Are you about to embark on the path to self-employed fulfillment? Wanna fail in the first 1-3 years like most small businesses do? Yeah, nah.. didn’t think so. And you certainly don’t have to. You just need a bit of smart thinkin’ behind the scenes, and preferably, before you launch. Here are the best ideas on how to start a business that’s destined for success. Gathered over 15 years of helping businesses get off the ground running. Use this mighty think-list to leap over the abominably high failure rate and launch with a rock solid strategy.
SUPPLY + DEMAND
Give them what they want.
It’s not enough to start a business because you love doing the thing. There has to be enough demand to make it viable. Starting with a willing, receptive, eager target market is SO much easier than begging people to care about your stuff. Find your willing market. Start there.
Search for a market.
If you haven’t automatically found a crowd of applauding fans, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a market. There are ways to be smart in your approach and find a market that doesn’t know it needs you yet, but would adore your product or service when they discovered it. Just make sure that the market knows it actually has a need, and is eager to pay for a solution.
Be flexible where it matters.
I’m not telling you to sell out, man. But if you refuse to listen to what the people want, what your people want, you’ll always be struggling to get enough sales to keep going. Ask yourself this “what does my target market want that I’m reluctant to give? Why? Is it a value worth holding to, or a limiting idea that’s holding me back?”
Get that magic balance.
An industry with too much competition is hard. In that case, niche. An industry with no competition can be equally hard – when not enough people recognise a need, you’ll have a tough time convincing them. The easiest path is an industry with more demand than competitors, where that excess demand is for high quality, bespoke, handmade, artisan and premium priced products and services.
Make it exceptional.
Are you good enough? Really, truly? Are you half-arseing it? Does your product or service beam and stand the hell out from the competition? Half-arseing it might look like rough edges on your woodwork, cheap fixtures on your jewellery, or under-fabulous service staff. If you can see a gap, fix it. Fix it fast, and fix it before you launch.
Check for branding cracks.
Does your branding, at every touch point, reflect your quality? Is your sign tattered, are your business cards flimsy? Does your restaurant menu look like it was made in Canva? Does your website look templated? Does your social media photography look like it was taken by a professional photographer or a business manager trying to save a buck? Who wrote your marketing text? Do you realise that everything you communicate – your ‘about us’ page, the generic contact form confirmation message, the background music in your shopfront – tells your story? Thorough diagnosis of your touch points reveals exactly how you repel customers and how you can turn it around.
10 x your offering.
What would it look like if you 10x your offering? I mean, really put some freakin’ amazeballs features, details and generous effort into it. How would you do it differently if your customers were willing to pay triple? Don’t jump straight to “but nobody would pay for it.” Just entertain the idea for a daydreaming second. What’s the ‘gold package’ version of what you offer? And what of that offering could you incorporate right now, with relatively little effort or cost? Or does it require a separate, exclusive packaging or premium add-on rate? Explore how you can make your current offering more valuable right now, and in the near future.
Make it easy to understand what you do.
Your business name is important. So make it relevant. It doesn’t have to be a dead giveaway, but it shouldn’t take a slogan, tagline and elevator pitch to make sense of your industry, product or service.
Make it even easier to google.
Don’t go for a familiar word that’ll bury you in search results, you’re not Apple. And don’t keyword stuff yourself into generic obsolescence like “Melbourne Yoga”
Unique names are clever.
A name comprised of multiple words will help your cause. Consider combining two or more words “Squirrel and the Sea” or “The Salty Caper.” You’ll have a much better chance of being found, memorised, and talked about.
But don’t be too clever.
Avoid words that are easy to mishear or misspell. You can easily test it on the phone. Call five friends, don’t prep them, just tell them the name and ask them to spell it back to you. If it’s dicey, karate chop it out the window. While you’re at it, it’s probably wise to skip numbers and krayzee spelling.
Ugh. You can do better.
