You know what, I’m not going to pretend that I’m the most knowledgeable person in the world when it comes to running a business and being an entrepreneur in general. I’m probably certainly not. But since I have some experience as a business owner and I’ve been through the whole process of dealing with business start-up issues, I think I can shed some light on the topic.
First of all, what this post/guide isn’t:
- Some magic-bullet solution on how to do business.
- Advice on the legal aspects of running a business (business laws differ in every country; this post is made to be universal).
- Some BS about how you “need to provide the mysterious quality content and engage with your community.”
Personally, I have nothing against providing quality content or engaging with community, but I’ve had just about enough of all the catchphrases of online business.
So, let’s get this thing going. Here’s the first item on the list, and in my opinion it’s also the most important one:
Mind your productivity
If we take a quick look at the definition of entrepreneur on Wikipedia, we’ll find that:
“The term entrepreneur […] is commonly used to describe an individual who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk to do so.”
Even though Wikipedia is not the most dependable source of information on all things, this is quite spot on.
The keywords to notice are: “organizes and operates.” To put it simply, the skill to organize and operate is essentially the skill of being productive. And I’m mentioning it here only to convince you that productivity is not just another of these business clichés. Productivity really does matter.
Now, the trick with productivity is that our human nature doesn’t make us that much productive. It’s very rare for anybody to be able to act and think productively without any initial resistance. On top of that, the job description of an entrepreneur doesn’t make it easier either. There’s no boss and no managers supervising you. You only have your clients to work with, and you have to work hard to get them into the business first.
The approach that worked for me was to learn a time management methodology called Getting Things Done. I have to warn you that it’s nothing simple and getting a grasp on how to use it on a regular basis takes a while. If you want a head start, feel free to visit a series of posts I published on Lifehack (how to keep your projects from killing you – the last part in the series, contains links to all the previous parts) or go ahead and buy the whole book by David Allen “Getting Things Done” (available on Amazon).
But I want you to know that I don’t insist that you use this methodology. I am simply sharing my experience with it. If you feel that another method of becoming productive will work better for you then by all means, go for it. The only message I have for you here is this – productivity is a necessity for every entrepreneur.
Plan your actions
If you’re using a good time management methodology then planning your actions will be a core element of it, but I do want to mention it here separately anyway.
There are just so many things an entrepreneur has to do every single day. There’s marketing (more on that in a minute), product development, networking, staff management, accounting and billing, customer management, content creation (for online business) and so on.
A well thought through plan will allow you to execute your strategy in all of these areas effectively. The goal is to plan out your actions and consciously place them in time. Chances are, you’re going to be much better off doing what you’ve planned to do, as opposed to reacting to the things that are happening to your business due to some external factors. Simply, be more active rather than reactive.
What I advise you to start with is to create a set of goals and tasks that will help you achieve them in every area of your business (as mentioned above: marketing, products, etc.).
Define your marketing approach
Marketing deserves a separate explanation because it’s usually the most important thing for your business…
Not everyone likes the opinion that “marketing is more important than the product,” but I really do think that it’s true. There are literally hundreds of examples around us.
Therefore, defining your marketing approach will make your situation much clearer and it’ll make you less prone to every new, cool, magic-bullet marketing trick.
Try starting with this set of questions to ask yourself:
- What’s your target audience/customer group?
- What’s the easiest and cheapest way to reach them?
- What are your competitors doing to reach them?
- Why would your customers want to choose your products instead of your competitor’s?
- How much money are you willing to invest in your marketing campaign?
- Do you plan on focusing on free marketing methods or paid ones?
- Are you going to be doing this alone or are you planning to hire people?
That’s a lot of questions to answer, but I do believe that you’ll get some cool marketing ideas even if you only manage to get through half of the list.
One thing that’s really underestimated these days is doing what your competition already does. Chances are that if someone is using one specific marketing method for a number of years then it’s probably working just fine. Doing the same is often the safest and most effective path to take. “Untapped” methods are often untapped for a reason … they don’t work.
List your strengths
Everybody has some. A simple question to ask yourself is: What puts you in a better position than your competition?
Do you have any specific experience? Assets? Knowledge? Resources? Contacts? Suppliers? It can be anything but make sure to take note of it. Being aware of your strengths will make you more confident, which will have some impact on your overall business plan. We naturally want to use our strengths whenever we can to gain an edge over our competitors.
Plan your product development
Since we’ve already discussed about marketing, now it’s time for product development.
I know that there are many affiliate businesses out there, or some simple online businesses selling 10-page e-books, but these are not really products. Apple has not become the giant they are because of selling a 10-page e-book, right?
A business needs a product. Something that people want (more than what they need) and something they can afford. A well designed product can be easily explained whenever someone asks the questions of: What? Why? What for?
If the product you’re planning to create is somewhat difficult to explain to consumers then you either have to invest in some serious marketing, or start developing a completely new product.
Standard product development process usually involves these steps:
- Market research – finding out what people need.
- Competition research – finding out what others are already offering.
- Production research – finding out if you can produce something similar yourself.
- Profitability research – finding out how much is this going to cost and how much you need to sell in order to make a profit.
- Creation and marketing.
Unfortunately, at any given step, you can encounter things that will prevent you from successfully creating and marketing the product. That is the reason why we’re creating this plan – to make everything clear and manageable, despite unforeseeable circumstances that will come your way.
Once you have a plan like that, you can even remove yourself from the process (if that’s your desire). You can appoint the plan to someone else and tell them to execute it for you.
List the people you know
Yet another not-so liked adage in business: “Who you know is more important than what you know.”
I don’t even have any specific advice here. You just have to research the niche you’re in, take note of every competitor, every publisher specializing in covering the niche, every recognizable persona, etc. and start reaching out to them.
Chances are that these people will help you grow your business more than you think or expect. It’s funny that, often, the biggest leaps in business come from an external input. For example, when someone contacts you about a partnership or offers to buy something big from you.
In a nutshell, focus on people. People do business. Businesses don’t do business.
Take the first steps
Finally, it’s about time to take some action, isn’t it?
This is the part where you can take all your plans and blueprints (the things mentioned above) together and start executing them. Even though the road to success may seem like a long one, it always starts with a single step.
Feel free to comment and share your own story and the things you think are essential to do during your first week in the entrepreneur hat.
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