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Start-up Advice

11 Steps to Starting a Successful Business in Your 20s

Your 20s are meant for hustling.

Jason Parks

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Your 20s are meant for hustling. While your friends are enjoying “Sunday Funday” and going out on a Thursday night, you can be growing your own business and laying the foundation for your future success.

Millennials and Gen Zers have an amazing opportunity at their fingertips. While our parents’ generation had to put in the time and work their way up the corporate ladder, the iGeneration and Net Generation have a quicker (and more fun!) alternative. Since we grew up with technology, we have a competitive advantage to build brands that rely on digital marketing and technology.

Whether you want to create the next Snapchat, start a marketing agency or become an Instagram influencer, it’s time to stop stalking others’ lives on social media and get to work on your own business.

1. Start a side hustle.

Most people underestimate how much time there is outside of work if you have a standard 9-5 job. If you are working at a job you dislike and want to be your own boss, stop complaining about your current terrible job and take action. Grab a cup of coffee after work and start hustling from 6 p.m to 2 a.m. on your new business venture.

If you are an artist, start posting YouTube videos about the details behind your painting process. Open up an ecommerce store on Shopify. Promote your products on Instagram. All of this can be done as a side hustle while you grow your business. Best of all, you are still collecting a paycheck from someone else.

2. Stop boozing.

If you are truly passionate about entrepreneurship, you will quickly understand that the weekends are the most productive time to get work done. You literally can put in 20 hours of work on the weekend to grow your brand.

This isn’t going to happen if you are going to the bars on Friday and Saturday night. First off, you are going to drain your bank account from buying shots for all of your buddies. Secondly, you are not going to be productive when you’re hung over.

Start setting your alarm clock and for 6:30 a.m. on the weekends. Put in a full day of work. You won’t have any regrets about missing a night or two out when you’re in your 30s and have a million-dollar business.

Related: 5 Ways To Validate A Business Idea, Right Now

3. Wake up early.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “The sun has not caught me in bed in 50 years.” Apple CEO Tim Cook is known for getting up early and sending out company emails at 4:30 in the morning. The youngest CEO in the NBA, Brett Yormark, gets up at 3:30 in the morning in order to get to the office by 4:30.

When it comes to business, the early bird catches the worm. You can actually be playing offense rather than defense, which will allow you to work on growing your business.

Make sure to put your alarm clock on the opposite side of the room, which will force you to get out of bed and not hit the snooze button. Do 50 pushups within 5 minutes of turning of your alarm clock to truly wake yourself up. If you need extra motivation for waking up early, follow Before 5 AM on Instagram.

4. Build your personal brand. 

It blows my mind how much time people spend on social media promoting themselves yet they don’t have a website that gives people more information or a place where people can get in contact with them.

Everyone should see if their first and last name is available for purchase on GoDaddy. If you have a common name, insert your middle name and your craft as part of the URL (example: SarahSmithNYCArtist.com). The next time you go into a business meeting, you’ll be amazed how much more impressed people will be by your professional website.

5. Become an expert by contributing content.

In addition to owning a marketing and app development agency, I am also the partner of an ecommerce skincare website that sells dermatology strength products. We are constantly trying to get media mentions from Glamour, Bustle and Teen Vogue. Do you know what I discovered? A ton of the writers on these nationally recognized sites are college students!

If you love sports, start reaching out to sites like YardBarker to become a contributor. If you love fashion, what’s holding you back for writing for Teen Vogue? This will boost your personal brand, establish credibility and present new opportunities you never imagined.

6. Talk it out. 

When you are an entrepreneur, you live on a lonely island. Nobody will ever realize just how much hustle you put in on a daily basis. Your friends who work a 9-5 job won’t understand how your business means the world to you.

Since entrepreneurship can be lonely, make sure you have someone you can air it out with. Whether it is your girlfriend or boyfriend, mom or dad, or just a mentor you can trust, in order to grow, you need to be able to have a sounding board along the journey.

Related: The 5 Stages Start-ups Must Go Through to Make That First R1 Million

7. Have patience.

The issue with the digital age that we live in is that people are impatient. They expect results yesterday.

