All too often great business ideas don’t turn into success stories.
In fact, 60% of small businesses fail within three years and only 50% make it to their fifth birthday. The main reason for this is a poorly defined niche and lack of growth. In other words, they don’t make enough money.
But, do you think all small business failures were rubbish ideas?
In fact, I’m sure many of them were perfectly valid endeavours which begs the question… What could they have done differently?
Don’t let your passion run wild
Starting your own business is a big deal that takes courage and means stepping out of your comfort zone.
Not only that, but it’s often driven by negative and draining experiences in a current job. This makes it even more fraught which can have a tectonic effect on a person.
Pent up ambition and motivation erupts with the sole purpose of making the business idea a reality. Typically, they’ll invest too much time writing a business plan, getting a logo and website, and anything else that makes things appear real.
For some, all their new found energy is unleashed on making sure everything is perfectly set up for success.
Of course, custom branding and web design play an important part in business success but not in the early stages. There are far more pressing concerns when starting out.
Investing in these things too soon wastes valuable time and money – just get the essentials and nothing else. Moreover, store up your passion like battery power for the real challenges that lay ahead.
You don’t know what you don’t know
The other thing enthusiastic business owners seem to do is create a super-detailed business plan. This almost always focuses on what they think their business should be.
At best, this wastes time; at its worst, it misleads them into offering something that no-one needs or wants.
Your business plan shouldn’t contain all the answers, at least not in the beginning. How could it? You have little to no experience of what customers value the most or what the business potential is.
Do simple business planning instead, and approach it for what it is – a work in progress. Your plan should raise a bunch of pertinent questions about the problems your business solves and for whom.
Unsurprisingly, some questions can’t be answered without real customer insight so unless you have this kind of information, don’t bother trying. Doing so amounts to guesswork and a poorly defined niche – i.e. thinking up what your business might become and what customers might need.
Just plan your offering based on what you know, what you’re certain about and what you can do for people right now.
Curb your enthusiasm
The most important thing is to see your business idea as just that – an idea that needs testing out. And, not just with one or two customers but on an ongoing basis.
Successful business owners never stop asking questions – they constantly challenge what their business is offering and why customers buy from them. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or missing something.
Instead, embrace the realities of starting a business and plan on being fluid and adaptable. Just focus on what you can deliver today and learn as you go along.
Start simply by identifying the common problem(s) that people face in your niche and the best solution(s) accordingly. Work out how much it will cost to provide and then set your price based on the value to the customer (i.e. how much does the problem cost them?).
Don’t try to build Rome in a day – be pragmatic and effective, and be ready to adapt to customers needs as you learn more about them.
Go find some customers
So, you’ve got the basics of a business; now it’s time to give it a pulse.
The quickest way for a service business to find its first customers is through networking. [Online stores need a broader approach from the off]
Networking is all about building relationships with fellow business owners in your local area. It involves attending events to swap notes about what you do and what a good prospect looks like.
The ultimate aim is to arrange further one-to-one meetings with like-minded individuals who understand your niche. You’ll need to build some rapport and trust with people if they’re going to send business your way, and vice-versa.
More meetings means more connections which, in turn, means more new business.
It’s a numbers game at the end of the day. But remember, networking is about giver’s gain – the more you help others, the more they’ll help you.
What if customers found you?
Networking is an outbound marketing activity which sees a person go out and sell their business to people.
But nowadays there’s a much better way to grow a business – inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is the practice of attracting customers to your organization by providing valuable content and tailored experiences.
Where outbound marketing interrupts people with content, inbound marketing connects with them by offering solutions for problems they’re already experiencing.
By helping your target audience you stimulate interest in your products and services – you succeed because they succeed. The result is meaningful and longer lasting relationships are formed.
What’s more, they’ll tell others how you helped them.
This dynamic leads to more and more new business which, over time, will see your reputation reach more and more people (a.k.a. the flywheel effect). When this gets going a business is able to grow – like really grow – because less and less investment is required for customer acquisition.
And, the best bit – inbound leads cost 61% less than outbound leads, and conversion is 10x more likely.
The inbound methodology
The goal of any business should be to attract new prospects, engage with them at scale, and delight them as individuals.
The following three strategies at each of these three stages will drive sustainable growth and long term success.
Ever searched Google for a solution to a problem?
We all have and your target audience will do too. Therefore, the most effective way to attract them is through creating and publishing valuable content.
This is how a relationship begins – when your content makes a difference to someone. If this keeps happening, they’ll begin to view you as their go-to expert. Once that happens, there’s an ever-increasing chance they’ll convert into a customer at some point.
The written word lends itself to starting out because everything required is already at your fingertips: a computer, an internet connection, and of course your thoughts.
Blogging is the tried and tested method of using writing for content marketing. It’s where you write about topics (e.g. solutions to problems) that are relevant to your audience on an on-going basis.
To give a post the best chance of being found in Google, it needs Search Engine Optimization (SEO) performing on it before publishing. There’s no point creating content that stands no chance of being read because it can’t be found.
Summary – the attraction phase is all about, creating well-optimized and valuable content that’s found by your target audience in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Attracting people to your business through content takes the most time and effort out of the three activities. So when it starts to happen it’s vitally important you engage with them in the right way.
You want any prospective customer to feel compelled to build a relationship with you.
To make this happen, all communications should be about the value your business brings to existing customers. Don’t just describe the features of what you do; always explain the actual benefits to them.
For example, a plumbing business wouldn’t focus on boilers, but instead the provision of warm homes. A landscaping company would shout about ambient garden parties, not raised beds and tree lines.
Take a little time to identify the exact benefit(s) of what you provide so that you’re ready for enquiries when they begin coming in.
Customers who are happy, satisfied and feel well looked-after will become delighted with your business. But, for this to happen you must become an advisor, expert and trusted party to them that’s consistent and ever-present.
Be prepared to assist customers at any point throughout their journey – before they purchase, during service delivery and beyond. Nothing they need should be too much trouble across the entire customer journey.
Survey their thoughts and feedback to gain valuable insight about where you can improve. Get the timing right, though. There’s no point doing a satisfaction survey a day after delivery when they’ve not had time to experience the virtues of your work.
Social media followers often provide feedback or ask questions over their favourite platform. For this reason, it’s important to listen out for them by staying alert across all your profiles.
Respond with respect by handling all interactions, big or small, with care whether it’s commercially valuable or not. This shows your ethos – of delighting customers – is authentic and genuine.
All this effort goes a long way because delighted customers make for the best brand advocates which is how your flywheel will really get going.
Turning a great business idea into a great business
A poorly defined niche and lack of sustainable growth kills over half of all small businesses, serious challenges for which no amount of enthusiasm or passion will overcome.
Sustainable growth and success wholly relies upon continually attracting and engaging an audience of potential customers. The way to achieve this is with content marketing as a part of an inbound methodology.
But, you have to box clever because the momentum from content marketing takes a while to rev up. Time management and a good productivity system are essential because you need to network for new business (i.e. revenue) whilst creating lots of valuable content.
Not only that, it will all take some learning too, which is why both activities need starting as soon as possible. Get it right though and it’s only a matter of time before your idea becomes a great business.