will happen.

But think about it carefully before you give in to the longings of your loins. Just how awkward is it going to be if things don’t work out? How much time and effort are you going to spend making it right? Do you risk losing someone valuable to your company?

It might also make sense to set expectations up front, about what the consequences might be if things don’t work out. Basically, take the time to consider the consequences before hooking up with your hot colleague.

We hope these pro tips help you level-up your own agency’s game. But whatever you do, don’t stop experimenting and learning as you go. We got to where we are through constantly tweaking and iterating on how we do business.

Ultimately, our passion for experimentation and pushing the boundaries has been core to Fueled’s success.

Rameet Chawla is the founder of Fueled, an award-winning design and development company based in New York and London, and the founder of the Fueled Collective, a co-working space comprised of over 25 startups in downtown Manhattan. Chawla is passionate about building and being involved in disruptive technology ventures and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Start-up Advice

How To Forge Your Own Path In Business

Finding your own way doesn’t require reinventing the wheel.

Timothy Sykes

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You don’t need to be a visionary to forge your own path in business.

Honestly, you don’t even need to be a business owner to forge your own path. It’s more about a state of mind where you’re able to think for yourself professionally. To clarify, that doesn’t mean you’ve got to be a lone wolf: ideally, you want to be able to to work with and even for others, but without being a follower.

The ability to balance being an independent thinker yet simultaneously remaining accountable for your actions will make you a much more valuable worker, no matter what field you’ve chosen. The good news is that with targeted effort, anyone can adopt this mindset. Here are some of my tips for how to forge your own path in business, and why it matters.

Learn the rules first

This might sound out of place in a post about how to forge your own path in business. After all, aren’t we talking about independence?

Here’s the thing. Before you want to break the rules, you have to actually learn what they are. Take the time to learn the “rules” of your trade before you start trying to reinvent the wheel. You’re likely to pick up wisdom that will serve you, even if you intend on using the rules to inspire new and creative ways of breaking them.

Related: 30 Top Influential SA Business Leaders

Seek guidance

Once again, you might find yourself thinking: Why should I seek out guidance if I want to forge my own path? Picture a cliche movie scene of a parent teaching their kid how to ride a bike. There’s that magical moment where the parent lets go of the back of the bike, and the kid is doing it on his own.

In business, you often need that initial helping hand before you can ride smoothly on your own. Before you can think for yourself, it can be helpful to absorb all of the wisdom you can from others.

One powerful way to do this is to find a mentor, or someone established in your field or a similar field who can give you words of advice and help you avoid making mistakes. Another is to make sure to take part in networking groups and to engage with other entrepreneurs. The more people you connect with and the more knowledge you gain, the better!

Set realistic and specific goals

If you want to gain confidence, become an independent thinker, and a better problem solver, do this one thing: Set realistic and specific goals.

Say that you want to increase sales for your business. It may not be realistic to say that you want to double your sales, but to simply have a goal to “increase sales” isn’t specific enough. However, setting a goal of increasing sales by 20% this year might be more realistic and is definitely more specific.

A goal like this is motivating, as it gives you something specific to work toward. It also allows you to break it down into actionable steps. You can begin to problem-solve, making specific plans for ways in which you could make your goal a reality. As you reach these milestones, you’ll gain more confidence in your abilities, which can help you move forward more confidently in your career.

Observe, but don’t copy

It can be very helpful to look at what your competitors and other entrepreneurs are doing. It keeps you relevant, gives you ideas, and can help keep you nimble in your chosen field.

However – this is important – you should never copy what others are doing. For one thing, it doesn’t work. Say you see someone killing it with a brand new hummus restaurant start-up. You can’t just start crushing chickpeas and expect success. There are lots of inner workings to the business that you’re not privy to, so even if you were to try, you couldn’t quite replicate someone else’s success.

Further, by the the time you copy, you’re already a follower and behind the curve. It’s better to use the information you observe as data, so that you can gain insight on things like effective marketing techniques and aesthetics, and apply these things to your own original ideas.

Think for yourself

You probably already guessed this one, but to forge your own path in business, you need to learn to think for yourself. So…how do you do that? Education is key. You need to absorb all of the knowledge you can, talk to as many people as you can, and observe as much as you can.

