This post is going to be a little more soap box and a little less “how-to guide” but, I still share some real tips on how to move the needle forward in your business.
TL;DR: Start selling as soon as you can. Produce more content. Keep better track of money.
I’ve had the privilege of doing some start-up mentoring and pitch competition judging lately and it’s been interesting. It’s interesting to see these start-ups and entrepreneurs try to communicate why the work they’re doing is important and how it solves real problems for people. Aside from just being fun, it’s inspiring to see how passionate some of these entrepreneurs are about the work that they’re doing. I say “some” because there have been a few whose egos are trying to write checks that their businesses can’t cash and it’s pretty evident that they won’t be able to get out of their own way to bring their ideas to life.
Aside from the messages from the entrepreneurs it’s also really interesting to hear the advice that other mentors give. While there are a few gems in there that come from other battle hardened entrepreneurs most people are just repackaging some cliche business nonsense that comes from a good place but isn’t going to help anyone do anything to keep a business moving forward. And it’s that advice that I’m most worried about. I worry because it’s coming from people who present with an air of authority and decades of experience. That’s dangerous and it’s the inspiration for this post.
Being a practitioner whose livelihood depends on me being able to get results for business owners has skewed me a bit. (Maybe even made me a little salty.) Sure, I love professor’ing but I save the theorycraft for my students where we have the time and space to take deep dives into the nuanced mechanics of how markets work. In the real world, in my opinion, the best advice always comes with a call to action and a way to measure results. It has to be this way because most small businesses, most start-ups, are dealing with resource constraints that won’t afford them the time, space and safety of a classroom environment. Building a business in the real world means incurring real bills that you have to pay. Otherwise you’re just playing business, not building a business.
So below are a few tips I’ve distilled from my experiences that I believe will help business builders and entrepreneurs build some real momentum:
1. Minimum viable products/services should take priority.
It’s easy to stay in the prototyping, developing, and building stages of your business. It’s feels like work spending all day working on your website and it’s safe because you’re not selling so you don’t have to worry about being rejected. My advice, try to sell as early as possible. Nothing will give you better feedback than asking people to give you money for your offering. If people do give you money, their experiences with your offering will be super important to document. It’ll take some of the guesswork out of figuring out what your customers need and how they want to interact with your business.
2. Everyone starts with zero followers, readers, subscribers and unique site visits and it takes real work to grow from there.
How you show up online matters so my first bit here is to be deliberate about your accounts, profiles and value proposition when you’re building your online presence. That’s important because the second bit is that you’re going to need to produce original content across a number of platforms at a factor of ten times what you were planning to do. One blog post a month, one Instagram post a week and liking a few people’s posts on LinkedIn is not going to build you an audience nor it will it drive meaningful attention to/for your business. Creating and sharing content that directly benefits whoever is interacting with it regularly over time is the only thing that works. There’s no shortcut here. My advice, build an editorial calendar and treat it as importantly as any meeting on your calendar.
3. Take your money tracking and accounting seriously.
I see a lot of businesses skip the steps where they record and evaluate how money is moving in and out of their business. They wait until it’s time to do their taxes to dump shoeboxes of receipts on the laps of their bookkeepers and accountants. No bueno. How can you make good decisions about where to spend money if you have no idea how it moves through your business? I blame the lifestyle illusion that internet marketers create. Internet business gurus like the Tai Lopez’s of the world take their financial reporting seriously because it’s how they choose where their next marketing dollars are going to go to maximize the ROI on their next “seven-figure business mastery” course. My advice, pick a platform and start recording your transactions. You can use free options like Wave Accounting to subscriptions to QuickBooks Online. The important thing is that you want something that will help you visualize your data and that has reporting tools baked in.
Each one of these tips can be blown out into more detailed posts of their own, we’re barely scraping the surface here. That’s the point. Circling back up to the TL;DR, worry less about learning everything about each of these pieces of advice and spend more time trying things that will drive attention, sales and opportunity for real feedback into your business. I’m not saying that these are the only things you should focus on forever. Building a business is a robust and complex undertaking whose challenges, opportunities and stressors compound the longer you’re at it. No one knows that better than I do. All I’m saying is that you won’t get the chance to enjoy that stuff (yes you can actually enjoy the stressors) if your runway runs out before your able to get your business to take off.