Skip the cliche`s and make it punchy. We don’t need another “Relax” meditation studio or “Salt” beachside accommodation. While you’re at it, throw away cheesy puns too.
Avoid words and phrases that have negative connotations or double meanings – anything that suggests cheap, failure, weak, damaged, bad service or unwantedness.
Make sure it’s legal.
Don’t use something that’s already taken anywhere in Australia. Check your legals. Check web domains and social media accounts too. Preferably, don’t use something that’s taken anywhere in the world. Invent something new, meaningful, clear and relevant.
Keep it personal.
It should reflect who you are, what you’re sellin’, and exactly how your target market want to feel about it. In our brand strategy work, we nail down great names by asking specific questions related to the brand story, product or service qualities, and the business owners’ characteristics, quirks, preferences and story. Some of the best business names come out of strange details like pet birds, site history and favourite herbs.
Last but not least.
For the love of god, don’t use a business name generator.
Your business needs a damn good logo.
Not a Canva logo and not a template logo. A proper, professional one. BUT that doesn’t mean it should be complicated. The best logos are simple, memorable, unique to the brand and in complete alignment with the look, feel, quality and message the business intends to communicate.
Branding communicates your message at every touch point.
Don’t rush this part. Get it right before you get started. That means getting your strategy right before you look at creating anything – your website, price list, brochure or even your ‘coming soon’ page.
Go for quality every time.
That doesn’t have to mean the most expensive version of everything, but don’t skimp on your branding details. Invest in a strategist first, then a designer, then a printer. If you need to cut costs, produce less branded materials rather than lower quality ones. You don’t need as many different branded documents as printers would have you believe.
Do it right, or hire someone who will.
Don’t let the in-house designer from your local printing company, business association, or tourism body put together your brand image – they’re not invested in your brand strategy or paid enough to get it right. One in every 20 new business adverts I see features stupid mistakes like a pixelated logo, distorted product photo or incorrect brand colours.
Your reputation is everywhere.
Remember that third party sites represent your brand too. Make sure you’re communicating the right message across your facebook page, youtube account, instagram profile, linked in, spotify, whatsapp, skype, tripadvisor, airbnb, google business, industry associations, memberships and local business directories.
Pricing calculators are the devil.
If you’re pricing based on cost of goods and your estimated hourly rate, you’re screwed. There are much, much smarter ways to set prices.
Do your research.
Look around at what’s working for others. Look to your best and worst competitors and industry associates (locally and globally), and look to examples of similar businesses in unrelated industries.
Don’t survey your customers.
Whatever you do, don’t ask your potential customers what they’d be willing to pay. That’s not research. That’s naive and lazy. It’s the equivalent of asking a kid how much homework they’d like to assign themselves this year. Customers make great customers, not business advisors. Their well-meaning feedback will be as useless as shit on a stick.
Don’t be afraid to charge more.
Have a good, honest look at your fears around charging too much. Most people start with that problem, ignore it, and then severely undercharge like complete business amateurs. If you’re starting a business, you’re not a hobbyist. Stand tall and own your value. It’s hard to get out of a damaged reputation if you set your pricing too low (or thoughtlessly high).
Don’t give it away, give it away, give it away now.
Be wary of discounting and introductory pricing. Unless you really know what you’re doing, you can damage the perceived value of your product or service long-term. Price cuts should always result in a market win for you (for example, hugely increased customer base).
Bundle. Stack. Compare. Add.
Packaging can work well. Three tier pricing can work. Add-ons can work. It all depends on your industry and the way you communicate value. A price range across your services can be useful, but don’t overwhelm people with too many options, and resist the urge to cater to budget buyers and frugal shoppers.
Price psychology matters hugely.
And lastly, learn about pricing psychology. You need to know which numbers sell and which ones repel. Are you using decimal points? Are you rounding up or down? Even your pricing font type and size can hinder sales. You need to know what works generally, and what works best in your industry, for your price point and quality.
Spend money where it matters most for your industry.
