I often get asked "I have an idea, how do I start it?" That is often times a bigger question that requires more context but let's go over the fundamental mindset and steps to take. First off, let’s address the doubts….
(Any other of the hundreds of self doubts that creep in… “I’m not good enough” “I’ll probably fail” “I’m not smart enough” “I don’t have the connections" blah blah blah)
Repeat after me:
“People with far less, have done far more, for it is not the resources that I currently possess, but my resourcefulness that I will muster from within. It will be the courage, dedication and determination that muster up and press on with that will determine my success, ALL of which I, and only I, am in control of”
- Joshua L-B
How do you take a startup or an idea and turn it into a successful thriving business.
Open your idea up! Like really open.
First you need an idea, but you have to remember that ideas are worthless. An idea is only good once acted on and often times people get hung up on the idea that they don't want to tell anybody their idea for fear that someone might steal it. Well, I have to share something with you and you might not like it. The fact is, if somebody else can steal it and has more passion than you then perhaps you shouldn't be doing the idea anyways. You should let it go to the world and have somebody else bring it to fruition, because if you aren't passionate enough about your idea or excited about your idea enough that you are going to move forward with it with more gusto and more drive than somebody else, then perhaps you aren't aligned with your idea enough and someone else might very well be! (Partners can be great for this if you need one) Now if you simply want to do your idea primarily or solely because you want to “make alot of money” then that is usually a recipe for disaster because you most likely won't see a dime for 2-5 years unless it's an idea where you are "self-employed" to start vs a business system. (This being said there is a time and a place to go for trademarks, patents and copyrights… I suggest looking up your local innovation center or small business enterprise center in your area to help give you guidance on that)
2. Own the Idea First Before Owning the Business
This is a really important one. Really take on the mindset of owning your creation before even beginning. I remember being at a networking event and people would ask me the infamous questions “So, what do you do?”. I would then go on to explain to them what I actually did, which was my corporate job as a National Sales Director. I quickly realized that although I might find some synergies for my job I wasn’t doing my-entrepreneur-self or my idea any favours! So the very next person I spoke to I told them I was the CEO of GoWrench (I at least had the name at that point). Just by doing that, people started asking questions about what we do and how we do it and it made me have to think on my feet! When I was asked a question I absolutely had no idea about I would simply say “Yes, that’s a great question and we’re working on it still.” and then ask them a question to change the topic. Funny enough, I got my first real customer inquiry. Someone who couldn’t wait to tell their boss about my company and low and behold they called me the next day! I had to explain to them that we were a startup and didn’t have the means to service them yet but it was all the validation I needed to move forward with my idea and actually execute on it.
3. Get Initial Research and Feedback
How do we take an idea and turn it into something amazing? Well, first you need research. You need primary feedback and secondary feedback. What that means is that you want to have your idea and instead of hiding it for fear that somebody might take it, start putting it out there as much as possible to start getting feedback on it. Tell everybody that you know about your idea, so that you can garner some very important ideas about it and you might even gain supporters, suppliers, customers or partners in the process. Keep in mind though that you WILL start to get some objections from it too. Now don't let this discourage you because these objections will help shape and mold your idea into what it actually needs to be to become market ready. Just be sure to hear objections in two categories; constructive or negative. Constructive is an objection or feedback that helps you build it into what it needs to be. Negative is just putting it down without substantial thought or cause. If it’s a well thought out or legitimate objection, give it some thought and try solve it best you can.
Once you have your feedback from your primary research, do some secondary research into your total addressable market; the people and the places you can offer your product or service. This will give you insight into how big the opportunity is and exactly the types of people that you will be going after.
Then it's time to test. In testing you do not need an entire arsenal behind you, you just need a minimum viable product (MVP). What that means is having the most basic idea that has been executed and nothing elaborate because once you actually get it out there, it is most likely going to change over 100 times before it actually settles into the business or product or service it needs to be to thrive.
Okay, so let's say you went out and you got primary feedback and then you got secondary feedback and you did your research and you're ready. Well, now you need a plan. This is where, as boring as it may be, a business plan comes in really handy. It'll ask you the questions that make you think about your strengths and weaknesses, your opportunities and your threats, the marketing plan and the funding required, and what hiring might look like if you need to do that. It will also help you think about how you're going to advertise and get it out there, and what sort of costs you might have, whether that's basic cost of goods sold or overhead and the like.
Then there’s a good chance it’s all going to go to shit. Your perfect plan will inevitably get F*#4ed up right in the first few months. A supplier backs out, employee quits, customer wasn’t happy or something along those lines, but the exercise of thinking through it all will give you a lot of the knowledge and ideas that will get you through the hard times and hard decisions.
4. Get Your First Customer! But How?
Once you have a general idea with some feedback and you've got a good solid plan, now it's time to take the steps to bring it to market. The only thing that you need to worry about is getting your first customer. Now often times your first customer will come from your family or your friends, but once you get one customer outside of your inner circle, you should celebrate that huge success because that means that somebody in the general world that is not related to you directly found your service or product valuable, and that's a great sign.
From here, all you need to do is duplicate that one customer into a second customer, and then that second customer into a third customer and then that third customer into six customers and 12 customers and so on. Now you might ask how do I start, where do I start, what do I do? Well, let's get some bare (and I mean bare) necessities down.
