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First, a caveat: I don’t need to tell anyone that building a business is really, really hard. That’s obvious.

But in my experience⁠—and based on what I’ve learned from other founders I’ve spoken with⁠—it’s even harder to build a business when you’re not scratching your own itch. Ultimately, it’s that passion for solving my own problem that keeps me going through the lowest of the lows, and I know that many other founders feel the same way.

You have to find something you’re passionate about that solves real problems for people. Advice Monkey didn’t work out and it didn’t work out because I created it for the wrong reasons. I wasn’t passionate about it.

With that said, there are plenty of founders whose passion is simply for solving problems for people, whether they share those problems or not.

And if that’s your goal, I support you 100%, and I do think you have just as strong of a shot as someone filling their own hole.

In fact, many of the business ideas I’ve added to my own list over the years have come from other people sharing their frustrations with me about something in their lives (and not mine).

Here are two things I would do:

1) Start paying attention **very deeply.

In customer development, perhaps the biggest mistake that I made in the beginning was letting my assumptions take priority over my ears.

Here’s what I mean: I’d go into interactions with assumptions about who the person was, what they wanted, what they didn’t want, and what their challenges and goals were. I’d listen to what they said, but I was only really listening for things that would either prove or disprove my assumptions, rather than listening to everything and trying to understand what was truly important.

For example, I’d assume that the customer wanted a live chat feature. After the conversation, I could only tell you whether that assumption was correct or incorrect. What I couldn’t tell you⁠—until I started actively listening better⁠—was that some of the offhand comments that the customer made were very clear indicators that perhaps chat wasn’t even that important to them compared to, say, a knowledge base.

When you begin to listen more actively, you begin to hear the little things that people complain about, often in the form of comments that seem like throwaways at the time, but actually indicate burning pains that need solving. These conversations, whether with prospects, co‑workers, friends or just about anyone else, can become huge sources of business ideas.

2) Search proactively for people looking for solutions.

Another thing that I’ve seen work for some⁠—it’s a tactic that we sometimes use to source blog post ideas⁠—is searching online communities for problems that people are facing.

Search, in quotes, for words and phrases that indicate that the poster is frustrated by something or looking to solve a problem:

  • “How do I”
  • “How do you”
  • “Sucks”
  • “Can’t seem to”

While PR isn’t a strategy that we’re pursuing at the moment, it is something that we’ve done before, and it’s something that can be very useful for the right businesses.

The problem is that most people go about it completely wrong.

If your approach is to:

  • Write press releases and email them to a massive list of journalists, or
  • Spam writers with emails that say nothing other than “write about this”, or
  • Try to get a story written about your product “because it’s awesome”,

…then you will most likely fail at getting press coverage.

Here are a few key insights that have helped us⁠—and many businesses⁠—get great results pitching for press coverage:

1) Journalists Are Influencers

They’re usually regular people who get a lot of email and requests for their time and attention.

That means that a relationship-building strategy based on actually building value for them will instantly set you apart from the 99% of emailers who simply ask for free advertising.

Follow this influencer outreach strategy, and create value. Give them tips on stories that have nothing to do with your business. Give them insightful feedback on their work. Make introductions to people who you know that they would value.

When it’s time to ask for a favor, you’ll be in a much better position.

2) Align Your Goals

No journalist’s goal is to write a love letter to your business, or to give you coverage.

That’s your goal.

Most journalists have goals that are very different:

  • Create interesting, useful stories for their readers
  • Share compelling news before anyone else does
  • Drive traffic to their outlet
  • Produce great work under the deadlines given to them

Think about how you can align your goals with theirs. Your business itself isn’t interesting to anyone but you.

But maybe there’s a story you can tell that also positions your business in the right light?

With that in mind…

3) Do the Work for Them

Don’t pitch your business. Pitch a story.

The story of Groove isn’t that we’re a tool that helps businesses manage their customer service messages.

The story of Groove is that most customer service software is far too bloated, clunky and expensive, and that creates a big burden on small businesses. That burden leads to long resolution times, low team morale and frustrated customers. Groove is one way to solve that problem.

