As an entrepreneur, I seem to only learn the hard way. I almost always end up doing the right thing; but only after trying every other possibility first. It’s a difficult way to succeed, but there is one great advantage…
I learn a lot of valuable lessons.
If you’re thinking of starting an online or home based business (or are currently trying to make one succeed) then you may find some of these tips help you avoid mistakes I’ve made. They cover a wide range of topics, from how to come up with great ideas and solutions to marketing, and even managing your time and energy.
No doubt, you’ve also learned plenty of super useful tricks on your own journey to success so don’t be shy about sharing them in the comments.
1. Teach Yourself to be Creative
The secret to coming up with great new ideas, or solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems, is to escape your comfort zone. Get out of routines. Do different things. It can be anything you like – but preferably stuff you love. It is often those things that you are most passionate about that will reveal great new opportunities (most likely because you are simply more observant when it comes to stuff you love).
Go to networking events. Explore lots of different, unique business ideas. Force yourself to meet new people, and find out what they do. Find out what drives and motivates them in their business/career. What problems and obstacles did they have to overcome?
The more you do all of this the more likely it is that your brain will put together a new and exciting association that can be turned into new businesses or innovative solutions.
Sitting at your desk, by yourself, trying to come up with an idea is much, much more difficult…
and a lot less fun.
2. Share your Ideas
I understand why people are hesitant to share their ideas with family, friends and colleagues. There’s always the risk that someone will take the idea and do it themselves.
I concede that point.
Although it’s still hard for other people to get to market – even when the idea is stolen from you. Fundamentally, the world isn’t short of ideas, it’s short on people willing to take action in order to get those ideas to market.
While there are risks to sharing your ideas, there are also advantages. Really big advantages.
Assuming the people you share an idea with have (to a reasonable degree) your best interests at heart, they will often spot angles, connections, and new potential that you won’t.
Different people have different social networks. They have different business connections. They have different information rattling around in their heads. All of this means that they can bring tremendous value to your idea for very little effort.
They might know your first customer. They might know your first investor. They might know how to save on costs. They might see other ways to make money from your idea.
This is far better than working in isolation where you aren’t exposed to the new thoughts and opportunities (which are the foundation of a successful startup).
3. Integrate with the Cloud
There are many benefits to making the leap to cloud based services. One in particular is important for small business owners – integration. Using cloud based systems (i.e. tax, accounting, stock control, etc) means that all your records are in digital format and can be made available to other aspects of the business, and vice versa.
eCommerce stores, for example, can link their sales and orders directly to their cloud accounting system so that theirs books are kept up-to-date and accurate without requiring hours of manual labor.
As more and more small business cloud services come online, so more and more business platforms will offer integrations with them in order to streamline labor, admin and other costs. The sooner an SMB adopts the cloud, the sooner they can take advantage of powerful and flexible integrations to reduce workload in almost every aspect of their business – freeing owners up to do important stuff, like sales and marketing.
Talking of which…
4. Treat Customer Service as Marketing
Word-of-mouth is arguably the oldest form of local marketing, because that is how people communicated before the advent of modern communications networks. Instead of viewing customer service and support as a necessary chore, treat it as a marketing strategy.
Customers who have a positive service experience are often happy to send on ‘goodwill’ recommendations and referrals within their sphere of influence (usually family, friends and colleagues – i.e. local) – making them an immensely valuable inbound marketing channel.
Work hard to reach a really positive customer service/support interaction, and then capitalize on that goodwill by asking for recommendations or referrals – even something as simple as a tweet can help. The point being that word-of-mouth marketing arising from great support leads to high converting leads – both on and offline.
5. Always Offer Tangible Benefits
This tip applies to virtually any type of B2C (Business to Customer) communication – but especially in marketing, and especially, especially in email marketing.
We all know that email subject lines need to be compelling and concise and targeted at the audience (segmenting your list helps). But, we often forget to include an actionable benefit so that readers can immediately understand what’s being offered.