Business name, Logo, how to contact you, your product or service, and somewhere your brand lives (website, social media etc). I’ll post some of my favourite resources in another blog that you can get started with for relatively cheap.
Ok so seriously how do I get my first customer you ask? Depends if you are a business to business model or business to consumer model.
Consumer model: Typically you will start with your inner circle of friends and family. Now don’t EXPECT them to buy anything from you, but WELCOME them to buy and see if they find value. If they don’t then perhaps they aren’t your target market. So who do you assume will like your product or service. Put together 5-10 things that your target person would like, do, say, think as well as where they hang out, where they might work, what they do for hobbies etc. Then you have an idea of your expansive social network of who might like what you’ve got to sell. Always be keeping an eye on your target person or people though as their needs might change. Then message, tweet, email those people and ASK FOR FEEDBACK FIRST and if it’s positive feedback ASK THEM TO BUY (Maybe ask them to buy even if its not ALL positive feedback). Then you’ll get the real feedback and objections that you will take back to the drawing board and keep building.
Business to business model: It is quite the same as the consumer model but you will need to first create or find a network of the businesses that would most likely have a use for your product or service. So what type of companies do you assume will like your product or service. Put together 5-10 things that your target company would like and do, challanges they would be faced with, where their decision makers hang out, what they do for hobbies etc. Then you have an idea of what kinds of companies might like what you’ve got to sell. Always be keeping an eye on your target company’s though as their needs might change. Then message, tweet, call, and email anyone you know who might know someone who knows a decision maker at one of those companies. ASK FOR FEEDBACK FIRST and if it’s positive feedback ASK THEM TO BUY (Maybe ask them to buy even if its not ALL positive feedback). Then you’ll get the real feedback and objections that you will take back to the drawing board and keep building… or you made a sale!
Advertising - how?
Let's talk about your basic advertising. Depending on your product or service, you need to identify exactly who is your target market that you want to really get ahold of, and then what channels you want to talk to them on. Are they more engaged on social media or are they actively searching for a product or service? Are there competitors out there that they're already using? It all depends on your research.
Now whether you use traditional media or online media or the most robust advertising campaign, understanding your buyer is key. Once you get your first buyer, try to find out as much as you can about why they purchase from you, where they came from, and almost immediately you want to track every movement that happens in your business so that you can reverse engineer it and move forward to find more customers like that. Ask a lot of questions in your journey so that you can understand your buying persona and where the numbers come from.
There’s a few different types of advertising or ways to get your company out there but you have to build value in yourself, your company and your service first… In that order. Now how do you provide value? That’s up to you and the listener. Are you a thought leader, are you funny, are you helping them solve a problem, are you giving them something for free? How are you providing this value? Telling them or showing them? Obviously showing them is much more effective but don’t forget to tell them once in a while too.
Define the “Metrics that matter”
Next, let's talk about the metrics that matter. Metrics that matter depend on your business as well, but a simple metric is something called your cost of acquisition, meaning how much does it cost you to get a customer onto your site or through your doors or just generally paying for your product or service. Now they might purchase online or in person or via subscription and depending on your model, you might need to discover what your cost of acquisition is for a one time purchaser or what your cost of acquisition for a subscriber to your business.
Then you want to understand what the annual value of a customer is as well as what the lifetime value of a customer is, so the time that they will spend with you in the course of their dealings with your company. These are some basic numbers that help you understand your business model and if it's feasible, because if you sell a product for $100 but it costs you $50 to make that product and it also costs you another $50 to acquire that customer, well you're still left with $0, so it's not a successful business model right out of the gate per se unless you've got a steady and/or abundant supply of cash flow to acquire customers and then further sell them additional products and services until you break even.
Always Measure and Always Innovate
You might not like what I say next… it’s all going to go to shit. You figured it all out, you started, you did everything right… or did you? No matter what, you are most likely entering a realm you’ve never been in. You are building something you’ve never built so you will have plunders, mistakes, crisis’, and so just expect it and keep building. In order to understand the direction to build in you must always measure your efforts in every way you can. (I will do another blog on measurements and their pesky acronyms that get thrown around so much!). For now, get some BASIC systems to track everything such as;
Money - Sales/purchases, Expenses, Investment etc.
Customer Activities (Calls, emails, texts, opportunities, sales)
Analytics - Website activity, social media activity etc
Time - Scheduling, time blocking, time spent etc.
Once you’ve got measurements, you can optimize and innovate those processes to improve your metrics based on your company vision and goals. Now the act of innovating within an organization is a whole other post that can go on for a while but for now just feel safe in the fact that once you start tracking, the answers will present themselves to you if you’re looking and listening to them (with your eyes, ears mind and heart as well).
Don’t fall into the perfectionist trap. “Perfection is the enemy of progress” still stands true. Perfection is for people who have mastered their craft and are pushing the boundaries of their creations after hours and hours (usually 10,000 hours or more) so cut yourself a break! If you haven’t done this before then 80% of what you need to know you will learn along the way. They say entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff and figuring out how to build an airplane on the way down. A crude example but a great analogy to explain that there is a degree of faith you will need in yourself to pull it all together. How do you pull it all together? First of all, listen to your heart and then combine passion, determination, a pinch of stubborness, alot of openness, attention to detail, a big vision and a really strong desire or necessity for your business to take off. Oh and just so you know, you can do it, but buckle up because it’s a hell of a ride.
Much love and respect