Bill Gates was famously quoted saying, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

In order to build a business, you need to be patient for the long run. Don’t think about where you want your business to be in a year; think about your goals for 10 years down the road and how you are going to execute to make all of your ambitions come to fruition. If you are in your 20s, what will differentiate you as an entrepreneur is patience. Make sure to move fast on getting stuff done but be patient for the long-term gains.

I’ve owned my company for seven years now. I know that 96 percent of businesses fail before turning 10. I keep that statistic in my mind each and every day because I want to be part of the 4 percent that succeed past 10.

Each year you celebrate your business anniversary, your muscles will continue to grow.

8. Make money. 

I can’t stand all of the people who claim they are entrepreneurs. One simple question separates the contenders from the pretenders: “Are you generating revenue?” There are so many people out there who claim to be crushing it with their “entrepreneurial journey” but when you dig into it, they aren’t generating a penny in revenue. I’m not even getting into the details of generating a profit, which is what every business must do to survive.

If you aren’t making money with your business, you need to start and you need to start soon. Just like a hockey team needs to score goals in order to win a game, your business needs to make money to actually be considered a business. Stop with the pretend stuff and start selling your product or service.

9. Start meeting with millionaires.

On a monthly basis, start meeting with a millionaire for coffee. You’ll be amazed that there is no secret sauce to succeed in business. You’ll learn that hard work leads to better luck and success. You’ll also become inspired and motivated while listening to someone who has succeeded in the business world.

If you try and meet with Evan Spiegal from Snapchat, you aren’t going to have much luck. You’d be amazed, though, how many CEOs of billion- and multi-million-dollar companies would be willing to meet with you if you are persistent.

Don’t think for a second that you are the only one gaining value from the meeting. The CEOs and founders that you meet with — who will likely be in their 40s, 50s and 60s — will be asking you a lot of questions. The reason? Their customers are most likely your age, and they understand the spending power of millennials and Gen Zers.

10. Become an SEO and paid advertising expert. 

Do you want to know a more efficient way to grow your business than attending outdated networking events? Rank towards the top of Google so people will contact you directly for business inquires. Whether you just graduated from law school and plan on opening up your own practice or you are selling customized dog collars, SEO and paid ads can literally help any business.

This is one of the main reasons I’ve been able to grow my marketing agency quickly and efficiently. In the Columbus, Ohio markets, we crush it for terms like “social media company” and “SEO Company.”

There is no college degree or class you have to take to become an SEO or PPC expert. You just have to get your hands dirty, read articles and watch videos. If you are starting a business, you need to be well versed in this area so you can generate leads and sales online each and every day.

Related: 10 Things You Can Expect During Your First 10 Years Of Business

11. Be cheap.

Earlier in the article, I talked about how you can save money by not going to the bars every weekend. Do everything you can to be frugal with your money. You never know when the economy will turn south or when your biggest client or customer will drop off. If you are spending lavishly, you won’t be well prepared for tough times.

Start eating more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and eat out less. Stop buying clothes at Nordstrom and start shopping at TJ Maxx.

Every dollar is so important when you are starting a business. There’s a reason Warren Buffett has lived in the same house in Omaha, Neb., that he bought for $58,000 in 1958. The real winners in business are smart with their money.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com

Jason Parks is a proud Columbus native and the founder and CEO of The Media Captain, a digital marketing agency. He has been featured in the New York Times, Yahoo News, Search Engine Watch and AOL on digital-marketing topics and success stories.

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Start-up Advice

Selling To A Corporate: The B2B Battlefield

If you can apply some of these, you may be able to stop your hair from going grey or halt that premature baldness more effectively than me.

Jordan Stephanou

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So you’re running a start-up that targets corporate clients. All you need is a few corporate signatures on that paper, and all of a sudden you’ll have a sky-rocketing business with an exciting guaranteed revenue stream every month, right? Right… But it’s not quite that easy.

Maybe you decided against a B2C (Business to Consumer model) because the marketing spend to win over one consumer at a time was not worth it, or that the South African consumer market is not big enough in your industry, or that it’s better to get 10 paying corporates rather than a million paying individuals. You’re not alone, and you’re not wrong.

