Lessons I Learned Today 5/6/09 – The straighter path to success

Here is a recap of highlights from articles and discussions posted on the Applied Entrepreneurship group site on LinkedIn.

*Network Like a Boy Scout by Merrily Orsini

Market to potential users before the need arises. 

Build a network of referral sources who will automatically think of you and your services when they are needed.

Planting seeds everywhere to build your reputation as an expert and a useful resource.

Provide potential customers and every referral possibility with educational information related to your business that will be immediately when they need you. You goal is for people to hang on to this information and even pass it around, rather than throw it out.

Identify the gatekeepers.

Get involved in the local community.

All marketing material, should display a good marketing message

Give full contact information on your Web site, including full address.

Show your relevance year-round to potential customers and referral sources.

Never Stop Networking

*Core values: Entrepreneur Merrily Orsini says she wouldn’t change a thing about her career or her life

Is there anything you don’t like about your job?
“The detail, but I pretty much pass that off to other people. I’m not a good project manager. I’m a visionary and a big-picture person, so I’m not a good project manager. But I have excellent project managers who work with me.

What do you think it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur today?
“Perseverance is the No. 1 thing and a belief in yourself because there will be those who are naysayers. There is a quote here on my computer, ‘Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.’

“You need intelligence, you need communication skills, you need personality, and there are a lot of other things that go along with perseverance.

What’s the best job advice anybody ever gave you?
“There are two pieces. From an ownership standpoint, the best advice was when my mother said, ‘Hire people who know more about something than you do.’ That was fantastic job advice. The other job advice was to be passionate about what it is you are doing.”

*Bad times let companies discover traits that compose good leaders by Wil Schroter

Leading an organization in a time of distress is a much different job than leading in times of prosperity. You have the luxury of waiting to make good decisions in times of prosperity, delegating tasks as you deem fit and recruiting talent to share the fruits of your success.

*Startup companies do better when surrounding themselves with leaders by Wil Schroter

There’s a huge difference between management and leadership, especially in a startup company environment.

Startup companies are fueled first and foremost by leaders – the type of people who will jab their fingers at the most uncharted territory of a map saying that’s where they exactly need to be. They set goals, create solutions and push the organization to its limits.

When you’re creating a company out of chaos, the last thing anyone needs are people asking what they should do next. By the time managers are done asking for direction, leaders are on the job.

*Entrepreneurship lets individual test mettle, value of personal skills  by Wil Schroter

There are ways to test your skills before you take the plunge.

One way is to look for opportunities to swap your fee for a piece of the equity in the venture you’re working with. This is truly an at-risk proposition that provides some of the risk and reward of starting your own company without quitting your job to do it.

Another way is to launch a side project, assuming it doesn’t conflict with your current obligations.

Many great startup companies have started as side projects that employees dabbled with until the side job became their main job.

However you test the waters, the goal is to truly test yourself. No matter what the outcome is, you actually win.

If the new venture takes off, then you’ve proven that you truly have what it takes to own your own destiny. If it flops, feel confident that you are maximizing your value inside of your existing organization. Although if you’re really meant to be an entrepreneur, you’ll just keep trying until one of those ventures succeeds.

*Flexibility, adaptation will last longer than success of your first idea by Wil Schroter

Like everything else in this life, the plan for your startup company will almost certainly change beyond anything you could have contemplated.

We would all love to think we can have one brilliant idea and never need to change a thing. But that rarely happens. In fact, some companies launch with one idea but become fabulously successful by shifting directions.

Ideas, even the ones that are the basis for your entire company, are made to be changed.

It’s important, however, to understand why those ideas change and how to feel comfortable reacting to them. 

A big part of the reason startup companies have to change product strategies early in the game is because they are only guessing at what the customer really wants.

It’s easy to get excited about the success of a small-market test or an initial reaction to your product, especially if people are buying. But that doesn’t mean the idea and its success will necessarily scale to a bigger company.

Not having any great amount of scale in your sales relegates you to still having to guess whether your product is ready for the big leagues.

The goal of a business is usually to solve a customer’s problem, not to solve the problem of building a company. So it’s no surprise that to support growth, you may have to broaden or change the focus of the product accordingly.

*Take your time before slicing up business by Wil Schroter

The longer you wait to slice up the equity, the less equity you’ll have to give up.