For example, I recently wrote a review, aimed at online shoppers, about how to use online price tracking to save money. Instead of emailing a subject like this to the readers, ‘Amazon Price Tracker Review’, which is perfectly accurate in terms of describing the content, I focused on “why” the reader would want to read that article.
What’s the tangible benefit for them? It’s more along the lines of,
‘Here’s How to Save Money with this Amazon Price Tracker’.
Immediately readers understand what’s in it for them. If they’re interested in saving money they are likely to open that email – as opposed to reading through yet another product review (which is all the first subject line promised).
6. Make Money Quickly
A vanishingly small number of home or Web based entrepreneurs actually make a profit. More often than not founders spend far too much time focusing on their product/service and far too little time networking, marketing and promoting in order to get their first few paying customers.
Securing a trickle of funds as early as possible is vital because it gets the business in front of customers and reduces the financial burden of starting up. This allows your home business to operate for longer (many online small businesses are bootstrapped and fold because they run out of funds before the business can become established).
To get this right, you have to understand how your business will make money right from the start. That’s easier said than done because it means knowing who your market is, what they want, and how to convince them to trust you and pay for what you offer.
7. Take Adventurous Breaks
Sitting still, concentrating on the same thing for hours on end becomes unproductive after a while. Your mind simply gets tired and becomes less creative. It is absolutely vital to take a good break (at least every few hours).
It’s not enough to walk around and sit back down. You have to do something that forces your mind to concentrate on something completely different for at least 20 minutes or so (that’s my experience – other people may find less or more time works for them).
I have found that taking an ‘adventure lunch break’, with a twist, works wonders.
I make it a rule to find somewhere completely new to eat (and to try something I’ve never eaten before) or take a different route to a place I have been before. This takes my mind off work completely because I’m exploring somewhere new, or experiencing something new.
No point in eating the same old boring thing each day, when you can discover new things and give your mind a rest at the same time.
Any entrepreneur, especially those working from home or focusing on building an online business needs to be mindful of their work/life balance as it is easy to blur the lines between them and this can quickly lead to burn out.
8. Build Relationships with Important Influencers
Small businesses are relying more and more on great content and influence in order to drive visibility and revenue. In fact, I would say,
Content + Influence = Confluence marketing
In effect, SMBs are going to need to produce higher quality content and use it as a platform to extend their reach by building relationships with strong influencers. This is where great PR comes in.
Find a compelling story that is of interested to a targeted influencer (like a local newspaper, for example). Create compelling content around that story and use it to reach out. Content oriented, online outreach is arguably the most effective way to build relationships and grow your reach and visibility.
What type of content works best? Use visually compelling data driven content.
There are a lot of tools and apps that can provide interesting and useful data. For example, we monitor the sales and price performance of products online and receive alerts when they experience changes in pricing and sales (see tip #9 below for more on how to do this).
Because many influencers have books or informational products and services this makes it a great way to reach out to them – especially on Twitter.
9. Spy on Competitors
Amazon is vitally important as a source of sales and marketing research, insight and data for all online retailers (not just the ones using Amazon as a sales platform).
Store owners can monitor the sales and price performance of competing products (sold on Amazon), receive alerts when those products experience changes in pricing and sales, using an accurate, hourly sales and price tracker. This helps them learn about the marketing and promotions that other companies are using to drive product sales. In this way, they can identify and focus on marketing strategies that are proven to work.
Having sales and price data for any product sold via Amazon also has a knock-on benefit for marketing purposes. Imagine being able to share a chart that shows how your own product is outselling the competition. It’s fantastic, visually compelling data driven proof of success that can easily be shared via social media, and is a low cost, high return marketing strategy that an eCommerce business can utilize.
So that’s a wrap on my 9 eclectic, but, hopefully, helpful tips for entrepreneurs trying to turn their ideas and dreams into successful startups. What do you think? Agree, disagree? Agree to disagree?
What other hacks do you suggest to help other entrepreneurs succeed? Share your thoughts in the comments.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.