It’s almost like you’re forming your own personal library of data and resources. As time goes on, you’ll become better able to use this knowledge that you’ve gained to put your own unique ideas out in the world. You’ll be better able to generate ideas and to come up with intelligent solutions.

Related: Business Leadership – Learn How To Embrace Change

Let yourself grow over time

Ultimately, if you want to forge your own path in business, you need to be patient. Expertise, independent thinking, and autonomy won’t all happen overnight, so take the pressure off of yourself.

Remember: Patience is a trait of some of the most successful people. Focus on progress, not perfection. If you want to be successful for the long haul, allow yourself to learn and grow and continue to improve over time. Slow but steady, right?

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Start-up Advice

Start Your Online Business For (Practically) Free

5 Simple steps to start your online store on a shoestring budget — no previous experience required.

Warrick Kernes

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starting-an-online-business

If you’ve been wanting to release your inner entrepreneur but you’re constrained by a tight budget, an online store is a good place to start, particularly as you can get set up and start taking orders without spending the world up-front.

Your online store can be set up by you (yes, even with no prior experience) and you can get it up and running without needing to hire staff or rent offices. Hopefully you’ll need all of that as you grow, but for now you can set up your online store and start taking orders on a shoestring budget with these five, simple steps.

Step 1

Deciding what to sell

If you don’t have money to invest in buying products to sell on your site consider selling your services. Ask yourself what it is that you are really good at that other people would be willing to pay you to do? Create this as a service and use your site to promote your offer and to let clients book out your time. You can also consider improving your skill level (and how much you can charge) by doing some online courses on the topic.

If you prefer selling physical items, reach out to people you know in case your network has idle stock in their stock rooms. Negotiate to list their stock on your site and when a customer pays you for an item, buy it from your supplier and send it to your customer. This is essentially drop shipping in its most manual form and until the drop shipping infrastructure in South Africa is established, hustling for work-arounds is the best way to get your online store up and running without investing in inventory.

Related: What’s The Best Products To Sell Online?

Step 2

Decide what website platform to build your site on

Without going into too much detail I can narrow down your options to using WordPress or Shopify as your CMS (Content Management System). This is the skeleton of your site where you add all of your content on the back-end to be organised before you publish it to the front-end, which is what your customers see as your website.

You can establish a WordPress website for free whereas Shopify starts from $29 per month. If you are experienced with websites I’d suggest WordPress, but if your experience is limited setting up a Shopify site is an easier solution that will save you a lot of time when you get started. Either way, don’t be intimidated by the process as the set-up wizards will guide you step-by-step on how to build your website.

online-payments

Step 3

Taking online payments

Setting up your store to take online payments is much easier than you think. From day one you can enable manual EFT payments and let customers pay you by EFT (but only dispatch the order once the payment has cleared!). This allows you to start taking payments straight away.

Next, you can easily apply for an account with a South African payment gateway. The account can take up to a week to be approved and the service provider will guide you on how to set it up on your site. Once this is done your customers will be able to pay you by credit card, instant EFT, Bitcoin, Mobicred, Zapper and more.

If you don’t yet have a business bank account, don’t let this slow you down. You can start off by linking the payment gateway to your personal account and then change it later once you’ve set up a business account.

Related: Will Anyone Buy Your Product Online?

Step 4

Getting your first sales

Here are a few ‘low hanging fruit’ tips for getting easy traffic to your online store to help generate your first sales.

Share your new site with everyone you know. Use any social media networks you may have to announce your new website to your friends and family. Start by asking them for feedback (so they don’t feel that you’re pushing them for sales) then ask them to share your products with anyone they know who might be interested.

Offer launch specials. Now that you’ve got some eyes on your site generate urgency by, offering a ‘launch week 15% discount’. Apart from driving sales, this also lets you test your payment and delivery processes with people who won’t get angry if things don’t go perfectly. What’s more, you can reach out to these first buyers for product feedback, which will be super helpful before you start selling to unknown customers.