One benefit to incorporating early is that you can force every discussion of stock into a legal matter. If I just tell you that I’ve given you 50 percent of a company that hasn’t even been incorporated, it’s not the world’s most binding document. But if I update the operating agreement of an incorporated company to show that you own 50 percent of the company, there’s no question that you’re a shareholder in the business.

The process may sound simplistic, but it helps create some value.

Put together a basic working model of your idea.

Once you’ve put your company in a position where it simply needs to grow to create value, not just get started, that’s a good time to take on equity partners. At that point, the value of having more employees, investors and partners will likely outpace the cost of giving up more equity.

*Identify The Growth Factors by Wil Schroter

If you don’t know right now what the top three key drivers of your business are, it’s probably a good time to start defining them and burning them into your brain. Most companies succeed or fail based on just a few growth factors, so identifying them early is extremely important.

Once you realize what elements of your business drive the growth and overall success of your business, the next step is putting as much of your time and energy as possible into focusing on those opportunities.

If It’s Not Core to the Business, Outsource It

Take advantage of every opportunity to promote the growth factors of your business and how important they are to your success. Make them as ubiquitous in the company as possible, from the CFO to the receptionist

*Get Customers First and Then Write a Business Plan by Wil Schroter

If Nobody Buys, it’s Not a Business

The first step, before writing a plan, is to validate the concept.  If nobody will ever buy your product, it’s unlikely that a business is ever going to form.  Focusing on the product first, and more specifically the customer’s willingness to buy that product, is by far the most valuable time you can spend early in your business.

The Prototype Company

Sometimes finding out early that your idea isn’t as viable as you thought is a blessing.  Instead of spending months writing an elaborate business plan on a completely unproven idea, try putting together a “pre-business plan” that consists of only about five pages that quickly communicates your idea and focuses on the key assumptions that drive your business.  These key assumptions are often questions like “Will people buy the product as I’ve defined it?”, or “what will they pay?”, or “how much would it cost me to sell this product?”

What I Think

Well, it was obviously Wil Schroter day today at Applied Entrepreneurship. Part of tomorrow may be also.

At first,, this string of articles might seem somewhat contradictory. If you start reading those talking about planning your business, and then end with one which says you should get customers before starting a business plan, you might be confused.

All of them, however, in one way or another, still follow the common thread. Give your customers what they want, rather than spinning your wheels trying to figure out the best way to make a business out of selling them what you want. It is that simple and that complex.

The articles again talk about the chaos of a new business. They talk about change and adaptability. All that is certainly true, but again the straighter path to success is revealed in seeing that each article’s focus is really on keeping in tune with what the customer wants and needs. That may shift around over time, and competition may come in to disrupt your plans, but your job is to always give the customer what he or she needs.

Certainly, this is not the whole story. The customer must be able to find you. The customer must be able to see a consistent picture of what you have to offer and the value to choosing you over a competitor.

You must find ways to always be in front of your customers, whether it be in person or in networking with key referral sources. You should not blatantly sell yourself, but you should listen and ask how you can help your customer or fulfill a need for your referral sources.

As the leader of your company, you must focus on the core values, including growth at the appropriate time. You must help your team always be mindful of what the customer wants, as that changes from time-to-time. You must be the visionary and saying you are does not make it so.

Test the product or service before throwing everything into it. I’ve had a fortune cookie saying under the glass on the desk in my law office for over twenty years. It says “some people spend their lives trying to climb the ladder of success, only to find it is leaning against the wrong tree.”

You can waste your life and your fortune chasing the wrong dream. The dream you should be chasing is that of your customer or client.

 

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If you enjoyed my impression of these articles, why don’t you read them for yourself and see what you and I missed or hit? Join the Applied Entrepreneurship group on LinkedIn. Membership is free and I try to post about ten articles a day there. We have some great discussions going and if you are an entrepreneur, we hope you will join us.

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Posted in Applied Entrepreneurship, business, Business interruption, crisis, etc., Business life cycle, Buying a business, Financing a business, Growing a business, Innovation, Perseverance, Personal happiness, Planning for a business, Recession strategies, Running a business, Selling a business, Social networking & media, Starting a business, Thinking about a new business
One comment on “Lessons I Learned Today 5/6/09 – The straighter path to success
  1. Roger Thaxton says:

    Yet another set of helpful tidbits…..great job!

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