The second story is a lot more interesting than the first.

Don’t Spin Your Wheels

You’ll likely create lots of different stories before one of them sticks. Don’t pitch an angle 50 times hoping that someone will bite.

Test your approach, test your messaging and keep improving.

Eventually, you’ll win. But the most important thing to know is that getting press coverage is not a transaction where you email a reporter and get a story.

It’s a long-term strategy that, if you want to succeed at, you have to commit to.

One final caveat: press coverage is NOT the sole growth strategy to pursue for most businesses. It can help you grow if the outlet’s readership aligns well with your own market, but getting covered in the press, in many cases, will do a lot more for your ego than for your business… and that’s dangerously addicting.

That’s not to say that there’s not tremendous value potential here. Businesses that have thoughtfully-crafted, effective and consistent PR strategies can achieve great results.

But the goal should always be growth. Not coverage.

So many of us, especially without marketing backgrounds, assume that marketing is about telling people your story. That it’s about selling. Convincing.

And it is about those things, but that assumption often causes us to overlook the MOST important part of marketing that far too few companies practice: listening.

Unless you listen to your customers very closely⁠—long before you try to sell them anything⁠—you’ll never understand the right way to sell your product.

Ask your customers a lot of open-ended questions. Learn about their needs and challenges, their fears and hopes. Do a ton of customer development.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

And then⁠—but not before⁠—carefully consider and act on what you learn.

It’s always easy to answer a question like this after you’ve already figured out something that works well for you.

So of course, if I knew then what I know now, I’d be doing all of the stuff that ended up delivering huge marketing breakthroughs for us over the course of Groove’s history.

And I’m happy to offer my take on what those big wins were, with the caveat that this is what worked for us, in our market, with our position. These things may not work for you. But if I got my hands on a time machine, here’s what I’d start doing from day one:

  • Deep, deep customer development. Before we did anything, I’d spend many, many hours talking to as many customers as possible, learning about their pains, challenges and goals, and thinking about how we could use our marketing to help them accomplish those goals (not to mention using these insights to drive our product development).
  • Start publishing valuable, interesting and useful content as soon as we possibly can. I’ve always loved what Rick Perrault, CEO of Unbounce, said in his interview on our blog about the huge benefits Unbounce got from doing content marketing well before they launched their product:

The question we had from the beginning was “how are we going to find customers?” It’s not like people are searching “landing page solution” or “landing page builder.” People didn’t even know to look for us, so how will we go out and find them? So that was a really important challenge for us to tackle, and we made the decision to start blogging on day one. [Ed. note: actually, it was more like day -165, as the product was six months from launch]

We needed to make connections with thought leaders, and to become thought leaders ourselves. So we worked hard, blogging, guest posting and promoting, and by the time we launched, we already had a reputation in the space. The thought leaders we had built relationships with talked about our product and got people interested. I don’t think there would’ve been any other way to succeed.

As a result, the team had a strong launch and signed up a lot of users, fast.

  • Drive top, middle and bottom-of-the-funnel traffic to our site. We didn’t launch our support blog until nearly a year after our startup journey blog launched, and already it has nearly caught up in terms of traffic (and gets more customer signups). Both blogs deliver tremendous value to us, and I’d make sure that we get them both launched from the beginning.
  • Understand and embrace the power of SEO to drive organic traffic. It took me a while to get over my fear of SEO and realize that it’s not just some scammy tactic. Now that we’re taking it seriously, our traffic has never been higher. I regret not putting in the effort from the beginning.
  • Influencer outreach is the reason that our startup journey blog has been as successful as it has been. Especially early on, our outreach campaign gave the blog the boost it needed to build a baseline of traffic that has been steadily growing ever since. We still use many of the same tactics for a lot of our marketing initiatives, and if I understood its usefulness when we launched the business, we’d be in a different place today.

Great question.

You have two options:

  1. Become a great marketer
  2. Find and hire a great marketer

Becoming a great marketer has truly never been easier. The number of resources out there that can help you get better is huge for just about any industry you can think of.

