The best laid plans go to waste, so the saying goes. With business though, having a clear plan and sticking to it can be the difference between making it and making a swift exit.
The first few months are often chaotic for new businesses, so keeping a clear picture of key goals is essential. We spoke with some of Expert Market’s top entrepreneurial clients about the secrets to success in the early stages and all the things they wish they had known from the beginning. These are the three things they say you need to move to the top of your priority list now.
1. Know your market
An idea need not be revolutionary or even particularly different to be a success. What it needs is its market to be understood inside out and its positioning to be spot on. This translates into numerous hours of research and reworking - you may be surprised at how your initial idea develops and shapes during the process. There is no such thing as a fully focussed, perfectly formed product or service just popping into your head. Like a flower, it needs resources and time to bloom.
It is commonly known that most businesses tend to launch with something spectacularly unoriginal. Even the most beloved products and brands we know today are copies of something done less efficiently before. Knowing every competitor and the market as a whole is an easy way to give yourself a head start, yet it seems to be consistently ignored.
The great thing about having an established market is you are able to learn from your competitors’ successes and failures. In doing this, you gain empathy for your customers and are able to define a unique selling point which can address their needs. If you instead ignore your competitors and focus solely on your business, you risk developing another mediocre offering destined to be forgotten in a sea of failures.
Michael Horrocks comments: "Looking where others have fallen short is a great way to identify what makes your product or service special. Is it customer service? Price? Convenience?"
2. Know who you are
Branding and marketing is something that tends to be put on the back burner in the beginning. Most start-ups do not have the luxury of being able to employ a team of marketers or the services of an agency, but laying down good foundations for marketing can propel success down the line. This ties into knowing your market inside out, as positioning is a building block for creating a great brand.
You must understand the true benefit of your offering and what your business and product/service stands for. Outline what makes your business unique to your target audience and what makes them tick. It is a time consuming process and there is no exact science, but being aware of what you are really selling from the beginning can be the difference between failure and mega-stardom.
Of course this need not be entirely set in stone and it is natural for things to evolve and change along the way, but commit to having the basics decided from the beginning. Do a little reading about branding and marketing and see what you can implement yourself now. You can work on building a tone of voice and personality, and decide what channels you want to work towards.
Jane Shubert comments: "It’s something we see time and time again. Clients who have an established identity from the beginning are more convincing. It fills them with a sort of confidence and self-awareness. When they have instead left their branding to be dealt with later on, they tend to really struggle."
3. Know how to sell
As someone who comes from a marketing background, it pains me a little to say this, but sales is the single most important tool in your business. You need to be able to move whatever you’re offering, and if you can’t, you need to have someone who can. If you can only hire one person in the beginning and you’re not a natural sales person, a sales hire is essential. If you don’t have someone pushing your product or service, unfortunately no one will even know your business exists. No sales translates to no revenue, even if you have the most revolutionary idea on the planet.
Being able to sell your concept goes beyond just believing in it - hopefully this is a given – you need to be able to convert others, to make them believe they need your offering. Forming a sales focussed, sales supportive company from the beginning increases the likelihood of success and quickens its arrival.
Ian Wright comments: "Expert Market is a sales focussed company and we’ve been so from the very beginning. Every client of ours who has experienced great success provides complete support and backing to their sales department. Without a sales focused ethos, you will stunt your growth."
It may feel daunting to think about these aspects so early on in the process, but setting yourself on a thought out path now, before things become even more complicated, helps steer your business in the right direction. Don’t fall into the trap of leaving it until later. Instead, work on developing your position, your brand and your sales strategy from the beginning and you will reap the rewards soon.
For more advice and guidance on starting a business, have a look at Expert Market’s Start-up Guide.