Start-ups – Don’t crash your plane

As businesshands comes closer to turning four years old, I’ve been mulling back over the journey and the emotions that I’ve experience since it started out. It occurred to me that having a start-up is a bit like flying a plane… or more appropriately – finding yourself in the pilot’s seat of a plane at 15,000 feet with no engines running… that’s just about to stall.

That’s pretty much where it started for me. Tired with office politics and frustrated with my role, one day around four years ago I just quit. I’d been thinking about it for a while, but when I did it – it was so sudden it even surprised me. I was in tech sales and for anyone that’s worked in technology sales, you’ll know that once you quit – your company doesn’t want you hanging around on the off chance that you’ll lure their customers away or steal all of their customer data. So there I was, not long after the words came out of my mouth, buzzing off down the London streets on my scooter, wide eyed wondering what I’d just done and most importantly, what I would do next.

It took a month of figuring out that I didn’t want to work for anyone else again. During that time, I’d interviewed for jobs I didn’t want and unsurprisingly, not gotten any of them. So I decided to set up my own company and that was the moment I took control of the aircraft at 15,000 feet with no engines that was just about to stall. The 15,000 feet represented the total value in cash of everything I owned and all of the credit I had left on my credit cards at that point.

As any business owner will tell you, starting a business is harder and more complex that you might think (just like flying a plane). If you’re a product based business, the product development phase can be lengthy and difficult. If you’re a services business, it could take you an age to figure out who your customer is and what you need to offer them. And that’s just the basics. Like finding and pressing the button to start up the engines, you’re still in a stall hurtling towards the ground, burning through your budget and unless you can figure out how to turn that plane around fast you’re going to crash.

And this is a problem overlooked by many start-ups and small businesses today. Simply having a good product or a service is not enough for your company to succeed. It took businesshands about 18 months before it levelled off from its initial dive. With my credit card maxed out, luckily my car had been worth a little more than I thought and that bought me a few hundred extra feet in the stall. Ever since then we’ve been climbing. Slowly at first but as the months have rolled in we’ve risen faster and faster and today I can say, we’re actually having a pretty pleasant flight. So from someone who has been through the experience, here’s some tips on how to wrestle back control of your start-up and hopefully help you fly off into the sunset.

  1. Don’t build your product or define your service offering until you have done extensive market research. It doesn’t have to be expensive research. Attending free or low cost networking groups and getting feedback on your ideas is a good start and will save you time and money later on.
  1. Complete market and competitor analysis before you begin. Again, you can do this research yourself. Understanding the market and your potential competitors will tell you whether your idea has legs and can be a success. Is the market hungry for your idea? Are there already hundreds of companies in this space? What are you offering that’s going to differentiate you? These are just some of the questions you need to be asking.
  1. Do your figures. Even if you’re not ready to do a formal business plan, ask yourself these four basic questions.
  • How much will my product or service cost me to deliver (add a least 25% to any estimate to account for marketing, personnel and other bills)
  • How much will my product or service sell for?
  • How much of my product or my service will I have to sell to make a living?
  • Is that achievable?
  1. Don’t spend any money unless you have to. No luxuries, no office space, no fancy stationary or separate mobile phone for work. Spend nothing unless it is necessary for the start-up to progress.
  1. Save half of your budget at least for sales / marketing /business development activities. There’s nothing like having a decent product or service but not having any money to spread the word. It will take more than a couple of months of marketing budget to get your business off the ground.
  1. Build/plan a structured sales and marketing journey for your business and stick to it. Sporadic sales and marketing activities cost money and deliver very little. Consistency is king when it comes to closing sales.
  1. Build a structured customer journey for your existing customers. This ensures they will get a consistent and quality service. It will minimise customer attrition whilst also ensuring you identify as many upselling opportunities as possible. Remember it’s far more expensive to attract new customers than it is to sell to existing ones so keeping them happy needs to be part of your business strategy.
  1. Pay yourself as little as you can afford to live on for as long as it takes and plough every bit of spare cash from new sales straight back into your sales /marketing /business development activities. Don’t be tempted to slack off on this, even if you’re going through a busy period.
  1. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Stop thinking about what you want to deliver and start asking what your customers need.
  1. Speak to other people in start-ups. Get together regularly to discuss the progress you’re making and the challenges you’re facing. Having someone to speak to who is outside of your immediate start-up world will bring new ideas and a different way of thinking. Most importantly though it will improve your morale and give you the drive to continue pulling your start-up plane out of it’s scary initial dive so you can begin planning a route for the long haul.

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7 ways to make the most of the quieter summer period in your business

Schools out and the majority of your customers and team are off for two weeks of sunburn and margaritas… so whilst the phones are quiet and there’s little activity in the office, what should you be doing with your business to make the most of those quiet summer months? Here’s a few suggestions…

Do a deep dive review of your business performance so far this year

Go deep into your figures to really understand what’s happening in your business. How is it performing against last year? Are you spending more in some areas than you should be? Are the buying trends of your customer base changing? Are you in front or behind where you were at this time last year in terms of sales? Why is that?