As for hiring a marketer!, I’ve shared a few tips in the past that I think could help:

  1. Post a job listing on a site that’s relevant to your industry. I haven’t had great success with the signal-to-noise ratio on the broader job listing sites, but the ones more targeted to marketers would be a great fit, I assume you would have resulted in some really strong hires.
  2. Tell the world what you’re looking for. Send personal emails to everyone that you know who might have a relationship with the kind of person you’re looking for, post to social media, pick up the phone… finding great people often requires a lot of hustle, because everyone else is looking for them, too. So put in the work.
  3. Reach out to marketers that you respect. If you already read some marketing blogs, reach out to the people writing them. If you don’t already read any, then find the ones that people respect (here are some of my favorites). At the highest tier, the blogger might not be for hire, but they’ll typically have very strong networks that they can refer you to. And there are a lot of great lesser-known blogs with highly valuable content written by marketers that you can hire.

No matter how much product you can produce, ultimately, someone has to sell it.

Whether that’s you or someone else is going to depend on your bandwidth, expertise and how you’d like to spend your time.

But the good thing is that you have two options that, if done well, can both be very successful.

How to Refine and Validate your Idea

Business ideas are great. They make us feel like we are onto something.

Something big.

Our adrenaline spikes and we want to get started right away.

But what does “getting started” even mean? Printing your business card? Making a website? Hiring a co-founder? Incorporate the business?

Not exactly.

Here are the exact steps you should take to refine and validate your idea before you do any of these things!

Step 0: Get clear on WHY you Want to Start a Business

Starting a business is on the bucket list of almost anyone I know that has previously worked for other startups. It just seems like the logical next step. The end destination. The ultimate goal.

But it’s not. At least not for everyone!

Before you do anything else, get crystal clear about your reasons, intentions, and motivations behind starting a company. Why do you really want to start a business? Are your reasons strong enough to endure hardships and compelling enough to survive a major drop in quality of life in other areas? Will these reasons still be there when you have pivoted twice, broken up with your girlfriend and not seen daylight in 3 months?

Don’t lie to yourself. Starting a business is not a light decision. It will change your life. For the better, if you do it for the right reasons. For the worse, if you rush into this trying to fill a void that has a different source.


Step 1: Organize your Idea with a Mind Map

Mind mapping is one of the most powerful techniques to brainstorm, record and organize your ideas. You can think of it like visualizing all your thoughts in the form of a tree: your main idea is the tree trunk and all connecting thoughts represent the branches which can further branch out as well.

This helps you group together single ideas and create hierarchies so you can put a structure around all the noise in your head.

Source: usingmindmaps.com

There are two mind mapping ways that are most effective for getting the full picture on your business idea, as they allow you to move single ideas around and re-organize as you go:

  1. Mindmapping Software: Tools like Mindmeister, XMind, and MindMup allow you to easily drag and drop your single nodes around, create hierarchic relationships and add notes.
  2. Post-It Notes: Brainstorming with Post-It notes is super simple and super fun. Just write every single thought on a separate Post-It and organize them all on a big whiteboard, a window or your wall. Once you are done, snap a picture of your mind map to save it for later reference.

No matter which method you go with, here is the best way to explore and structure your business idea with mind mapping:

  • Step 1: Dump all your thoughts: For 10–15 min, write down all your thoughts and ideas related to your business idea as single branches or Post-Its. Don’t overthink it — no idea is too unrealistic, stupid or irrelevant in this stage — editing, organising and removing comes later! This will get messy, but it’s okay. The most important thing is that you capture ALL your thoughts about your business idea in an unfiltered way.
  • Step 2: Organize your thoughts: Now it’s time to clean up the mess! Group together related ideas, find overarching categories and create hierarchies and relationships. Add ideas if you find they are missing, eliminate duplicates and edit where necessary. The goal is to create a complete and structured picture of your business idea.

Step 2: Simplify & Clarify

After you have organized all your thoughts in a mind map, it’s time to get to the very core of your business idea. The goal here is to get so clear on your business idea that you can describe it in one single sentence.

One sentence? You might think I am crazy — your business idea is so much more than that!

Of course it is! But this exercise helps you to get really, really specific and forces you to clearly articulate how you are creating value and for whom.