A great photographer needs a fancy ass camera, expensive lenses, professional editing software and a premium website – a pretty meeting space is nice, but might not be worth the outlay when an aesthetically pleasing and low-noise cafe` would do the trick. That new cafe` needs a great coffee machine, a superb fit-out, well trained staff and pretty menus that match the price point and vibe.
Spend money in the right order.
There’s no point paying a web designer before you nail your marketing strategy. And there’s no point in purchasing paint and fixtures before you’ve uncovered the brand styling that’ll bring the right customers to your door.
Be realistic about your DIY skills.
Whatever you don’t spend in dollars, you’ll spend in time, energy, problem solving and skill development. It’s up to you to be real honest with yourself about what your skills are. Scrimp where you can, but not where it’ll hurt you in the long run.
Know what you’re in it for.
What’s the big ol’ end goal for you? Fame? Dollars? Quantify it. What are you really after in the end, and what does that look like annually?
Every business hurts, sometimes.
Are you prepared to sit out the winter periods of your business? The potentially slow first years, the down-seasons and unexpected plot thickeners? This summer we’ve witnessed local small businesses take a severe hit from devastating bushfires followed by imposed coronavirus shutdowns. Does your vision for your business include a backup plan, a way to carry on through lean times, and even more importantly, the wisdom to turn a crisis into an opportunity?
Set up a long term plan.
What does healthy work-life balance look like to you? How many days a week do you want to work? 3-day work weeks? And for how long? Are you retiring at 45? 60? 80? Think about what you need to implement right now, at the beginning of your business, in order to set up for the long term balance you desire.
Replace ‘busy’ with ‘worthy’.
Does your current vision for starting your business incorporate more than a heads-down approach to hard work, stress and endless busy-ness? Does it include a plan for holidays, down time, play, research, fun, hobbies, social endeavours and easy dollars? Do you believe that everything has to be difficult and struggled for? Do you believe you’re worthy and deserving of wealth, success, ease and fun, just because you’re you? If not, do you have any idea what kind of difficult lifestyle you may be about to create for yourself? Would you like to take this opportunity to create a better vision for your future?
Define success your own way.
What does success look like to you? When will you be satisfied with what you’ve achieved? How will you measure it along the way? What milestones are important, what’s gonna make you feel great about doing what you do?
Identify the least you could do.
What’s the minimum viable market you need to keep comfortably afloat and sailing smoothly? How much is it per week or month in terms of profits, sales, customers, or whatever measuring stick you’ll use? Quantify it, and make sure you can achieve it.
Bigger isn’t always better.
Just how big do you want your business to grow? Will you be happy when you’ve sold x amount, or only when your startup has become a multi-store franchise? Is it world domination you want, or are you happy ticking along at a few customers a day/week? It’s totally up to you. Always use your own measures of success, forget industry standards or the opinions of hard workers. Business can flow really easy when you set it up well.
DO IT ONCE, DO IT RIGHT
Don’t just do something, stand there.
Take a deep breath, and step back from the ledge. It’s great to dive in head-first, but only if the water’s deep enough. Figuring that out takes some calculation, wisdom and skill backed with a good dose of intuition. You don’t need to be rash in setting up a business. Pull back just a touch, and get things right before you launch.
Don’t rely on loyal customers.
Customers are nowhere near as loyal as marketers like to pretend. Don’t rely on them to hold steady through your shaky first steps. Give them something intentional, whole-hearted and exceptional right from the get go. Give them a reason to buy from you, share your story, and bring their friends along.
Take it one step at a time.
Research. Polish. Test. Polish. Soft launch. Polish. Be brutal in eliminating the fluff, and generous in increasing the value of your offering.
Don’t get the best advice you can afford, go a step beyond.
You don’t need to invest big capital in every aspect of your business, but pick the two or three areas that matter the most – that will make the most difference to your chance of success or failure, and find experts whose rates and offerings make you go “Holy shit, I can’t afford not to hire you.” Anybody worth their weight in gold charges accordingly. You should too.