One of the revolutionary changes that the internet has brought with it has been the steep drop in the cost of starting a business. Doing so used to be a considerably expensive endeavour, but we now have affordable online solutions for everything from payments and marketing to access to information on virtually everything. Combined, these factors have drastically brought down the cost of starting and running a business.
However, there are costs associated with these benefits as well: because of lowered barriers to entry, there are so many players competing for market share in virtually every field imaginable. From cars, electronics, and consumer goods to online services, professional consultancies, and even specialized services such as yoga classes and piano lessons, you have to compete against dozens of different companies all competing for a piece of the pie.
How can you, as an aspiring entrepreneur, navigate the start-up landscape and carve out a little business niche for yourself? This article covers the most important areas that you should spend some time thinking about before, during, and after launching your own business.
Do your homework
You can’t start a business without an idea. But what might be more important than having a great idea is maintaining a high level of professionalism and consistency once you’ve started running.
What are some of the things you need to plan for and get right?
a) Before launching, know what your customers want or need
b) Have a checklist of critical tasks that you can cross off one at a time
c) Refine and tweak your product or service iteratively
d) Consistently market yourself
e) Optimize operations
Let’s take a closer look at what each one of these things entails.
Understand the needs of your target market
Many start-ups fail because they don’t understand their audience, or because they misjudge their needs. The first thing you need to do when starting up is to identify your target audience. If you know who your buyers are, you will know whom to sell to. Define your target market, learn everything you can about them, tailor your ads, your product, and even your marketing language and colors with the kinds that work well with them, and slice out a clear and well-defined niche for yourself.
Surveys, quizzes, and polls can be used to collect customer information. Once you know what it is that you have to do, and for whom, you can actually go about doing it.
Get your launch plan right
The next step is to start thinking about the operational items listed below.
- What will you call yourself?
- What outreach channels will you use?
- Where can your clients be found?
- Do you need a web page, or can you manage on other platforms?
- What is your budget? Can you survive for at least six months?
Incrementally refine your product
It’s better to launch an imperfect yet functional product than to take forever perfecting one. If you’re able to provide something that users can actually use, then you can launch with confidence. Just be sure to have working feedback mechanisms in place so that you can listen to what people are saying about your product, because that feedback is what you will need to make changes to the product as you initiate the improvement process.
Always market yourself
Being competitive requires more than having a great product or selling at a very low price. It also involves being relevant, and keeping yourself constantly in the minds of customers. A finely-tuned social media strategy that regularly produces content, engages with users and learns from them, and answers questions and promotes products and services regularly is what will win you big dividends in the long run.
Also, your customers will expect you to be on social media. In fact, studies have shown that over 60% of all consumers use social media for customer service and to learn about new products and services.
Social media will not directly translate into sales, but it does help in business promotion by increasing your brand awareness. It also helps with data collection, in improving customer engagement at a very low cost, and developing high-quality leads.
Pay attention to operational items beyond the product itself. Create relevant content regularly, invest in sharing widgets and plugins for your site, create creative social posts and ads, put auto-responders in place, make use of email marketing, and take the time to tweak your brand, your product, and your positioning to perfection incrementally over time. If you get this right, you will have a growing edge over everyone else over time.
Businesses can be improved in numerous ways, but these five areas are the ones that will give you the most mileage over the long run. Take a step back to assess where you are and where you want to be, and develop a personal approach to getting these steps right. You can then focus on other areas as you grow and are able to really get into technical and operational optimizations.