You can use this template: (“My company, _(insert name of company)_, is developing _(a defined offering)_ to help _(a defined audience)_ _(solve a problem)_ with _(secret sauce)_”).

If you are struggling to create a single sentence right away, try writing one page about your business idea, then shortening it to one paragraph and from there describing it in one single sentence.

If this exercise is entirely impossible, you might need to go back to the drawing board to achieve the necessary clarity to move forward with your business idea.


Step 3: Refine your Idea with Feedback

Take your one sentence business idea and talk about it to as many people as you can! Though this might sound counter-intuitive at first (people could steal your idea!), it is one of the best strategies to get direct feedback and refine your idea. Also, remember: ideas are worthless — it’s the execution that matters!

There is two ways in which getting such diverse feedback can be extremely helpful:

1. Take a good look at the people that love the idea vs. the ones that think it is stupid — this can be a great indicator for finding your target audience! What do the people that love the idea have in common?

2.Listen closely to the objections (for example: “This is a great idea. But have you thought about…?”) and use them to refine your idea. Use the feedback to think through all possible challenges and difficulties and make a plan to address them before going forward with your idea.

Talking to people and getting good feedback also fuels your motivation to start executing!

To get the most out of this exercise, listen attentively without interrupting so you can get the person’s unfiltered and uninfluenced opinion!


Step 4: Define your Target Market

If you are a first-time founder, you might think that everyone can be your customer. But this is usually not true!

Most successful business solve a specific problem for a very specific target group aka niche.

Yes, there are other examples, but the chances that are you are gonna be the next Zuckerberg are very small. Like in the 0.0000001% range.

So you better make sure your business idea is solving a problem for a very specific group of people. This will make finding customers and marketing to them so much easier.

The Riches are in the Niches.

One of the best exercises to get clear on your target market is to create a customer avatar. To do that, ask yourself these questions:

  • Where does your ideal customer live?
  • Who old is he/she?
  • Who does a normal day look like for this person?
  • What is his job?
  • What does he do in his free time?
  • What are his biggest problems and frustrations?

For B2B businesses, define the following points: business type, industry, business size, role you are targeting (e.g. head of sales if you are offering a SAAS sales tool).

Source: DigitalMarketer.com

Once you have your ideal customer, you are also able to analyse the size of your market and evaluate if it is big enough.


Step 5: Survey your Target Market

Set up a simple questionnaire to get a better understanding of your target customers, their needs, wants and willingness to pay. You can use an online tool like Survey Monkey or even easier, work with Google Forms.

You can download my free template with 23 Questions to Survey your Target Market here.

Download here: http://bit.ly/survey-target-market

After analysing your results you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • Are you really solving a problem for your target group with your product or service?
  • Would your target group be willing to buy your product/service at a price point that makes sense for you economically?
  • What are existing competitors, similar products and services in the market and how happy is the target group with them?
  • What should be core features of your product/service? What is most important for your target customer?
  • What could be potential marketing channels for your product/service?

Step 6: Analyse the Competitive Landscape

You might be thinking: “I can skip this step, I have no competition! My idea is unique!” I hate to break it to you but more likely than not, you are wrong!

One of the most common mistakes of starting a new business is failing to analyse the competition properly. So make sure you have a clear understanding of:

  1. WHO you are competing with directly: Start with collecting all players that offer a similar product or service. Through your customer survey and simple Google searches you should be able to come up with the main competitors. Tools like CrunchbaseSimilarWeb and Wonder as well as analysing forum discussions on Reddit or Quora (search for terms like “how can I solve problem x?” and “what is the best way/tool to do x?”) can give you further insights.

A great way to visualize your competitive landscape for yourself or an investor’s pitchdeck is the “Magic Quadrant” that analysis your position in regards to the competition along two main metrics. Here is an example:

Magic Quadrant (Source: PitchDeckCoach.com)

2. WHO you are competing with indirectly: Companies that offer similar products or services as you are your obvious competitors. But it’s not the only ones you are competing with!

Think of it this way: you are basically competing with anyone and anything that can be used to solve the customer’s problem.