Both models have their major pros and their major cons. Trust me, I know. But here are some of the learnings I’ve had by pursuing the B2B model.

The pitch: Anything other than a resounding ‘yes’ is likely a ‘no’

First step is to get the pitch. There is a huge temptation to go about it as passively as possible, hoping that the deal will fall in your lap with a well written email. Reality is a little different however. To secure most pitches, a combination (or all) of in-person approach, phone call, linked-in message and email could be required. Once you’ve secured the pitch, book it in both parties’ calendars and hope that there’s no last minute cancellation. The exciting part awaits.

Related: Beauty Of Failure: The Art Of Embracing Rejection

The sad fact of human nature is that people don’t always say what they mean, or mean what they say. Possibly it’s because we don’t like to hurt each other, or it’s because we avoid uncomfortable discussion as if it’s the plague.

Whatever the reason, it’s quite rare to receive “hard no’s”. The reality is that after a pitch, anything other than a resounding yes, or a “when can we start”, or “where can I sign?”, is likely to be a soft no; they have no interest in doing business with you. The entrepreneurial spirit is one that looks at the positive in everything, so it could be very dangerous for a glass half-full entrepreneur to receive a soft no, because this person will very much believe the deal is still alive.

Once again, trust me, I know. I recommend tempering the enthusiasm by looking out for any sign of an excuse during the pitch, and addressing it then and there. You know how hard you worked to get that meeting – so make sure you leave with no question unanswered, knowing that you did everything you could to win that business, or learnt everything you could to enhance your product, service or pitch to win future business. If you don’t get their business, it just means you didn’t get their business right now. Extract the positives and move forward.

1. Balance patience & momentum: They don’t operate like start-ups

It’s often said that a corporate is the most important thing to a startup, but a startup is far from the most important thing to a corporate.

As start-ups or SMMEs, we just have to accept that. Where we would respond to an email in a heartbeat, it may take our corporate contact 2 weeks to respond; especially if they are decision-maker. They don’t need our business, but we need theirs. As such, it’s important to remember when following up on a successful pitch that they are big, they are busy, and they have multiple balls being juggled at once. It’s likely that our proposition is the least important to them, and may be seen as a luxury.

Remember, they didn’t pursue you, you pursued them. So we have to be patient. But this is the difficult part; we have to balance patience with the desire to keep momentum. It’s an oft-said phrase that “time kills deals”. As start-ups, we need to be respectful that our prospective client is busy, but also very direct and honest with them in terms of our position and our goals and objectives.

If we are direct about when we want to conclude a deal and why, it could scare them away, or it could lead to them prioritising the deal as a priority. Either way, it’s better to know where you stand rather than have something drag on in that mythical pipeline for months or years as false hope.

2. Their emails are not their priority

emailsAfter the pitch, it’s easy to get in an unhealthy pattern. That pattern could look something like this: Send follow up documents directly after the pitch; hear nothing back from the prospective client; send a follow-up email the following week; hear nothing back; send another follow-up email the following week; hear nothing back; send another follow-up email the following week etc. into perpetuity until you go crazy and re-apply for your old job.

I have learnt that busy decision-makers in the corporate environment don’t just sit at their desk all day reading and responding to emails. They’re on the move, in important meeting after important meeting, flying to London followed by a quick trip to Doha and then 10 days in New York. They’re not setting the wheels in motion in response to your proposal in that spare 30 minutes in the airport.

Related: 4 Social Media Tips For B2Bs

As such, when they are available, you need their full attention and you need to get them to commit to the next step. Either a phone call or in-person visit is effective with this. Getting through to them and asking them the difficult questions about the next step is the only way to be top of mind, and to find out if they are serious about this deal or not.

From my learnings, I recommend emails as secondary to the phone call as a way of confirming what was discussed over the phone in terms of next steps.

3. Improve the product / service – become irresistible

With all else said, there is only one way to consistently increase chances of getting a deal over the line. That is, simply, have an incredible product or service that solves a real problem. If you have pitch after pitch where the response is luke-warm, you should ask them before leaving “what would this product have to do / look like for you to sign up right now?”.

