Having worked with start-ups and SMEs for many years now [not mentioning the years I worked in them!], I can say, undoubtedly, there are lessons to be learned from the experience of starting up. Some are simple things – the ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ actions that would have saved time or resources. Other lessons might have made more defining impacts on the trajectory, focus or growth of the business…
Much of the posts written about business development, planning and strategy, focus on looking forward [which is a good thing!] however a lot can be learned from what has or hasn’t worked, and why that might be the case. I’m a big fan of Eric Ries’ ”
Based on many of the conversations I’ve had with SME clients, here are the top five “if I had my time over again” reflections, which, hopefully some of you might recognise [and act on!] or for those of you starting out, utilise as a starting point for your business plan/ R&D.
The 5 lessons of start-up
# 1. Spent time on carving out a tactical research project [without becoming obsessive]
Typically, there are four areas start-ups simply despise at the outset:
- financial planning
- and business planning.
Research is normally #1 on this list. Why? Because it involves subjecting yourself to an uncomfortable set of objectives – asking the questions of your target audience you may not want to know the answer to… doing surveys… desk research… and analysing competitors. The reality with research? It is a VERY necessary evil. Why? Because what you don’t know will always hurt you. Often start-ups head in one of two directions: either into an abyss of obsessive research [which has no start or end], or the ‘head-in-the-sand’ stance [my business doesn’t need research, it’s just that amazing].
My advice? Don’t become a research obsessive; do carve out a simple, strategic plan to conduct research which is relevant, targeted and clearly identifies the defining answers you need to determine your market scope, size and long-term potential.
# 2. Refined the USP
Here’s one most businesses battle with at start-up, and during growth. What is it, exactly, that makes us unique, different and what’s the value-add for my customers…? Well, the answer is: if you don’t know, how do you expect your customers to know?
Frequently businesses define, redefine and refine their USP – which can also change with time, depending on new offerings, products or services – revising your business model can also change your USP.
Where should I start? Think about ‘NOSE’ – customer needs and outcomes, and your solutions and evidence – what is compelling about your offering? Start with ten words and whittle it down. Remember: your USP should be succinct and impactful.
# 3. Done the number-crunching [and sought the right financing]
A tough one, and certainly a topical issue these days. However, not digging deep and ensuring your business has enough financial fuel in the tank could stress it beyond recovery. Many businesses at start-up spend time on ornate, fancy spread-sheets [sometimes not developed by the people involved… tsk, tsk] which bear little or no relationship to the business’s actual finances – its projected income and outgoings.
You don’t need to be an accountant… get down to brass-tacks and understand what your business’s financial income and outgoings are going to look like. On the subject of projections – suffice to say, you should be conservative in your projected income [based on research and planning] and somewhat more generous with your projected outgoings. Do get help, like all other areas of start-up, if you don’t know how – ask for help from a mentor / consultant. It’ll be worth it.
# 4. Thought bigger
This sentiment often comes with experience – and the realisation that your goals may have been set a little lower than was justified…
Get yourself some audacious aims… if your long-term vision doesn’t make you feel a little jittery, it’s probably not big enough!
# 5. Built a growth plan / strategy
Often the idea of ‘growth’ at start-up is considered too “far off” – it really isn’t considered… wrong. Growth is the very essence of business development, and you need a plan / strategy to achieve it.
Even when you’re just getting going, know what growth looks like… and build a plan to guide you along the way.
… and finally, remember the key for any business: plan, do, review.
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