Here’s an example: Coca Cola does not only compete with other soft drink brands but also with tea and coffee brands, energy drinks and other stimulants — if the customer’s want is to be more awake and get an energy boost. The Petal Diagram is a great way to visualize all your indirect competitors based on common features or solved problems:

Petal Diagram by Steve Blank

Step 6: Define your USP

Once you know who you are competing with and have a good picture of all existing products and services in the market, it is time to ask yourself two questions:

  • What makes my product/service special? How is your solution better than existing ones? Is your product/service faster, cheaper or more convenient? And is this advantage good enough for people to choose your product over another one?
  • Why am I uniquely capable to bring this idea to market? Why are you (and your team) better than your competitors? Is your technology, expertise, experience or team superior? What gives you an unfair advantage over the competition?

Step 7: Test your Prototype with a Select Group of People

Develop a first, basic version of your product or service. This is your MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Depending on the complexity of your product this could mean you are manually simulating a process that technology will do later on. If it is a food product, you can get people to try the first recipe. If it is a service like consulting or coaching, do practice sessions for free.

Basically, think of the simplest version of your product and service that possesses its core features and start getting real feedback from potential customers.

This process is integral to refine your Product-Market Fit. Furthermore, it allows you to build up a small group of supporters than can help push your business once its launched.

Another option is to build a landing page or list your product on a crowd-funding website to collect pre-orders that will help you proof demand and fund your product development.


Step 8: Define your Revenue Model

The big question of all new entrepreneurs: how will you make money? If you can’t, you might have a nice idea, but not a business.

Here are some of the most common business models:

  • Sell your own product or service (single purchase, pay-as-you-go, subscription business, licensing fees)
  • Sell someone else’s product or service (affiliate marketing, commission sales, franchising)
  • Brokering/Matchmaking/Marketplace Model: take commission or get paid for premium listings.
  • Ad revenue (especially for media businesses like apps, blogs etc.)
  • Freemium Model: give part of your product or service for free and make money through ad-ons or premium versions

Step 9: Create your Go-to-Market Plan

Once you have successfully refined and validated your idea, it’s time to finally get down to business, literally! Even though things never go to plan and everything will most likely take twice as long and cost twice as much as you expect, it is still crucial to make a proper project plan for bringing your business idea to life.

This will help you to understand the estimated scope and cost of the project and make key decisions about who to hire and how to pay for everything.

Your Go-to-Market Plan should at least include the following points (and more, depending on your business):

Product:

  • How will the product be developed?
  • What are the milestones?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Who will be involved? Who is responsible for what?
  • Will there be a beta version before it is officially launched?

Marketing:

  • How will you acquire customers? Which channels and strategies will you use?
  • How much will it cost you to acquire one customer? Calculate the CAC (cost per acquisition) to see if

People:

  • Do you need one or more co-founders? If yes, with what background?
  • Who do you need to hire to develop and market the product?
  • What do you need to do to get the key hires on board?

Finance:

  • How much will it cost to launch and market your product?
  • How much will you spend on human resources?
  • How much will you spend on other things like software, office and
  • How will you finance your endeavour? Will you pay for it yourself, take a loan, get a partner on board or reach out to investors?
  • How will you sustain yourself financially while building your business? Will you keep your day job and build the business on the side or are you able to go all-in from the beginning?

TAKE-AWAY

As a business coach for entrepreneurs, I have come across two major types of people who struggle to build successful businesses:

  • Type 1 has lots and lots of great business ideas but never gets beyond the ideation stage. They seem to be paralysed by either not knowing what to do next or fear of missing out on a better idea.
  • Type 2 gets so excited by the idea that they jump right to Step 9, or even worse print their business cards and hire all their friends as co-founders and thereby leave out the essential steps of refining and validating their idea.

If you see yourself in type 1 or 2, I hope this article will help you to take the necessary action steps for making your business idea reality! Even if you don’t follow the exact steps or order — whenever you are stuck in the startup phase, reading this article will help you identify why you struggle to move forward and what you need to do to resolve your obstacles!