Once you’ve had a few meetings like this, you will understand exactly what your market needs. If you build that product or service that the market craves, you’ll be turning away clients because the demand for your business will be so high. Become indispensable. Build something so good that your clients would be crazy to say no to.

4. Build a pipeline

Your business should never rely on one client saying yes. Putting too much emphasis on one deal will make you desperate, and desperation is the easiest way to scare someone away – relationship, business or anything else. Your market should be big enough that a rejection here and there is water under the bridge and simply a learning.

Closing one deal will provide a proof of concept and credibility that can be leveraged to close the next deal. Each subsequent client should, in theory, be easier to win than the previous one.

Finally, if the product or service is constantly being enhanced according to the market’s needs, if there are enough clients in the pipeline, and if the follow-ups after a great pitch are being done effectively, deals should go through systematically. At the end of the day, closing a deal shouldn’t feel like hard work. The best way to win business is by building a great business that solves real problems.

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Start-up Advice

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

Naming a company is hard, and founders often get it wrong.

Jason Feifer

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Jennifer Fitzgerald is co-founder and CEO of Policygenius. But in 2013, when her company was starting out, it had a different name: KnowItOwl.

“We thought it was a clever play on the term know-it-all,” she says. The company helps consumers find the right insurance policy for them, so she wanted a name that suggested wisdom and guidance, with a friendly animal like the GEICO gecko.

“Then we started talking to investors, engaging our first users and talking to vendors and insurance company partners, and we just kept having to repeat the name — spell it, explain it. Pretty soon we were like, We’ve got a problem.”

And it’s not an uncommon problem.

A name is one of the biggest early decisions a company founder will make, and many get it wrong. Best Buy was first called Sound of Music. Nike was Blue Ribbon Sports. Google was BackRub. Each was a mistake in some form — too narrow, too generic, too evocative of the wrong thing. (BackRub?) For Know­ItOwl, the problem was being too clever.

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

So how should a company pick a name? Fitzgerald did some research and came up with this process.

Step 1: The big name dump

Fitzgerald created a shared Google Doc for her five-person team and over the course of a few weeks sent out prompts to focus people’s creativity — asking for portmanteaus (like Microsoft, the merging of microcomputer and software), names with numbers (like Lot18), themes like references to trees and more.

Step 2: Structure brainstorming

One Saturday, she invited friends in the branding and marketing industry to join her team for pizza, beer and what she calls “structured group brainstorming.”

She’d put up a word that related to her business — say, protection. Everyone in the room had 10 minutes to write down 10 protection-related names.

Related: What You Need To Know About Naming A Start-up

Then they’d pass their list to the person to their left and take seven minutes to create seven names inspired by the other person’s list. They repeated this a few times.

Step 3: Cut the crap

Between the Google Doc and the brainstorming, they had hundreds of names and started eliminating them in phases.

First: “Can you imagine saying your company name to a Wall Street Journal reporter?” That wiped out many. (Bye, “Harmadillo”!)

Then they nixed any similar to competitors’, names that could come off as unintentionally wrong (a classic of the form: Pen Island) and names they couldn’t get a dot-com domain for.

Step 4: Judge by colour

The surviving names were evaluated based on various criteria, including brevity (shorter is better), evocativeness (does it convey meaning?) and searchability (is it unique enough that when searched for, it won’t get lost?).

Related: Checking the Availability of a Company Name with CIPC

Each criterion was marked as red, yellow or green. The name Policygenius, say, got a yellow for brevity. Too many reds meant elimination.

Step 5: Test people’s memories

Will people remember a name? Can they spell it, if they hear it? To test this, the team recorded someone saying the finalist names, posted the audio to Soundcloud, and embedded it in surveys that they paid $2,000 to have sent to 1,000 people.

They also asked respondents to write down any emotional associations the names created z- “just to make sure nothing was offensive or conjuring up any emotions we didn’t want to conjure up,” she says.