Review / revise (or even create) your business strategy for the rest of the financial year

No matter how small your business is, you should already have a well-developed business strategy in place. Ask yourself, what do you need to do, to make this year the best year ever? What is stopping your business getting more sales through the door? Are there events you could be attending, what about networking, what about your marketing / advertising?

Define / refine / streamline your customer journey

How do you currently get a new customer through the “door”? What does it take to move a prospect from an exchange of business cards through to an exchange of contracts… or from a new follower on Twitter to a new and valuable customer? Do you have a defined sales process in place? What is it? Is it effective and could it be better?

Take some time to bond with and train your team

Of course, you could continue to push you team to make hundreds of sales calls a day but the reality is, the summer months are the least effective time for many organisations to acquire new business. That means it’s the best time to take days out for training, team building and refocusing of minds for the months ahead.

Review your suppliers

Are you really getting the best deal on your purchases? It’s time to take stock of your suppliers and make sure they are still the best ones to take your business forward. If you can find cheaper or better elsewhere it’s time to renegotiate your contracts or switch to something else. Don’t just do this for physical stock either… think software services, IT support contracts, office cleaning and anything else that’s provided to you as a service.

Get your marketing in order

It’s time to do a deep dive review of your marketing. Do you have core messages that you’re delivering to your customers? Are they still relevant? Are you still pushing your messages out to the right places? Analyse your marketing in depth. Which bits are driving traffic, creating enquiries or closing sales? Which ones are adding no value to the business at all and can be stopped? Where are you wasting money? What could be done better?

Focus on your own well-being

If you’re a business owner or a senior leader within an organisation, now is the time to plan some downtime, take some time off to re-energise and reconnect with hobbies you once had, friends you haven’t seen and places you used to go. Happy and relaxed people make better decisions and are able to get more done so take some time off whilst you can.

How to get the most from a small marketing budget… (Part 1)

If you’re responsible for marketing in a small or mid-sized business, the chances are – you’ll only have a small or mid-sized budget to work with. So how do you get your brand seen and your message heard when the purse strings are tied? Here’s part 1 in a 2-part series which offers a few ideas to help your small marketing budget go further….

Don’t use Google AdWords

Controversial I know but the reality is, unless you have a stack of cash or your product is the most niche product imaginable, stay well away from Google AdWords. It will empty your pockets and deliver very little in return. One of its major flaws, is that your competitors can drain your budget by clicking on your links. It’s a common practice which will leave your business virtually invisible to the online world once your small marketing budget has been used up.

If you insist on using AdWords / search engine PPC advertising – use Bing instead of Google

Yes, we know that billions of people use Google and only hundreds of millions use Bing. However, if you’ve only got the budget to pay for 20 or 30 clicks per month – is the number of users really relevant? On average, the cost per click for advertising on Bing is about 1/5 of the price of Google. That means, for your monthly budget – you can afford to attract 5 times more visitors to your website with the same budget. There’s absolutely no difference in the quality of the visitor.

You might also want to think about advertising to mobile users only. More users than ever access the internet via the mobile and the PPC option for mobile is often cheaper.

Only market where your target audience is likely to be

Don’t waste your time and money trying to reach the biggest audience. Do your research and find out where your target audience ‘hangs-out’ and market specifically to them. Having exposure across every social media platform imaginable is pointless if your audience only hangs out on one or two of them. Choose marketing channels (Facebook / Twitter / Email Marketing / PPC etc.) that are most relevant to your audience, that offer the best value for money and that offer you the best way of getting your message across.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Never rely solely on one marketing channel. Make sure you have a few options in your marketing mix.

Understand your sales funnel and your customer journey

A singular marketing activity working alone has very restricted capabilities. Let’s imagine for example, you want to spend your budget on acquiring followers on Facebook. Ask yourself, what’s the purpose of this? What actions do you want your Facebook followers to take? For your audience to become your customer, you need to devise a “sales funnel” or a “prospect journey” which transforms your audience to followers, your followers to website visitors, your website visitors to enquiries and your enquiries to sales. If you don’t have that journey mapped out, your marketing activities will be far less effective and that means you’ll have to spend more money to achieve the same results.

Pair your marketing with you sales activities

This is really an extension to the above. If you’re expecting to put out a marketing campaign and be inundated with inbound enquiries – without a huge budget, I’m afraid to say you might be disappointed. To maximise the effectiveness of your marketing – you need to pair it with a sales initiative. If you’re sending out a marketing email, complete a follow up call for all those that opened or clicked on your email. If you’re running a campaign to drive people to your website, make sure there’s an effective landing page to capture prospects information so that you can call them back.

A sales persons job is so much easier with marketing support and a marketing persons activities are so much more successful when paired with sales activities – yet in many smaller and mid-sized organisations, these skill sets and strategies rarely merge to fulfil their potential.

That’s all in this, the first part of a 2-part series on “How to get the most from a small marketing budget”. Pop back next week for more great tips… or if you’d like to discuss your marketing in more detail – why not drop us a call on 0207 458 4788 or visit our marketing services page.

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