First, get the facts! From research to talking to people in your new industry, make sure that you have a real, complete view of what it will take to launch your business and be successful. Most entrepreneurs fall in love with their idea–reality and details be damned. That sets up a lot of suffering and sacrifice later, which could be avoided with an informative plan from the start.

Second, consider a business partner. The right choice in a partner–maybe someone who has different strengths than your own–will help you succeed faster, and not feel so burdened and overwhelmed in the early years.

Enough! This question is impossible to answer in generalities. Some start with $5,000 and a great idea. Some require millions to launch. That’s why you must research and forecast what it will take to get your business up and running–plus fund your daily living expenses.

It takes time to build a business, set up a location, hire staff and attract a client and customer base. And during all of this, money is going out, not coming in. In most cases, you should double whatever you project you will need in time and money to start your business. The world isn’t waiting for your idea or business–it is doing just fine, thank you, without it. So it takes great persistence and resilience to have the world finally see you–and want to work with you.

That they will be their own boss. They think, “wow, i’ll be free and not have to answer to anyone!” Yes, being a business owner gives you flexibility, and over time, a sense of designing your own life.

But until you reach that point, you’ll actually have many bosses:

your clients and customers, the bank, your investors, even partners.

There are so many: resilience, imagination, being unstoppable, integrity, the ability to create relationships easily, the courage to ask for help and make big requests, a commitment to face the financial facts, and the ability to excite others about your dream just as you are excited. Need help? Find mentors who know the industry–who are themselves entrepreneurs–and consult people who will hold you accountable, like a business coach.

Often people who turn hobbies into a business overly sacrifice. They end up giving so much to the business, but it doesn’t give enough back to survive.

The two are distinct. A hobby is an interest, or even a passion. And that can sometimes blind you. Your business should exist to help fund a great life for you (and your family), including professional fulfillment and financial peace of mind. But often people who turn their hobbies or causes into a business overly sacrifice.

For example, they don’t charge enough for their service because they love what they do so much. In those cases, they end up giving so much to the business, but the business doesn’t give enough back to survive.

Starting a business quickly transforms you. You must learn to be and do what you’ve never been or done before–or your business will fail. If you’ve never hired or managed teams before, you will learn by failing several times.

Surprisingly, first time business owners often make these mistakes while interviewing: talking more about their plans for the business than asking challenging questions of the candidate; getting inspired by the interviewee vs. Checking references and experience; hiring friends and family who need jobs and then not holding them as accountable as they would a qualified stranger they hired.

Give it away by offering a free consultation, sample or trial coupon. You must make people aware of you early in your business, and get them talking about your product or service.

That’s more important than charging full price–but just in the first few months. This can also work to grow existing businesses that have stalled.

Integrity.that means honoring your word, delivering on what you promise and when–and even cleaning up quickly when you or a member of your team messes up.

You have to take 100% responsibility for all aspects of your customer’s experience with you, your product and your company representatives.

Having your own business is to be coached by a master–yourself! If you aren’t committed, you will fail. If you don’t listen to what your customers and the industry is telling you, you will fail. If you are arrogant, you will fail. If you don’t face facts–financial and otherwise–you will fail.

If you are stingy and selfish, you will fail. If you don’t talk straight with your customers or your employees, you will fail. And if you can’t bounce back, you will fail.

In short, what an amazing journey of self-discovery and re-invention this will be!

I procrastinate from time to time (and get mad at myself for it) just like everyone else, but I have found a few strategies that help me accomplish what needs to get done.

Here are the three strategies where my biggest wins come from:

  • Power-blocking “repetitive” tasks: answering emails and support tickets, calling customers, anything else where I can batch things, I do. Answering emails one-by-one when they come in is a massive distraction, so I do my best to avoid it.
  • Realizing that not everything will get done, and prioritizing accordingly. If I did everything that I was supposed to do, I’d be working 30 hours per day. I realize that I won’t get to everything; the trick is to prioritize your tasks so that the absolutely critical things get done first. We all get bogged down in “easy” work (because it’s easy) that isn’t all that mission-critical. Instead, let that stuff fall by the wayside (or delegate it), and do the things that are most important. (Treat leisure time that you value the same way. For me, surfing and spending time with my family are really important, so I prioritize them at the expense of other things.)
  • Having a “hard stop” at the end of each day. Pick a time⁠—say, 8:30pm⁠—after which (barring exceptional circumstances), you’re not answering emails, looking at your phone, or doing anything that feels like work. You’re not just avoiding it; you’re not allowed to touch it. Knowing that that hard stop is coming gives you a sense of urgency during the day to work more efficiently, and also helps with work/life separation if you’re often working from home, as I am.