After this, Policygenius had its name. It now employs 130 people and helps a million people each month find insurance, either through its service or content — success that (ahem) owl started with a great name.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Start-up Advice

How To Develop A Unique Brand Name In A Global Marketplace And Protect It

A helpful How-to-Guide on developing a unique brand name and conducting trademark searches.

Julian Diaz

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As a marketer, I know just how important it is to choose the right name for a company or product. It needs to be easy to spell and pronounce (in various languages if you’re going international). If possible, it should have some positive connotations (definitely no negative ones) that can be associated to your company or product. And above all, it must be distinctive and unique.

The question is how do you work out what is unique, beyond a URL search, and then how to protect it? The answer is trademarks. I know what you are going to say…

Do I really need to worry about trademarks?

Yes, for two reasons.

  1. You might be a small business already trading under a name that already exists in the market. And maybe the other company that has trademarked that name in your industry classification won’t ever issue you with a cease and desist letter when you enter their market, because they are nice people and just don’t feel there’s any harm in letting a company by the same name trade in their market. Or maybe they do. It’s a decision that is totally out of your control. Do you really want to take that chance as you build a global brand?
  2. You’ve invested tonnes of money into building your brand in your market and then all of a sudden another company enters the market with the same name. Trademarking your name protects your brand from being copied or from another company riding the wave of your brand awareness you’ve invested so much into building.

Trademarks are important if you want to build a brand on a solid foundation and protect it in the long-term.

Related: When do I register a trademark?

How hard is it to successfully trademark a name?

According to the US Patent & Trademark Office, there have been 182,000 trademark registrations and 312 000 applications in the past 5 months alone. That’s more words than there are entries for in the Oxford Dictionary!

You can imagine how hard it is, and how much harder it gets with each passing month, to dream up a name for your product or company that is unique and distinctive enough that it can be successfully trademarked and protected in large markets like the US or Europe – especially in the technology industry. But there are a couple of routes you can try when developing a new name if you find your chosen one is already trademarked.

How to come up with a unique company name

When coming up with a company or product name, you can either go with:

  • an acronym (IBM, SAP),
  • a family or person’s name (Ford, Dell)
  • an existing word (Amazon, Apple, Salesforce)
  • a misspelled word that looks or sounds like an existing word (Xero, Google), or
  • a completely new word either made up of a combination of existing words (PayPal, Instagram, Accenture), or
  • a completely new word entirely made up (Skype).

Related: (Infographic)Top 10 Reasons To Rebrand Your Business

How to make sure it’s available

Try Google first. If you don’t get any companies coming up that are using that word as a name in your industry, you’re off to a good start. Keep in mind that even if another company does come in the results, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve trademarked it.

Check the national trademark search database for the country or countries you want to trade in and search for your name within your industry classification:

If you don’ t come across any trademark registrations for that same word in our classifications, then contact a trademark attorney to conduct a more thorough search using their local experts in those markets and advise you further. You don’t need to work through an attorney as you can register a trademark yourself, but working with one can save you a lot of time and increase your chances of getting your registration through the first time.

In conclusion, some advice

My advice to any company already operating and with ambitions to grow globally is make sure your brand name is trademarked and protected.

If it is not, you should

  • conduct your own search in any of the national IP or trademark offices’ databases (some of which are listed above, others can be found through a simple Google search);
  • hire a credible trademark attorney to either register your name or advise and guide you along the process of registering a new name.

Related: What You Need To Know About Naming A Start-up

If you MUST change your businesses name, then

  • hire a brand development agency for the creative process of developing the right name for you. (We didn’t do this but only because we had no idea how time consuming and difficult it would be. Although it worked out well in the end and we love our new name, it did take up a lot of time and perhaps more importantly “headspace.” I could have been focusing on other pressing things requiring that required this level of strategic thinking or creativity;
  • hire a change management agency or consultant to help with the communication and roll-out process of the new name to all stakeholders: staff, partners, customers, and the market. We managed well on our own, but if you don’t have the internal competency for this, or the time, rather outsource this very important and often neglected step;
  • and finally, just pray to whatever god(s) you believe in that whatever name you finally come with gets the green light from stakeholders and your trademark attorney. (Yes. Seriously.)

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