Validate your business on Google. Visit google.com/business to add your business details to Google Maps. Once this is approved your business details will show on the right side of the Google results when people search for your brand. This is a great way to build trust and traffic.

Build your newsletter subscriber list. Your exposure to your social media followers can be limited by changes in the rules of each platform. Your list of newsletter subscribers, however, is the only list that you own and control so it’s vital to build this list from day one. It’s a fantastic place to launch deals and subscriber specials and to engage with people who’ve signed up to hear more from you. A great way to grow this list is to offer a free ‘lead magnet’ which people can only access once they subscribe. The best ‘lead magnet’ is a content offering that is truly helpful and desired by your potential customers. Try to get creative and think of what you are willing to give away for ‘free’ to build your database.

Learn the basics of SEO. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the big topic of Search Engine Optimisation. If you can learn a few key principles on YouTube and then build each part of your website with this in mind you’ll see a massive long-term benefit as each part of your site will climb higher in the rankings in the future. Don’t forget to submit your sitemap for indexing; skipping this step will delay your websites’ pages being properly ranked in Google.

“Building your own website on a shoestring budget is not only possible but it’s likely to be easier than you expected. Aim for progress instead of perfection, you’ll have plenty of time to fine-tune everything once your site is live.”

Step 5

Delivering your order fast and cheap

Trying to use the South African postal service to deliver to your customers may sound like a cheaper alternative than couriers but it’s really not an option as their service is often hit and miss. Customers will also abandon orders on your site if they see that you’re not using couriers to deliver to them.

You need to engage with the courier companies in your area to see which ones offer the best service at the fairest prices. If you’re in a big city you should be able to deliver within the city for around R32 and to other major cities for R45 on an overnight delivery service. Delivering to customers in outlying areas does become more expensive but you can investigate couriers that offer drop-box options so that your rural deliveries don’t cost more than R99.

Of course, the larger the item the higher the delivery cost can be, but if you’re shipping bulky items like fridges or couches shop around for the best prices as you should be able to offer nationwide road-freight deliveries at no more than R250.

Some companies in South Africa offer aggregated courier quotes where you can book through their service and benefit from their mass negotiation with the respective couriers. They can get as much as 35% discounted off the normal rates and this is passed onto you. These systems can also be integrated into your website so that everything runs seamlessly — like true eCommerce should.

South African customers are generally willing to pay for courier fees on their orders up to a certain shopping cart value. The general rule of thumb is that you ought to offer free delivery on orders over R500; however, you need to know your numbers to ensure that the average shipping fee can be absorbed by your gross profit margins once the order value reaches over R500.

Related: How to Start A Business When You’re Flat Broke

Getting started

Building your own website on a shoestring budget is not only possible but it’s likely to be easier than you expected. Aim for progress instead of perfection, you’ll have plenty of time to fine-tune everything once your site is live. Getting your website live sooner rather than later helps you to recoup some cash from kick-starting your sales, it allows you to get feedback from your first customers which you can use to improve the final site, and, getting your first sales will validate that people are willing to buy what you’re selling.

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Start-up Advice

(Infographic)The Do’s And Don’ts Of Naming Your Business

There’s a lot that goes into a company’s name.

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Finding the right name for your business can be crucial to its success. If you’ve got a boring, vague name, then you might repel potential customers.

When it comes down to it, there are some major do’s and don’ts that go along with naming your company. For starters, keep things simple and short – a long name can confuse potential customers and won’t make a lasting impression on them.

Your name should also tell your story. Not only will this help people recognise your company but you’ll build the brand’s character.

Something a lot of people don’t think about is how their company’s name will sound in another language. Even if you’re in the early stages of building your company, who knows what could happen in the future. So create a name that sounds good and has a positive translation in any country. Next, always test your ideas before setting them in stone.

Ask potential customers to take a survey and compare your name with other companies in the same industry. Of course, you also must ensure that the name you came up is even available.

To learn how you can create the best name for your business, check out Business Backer‘s infographic below.

do-donts-naming-business-infographic

Related: Your New Business Name Should Be Memorable, Spell-able And Available

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.


Read next: How to Name (Or In Some Cases, Rename) Your Company

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