Time management is something that even productivity “gurus” I know struggle with, and I suspect that for many of us, it might always be a struggle.

Still, applying a few key strategies has helped me immensely, and I hope they help you, too.

This is an issue that a lot of future entrepreneurs grapple with.

It’s a tough one, and a deeply personal one.

Without knowing details about your business, your job, your personal life and your finances, I can’t really give you an answer.

But in every in-depth conversation I’ve had with people considering quitting their job, the wisest decision is “no” as often as it’s “yes.” And if you’re just now beginning to consider the prospect, it may be too early.

It comes down to thinking very carefully about why you’re thinking of quitting your job, and considering the other options.

Quitting your job is a hugely drastic move. So, why do you think it’ll help?

If it’s because you think you need more time…well, are you spending every waking minute outside of your job working on your business? And if not, try that first and see what that does to your growth.

Think hard about your motivation, and see if there’s another way to accomplish your “next step” goal while staying in your job.

Despite the glorification of going all in, keeping your business as a side project until it’s validated and has some traction can be a smart move in many cases.

Are you prepared, financially and mentally, to work for 6 months (or more) without any income?

If you have a spouse or significant other, are they prepared for that, too?

Are you okay with the possibility of being back to square one in 6 or 12 months, except without the security of a job?

I like to mitigate risk as much as possible, and there’s a lot of risk involved in jumping ship this early on in your startup journey.

I’d put in every hour that you can getting your company off of the ground, doing customer development and building your prototype.

But unless you can justify the leap without hesitation… until you can’t RESIST the leap… I’d likely do it on the side. For now.

Research of successful entrepreneurs has documented that successful small business people have certain common characteristics. This checklist cannot predict success, but it can give you an idea of whether you will have a head start or a handicap with which to work.

How do you measure up? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Can I persevere through tough times?
  • Do I have a strong desire to be my own boss?
  • Do the judgments I make in life regularly turn out well?
  • Do I have an ability to conceptualize the whole of a business?
  • Do I possess the high level of energy that is sustainable over long hours?
  • Do I have significant specialized business experience?

While not every successful business owner starts with a “yes” answer to all these questions, three or four “no” responses and undecided answers should make you think twice about going at it alone right now. But, don’t be discouraged. Seek extra training and support, and enlist the help from a skilled team of business advisors such as accountants, bankers, attorneys and SCORE counselors.

Small business owners have many things in common. Below are some of the qualities you will need to be successful.

  • Willingness to sacrifice—If you enjoy working the nine to five, do not go into business for yourself. Entrepreneurship often requires many more hours beyond the forty-hour work week.
  • Interpersonal skills—You will be required to interact with a host of people other than customers, such as lawyers, employees, and salespeople. If you do not like talking to people you do not know, it might be better to keep your day job.
  • Leadership ability—You will be the one everyone turns to for the answers. Are you ready to call the shots?
  • Optimism—Being able to hang in there when business gets tough is an important quality in small business owners.

Compare your skills and expertise with others who are successful in similar businesses. Can you duplicate and surpass the capability of other successful businesses? What unique skills or “edge” can you provide to obtain a sufficient share of total market?

Review business journals, trade magazines and other comparative studies that identify the requirements to operate the business. From that information, derive a formula for the skills and traits you plan to incorporate into the business operation.

A business plan is important because it summarizes both your vision for the company and your blueprint for the company’s operating success. The business plan is a written guide that details the startup and the future direction of your company.Who should write the plan? You, the entrepreneur. No one else knows your business idea and goals better. Yes, there are services that can do the work for you, however, you are the one who must present this business idea to bankers or other investors. Therefore, it is best if you are very familiar and comfortable with the plan.

