Any new business venture, whether it’s a neighborhood store or a tech start-up, faces challenges and obstacles – big and small, simple and complex. Some are common to any business while others are peculiar to a given field. No matter the situation, it’s your job as a founder or manager to overcome these challenges. A “manager” who sits idly by while problems, complaints and workloads pile up, watching and wondering if something will happen, is not being a manager. Of course there are challenges – that’s why you’re there! Some entrepreneurs and managers fall on their heads because they are unable to recognize the specific nature of a problem and are clueless as to its solution. Here’s a list of common challenges and ways to overcome them:
Some start-ups require very little capital. But others need some groundwork laid in order to be properly built up. If yours requires X amount, and you don’t get it, you could falter. When looking for backers, it is important to have a sound business plan that investors, bank officers, etc. understand. You may be utterly on fire about your dream and willing to risk it all – but that doesn’t mean a potential investor or lender shares the same attitude. In fact, they may be extremely narrow-minded – their thought patterns guided by numbers with dollar signs next to them and only interested in the “safe” money. You and your plan may be bold and in a totally different headspace, so you may need to shop it around and you’re certainly going to have to sell it. Optimally you get what you really want, but if you don’t get it all, don’t use that as an excuse not to start.
Establishing Your Identity
If you don’t have a good idea as to WHO and WHAT you are from the get-go, you could falter. Granted, experience helps shape who you are, but you should still have a good grasp of it from the beginning. Do you offer a solution to a problem? Is it a common problem that everyone knows they have? Do people need to be enlightened so they realize they even have this problem? Are you aimed at the masses or an exclusive clientele? Do you offer the best price or the best quality product or service? Answering these questions and many more will help you establish your identity and how you represent yourself.
Does Anyone Know You Exist?
At the beginning, no one even knows that you exist on the planet Earth. You might as well be an invisible nothingness. One of your first challenges is simply getting people to know you’re there, and there are many ways to accomplish this. For a brick-and-mortar business, having a prominent sign and attractive storefront is a must, followed by a splashy grand opening and handing out flyers and free offers. For an online business it’s utilizing a wide range of multi-media channels: websites, social media pages, blogs, guest blog posts and articles, Google Maps, Apple Maps, business “locator” sites, review sites, search engine optimization (SEO), and other tested and untested resources.
Zeroing in on Your Customers
Telling “people” you exist is a broad action that must also be narrowed down to your core customer base. In order to reach them, you must know who they are. And the more you know about them the better. That takes some research. You can either do this research yourself or hire someone else to do it. The more you know about your customers, the more you can refine and modify your message and approach. If you’re business-to-business, it may be clear what businesses you wish to cater to, but not so clear WHO in those businesses you need to target. For business-to-consumer, research is required as to WHO they are, their habits and patterns, what languages they speak, where they live, how to reach them, etc.
What Do They Need and Want?
All the above goes into finding out what your potential customers NEED and WANT and how to position your product or service. Market research is critical at this stage.
Here’s a great example: A marketing firm was tasked with researching the potential customers of a particular type of telecom system. They surveyed the organizations that might purchase this item and specifically those who sign the purchase orders. They asked these individuals what they found important or valuable in a phone system. In this particular instance it was for the system to be indestructible. The firm then followed this with a “positioning” survey asking what object or activity represented indestructability. The answer: A TANK! So they positioned their system with the image of a tank and a message of indestructibility. The result: The company went from $0 to $30 million per year in three years!
That’s simple, direct and effective survey and marketing. Of course they still had to sell and deliver the goods, but their success was built upon well-targeted marketing.
Understand the Competition
Do you wish to overtake the competition? Are you aiming for a segment that the competition has missed? Do you offer the same product for less? Do you offer a better product for more? Do you simply stand alone? Any start-up must understand its competition. Even if you “have no competition” you must still complete with all the other ways someone can spend their money – so in the end there’s always competition of some kind.
An example is a start-up ISL (internet service provider) a few years back that had Time-Warner Online as their primary competition. Time-Warner had the Roadrunner as the symbol of their service. Not surprisingly, surveys found SPEED to be the number one customer priority. Those surveyed also felt Daytona 500 or NASCAR best represented the concept of speed, so the start-up ISP used the image of a racing car speeding past the roadrunner. This worked out very well for them.
Understanding your competition as well as your customers is important in all aspects of your business.
Sales & Prosperity
Turning a lead, a visit, an interview, etc. into a SALE is of primary importance no matter how long a business has existed. All the marketing in the world is useless if it doesn’t lead to sales. The most important part of a sale of course is the CLOSE. But there are many steps that precede this. Everything from social media questions and email inquiries to phone calls and live visits – all these can be cultivated into greater sales volume. Building a trained and competent sales staff is a challenge for any business. The turnover rate in sales is high due to the challenging nature of the job. When you get good people, offer incentives for greater sales volume, back them up and make sure they have what they need. They are key to your success and prosperity.
Managing your money is a challenge, especially when you don’t have much of it to begin with. Investing in projects that yield significant return is of primary concern. If something is untested and you’re not sure if it will pan out, do it on a small and less costly scale and monitor its results. If that works out, expand it. That way you don’t put all your eggs in a single basket. It’s important that anyone you hire to handle the money is very good at their job. When the money is not tracked, when it’s wasted, when the law is not strictly adhered to, you get messes piled up that you don’t need. Be bold but manage your funds wisely.
Vision & Communication
I talk a lot about the value of the vision and the importance of communication. That is because it will make or break your business. Make sure people understand your vision and where they’re headed. Ensure they comprehend how the communication channels work within the business. One thing that can trip up any start-up is when people don’t relay vital information; there was something that someone really should have told you and it just “slipped their mind” – and now you’re paying the cost. Sometimes people are afraid to tell you things; tell them you really need to know. Conversely, you want people taking care of things and not dumping all the problems on your desk. So there is a balance.
Motivation & “Giving Up”
Why do start-ups fail? What is the primary reason? Someone gave up, that’s what! “Failure” only means someone quit. A lack of motivation is underneath countless failures in business and anything else you care to mention. “Motivation” is a commodity. With it you can prosper. Without it you don’t stand a chance. Hire people that are motivated. Strengthen motivation by aligning vision, communication and action.
Realize that you cannot fail. You can only quit. Don’t give up. Make your dreams a reality!