Although there’s no set format, a good business plan typically includes:

  • Cover page—Identifies your business
  • Table of contents—Organizes information for the reader
  • Executive summary—Provides a “big picture” view of the plan, highlighting the factors that will lead to success
  • Business background—If it is a brand-new business, include your background and skills
  • Marketing plan—Relates the business’s marketing strategy
  • Action plan—Summarizes how you will create and deliver your product or service
  • Financial statements and projections—Illustrates how the business will perform financially based on the plan’s assumptions
  • Appendix—Includes statistical analyses, marketing materials, and résumés.

The fact that a bank or lending institution requires a well-executed business plan is a secondary consideration. The primary purpose of the business plan is to guide the owner or manager in successfully operating the business. Preparing the plan forces the writer to consider all aspects of the business and to confront any problems the plan highlights.

For example, a monthly compilation of all known costs, over time, will indicate the revenue necessary to support these costs, plus a profit. This leads to the question of whether or not this revenue number is reasonable. If not, it may cast doubt on the viability of the venture itself.

The business plan is a vital management tool that enables the manager to anticipate situations before they become problems—or worse yet, emergencies.

No business operates without direct competition. There also may be indirect competition, which has a significant impact on customer’s buying decisions in your market.

Direct and non-direct competitors try to convince customers to buy their products or services instead of yours. It is in your best interest to learn more about the companies that are trying to reduce your take-home pay. List the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor.

Talk with friends, visit your competition, call for information about their products and analyze how they advertise. Next, take a sheet of paper and list the major competitors. Give each a rating, on a scale of one to 10, for product quality, process, advertising, price and customer satisfaction.

You can add other ratings that you feel are important.Your business can become more profitable by adopting practices you admire in competitor operations and by avoiding their mistakes. Some of your competitors have been in business successfully for many years.

Certainly, as a new or relatively new business, you can learn a lot from them.

To market your business, you must define your customer. To maintain consistent sales growth, you must become knowledgeable about your market. Develop an outline of your “typical” consumer:

  • What exactly is your market?
  • Where do the consumers come from (i.e. city centers, suburbs, tourists, international)?
  • What are customers buying patterns?
  • Why should they buy from you? Factors could include convenience, price, quality, service, etc.
  • Should you try to appeal to a niche market segment or the entire market?
  • Have you missed a new customer segment or special market?
  • How large is the potential target market (in units or dollars)? Is it growing, stable or decreasing? What percentage of the market do you have?

Research will provide answers that are not available from your business records and a financial analysis. Conduct research through trade associations, your local chamber of commerce, libraries or even ask for the help of a SCORE counselor. Pay attention to how competitors market to their customers. Perhaps, some of their marketing strategies can be adopted for your business, or you may find examples of what not to do.

When creating a marketing strategy, keep in mind the four P’s of marketing:

  • Product—What good or service will your business offer? How is that product better than those offered by competitors? Why will people buy/want it?
  • Price—How much can you charge? How do you find the balance between sales volume and price to maximize income?
  • Promotion—How will your product or service be positioned in the marketplace? Will your product carry a premium image with a price to match? Will it be an inexpensive, no-frills alternative to similar offerings from other businesses? What kinds of advertising and packaging will you use?
  • Place—Which sales channels will you use? Will you sell by telephone, or will your product be carried in retail outlets? Which channel will economically reach your market?

The marketing strategy should summarize your findings about the key target buyer description, market segments the company will compete in, the unique positioning of the company and its products compared to the competition, the reasons why it is unique or compelling to buyers, etc.

A marketing brochure can be long-lasting or short-term. It can represent your business to potential customers and it can be a referral piece for existing customers. Decide the purpose of and goals for the marketing brochure before you begin to design and write. Remember, this brochure represents you and your business, so be sure its look and feel complements your business.

Here are few tips for when you are ready to begin:

  • State your message up front—The selling message should appear on the cover of the brochure. For instance, “The XYZ Company—Consultants on Doing Business Overseas.”
  • Include artwork—If you have space limitations, one large photograph or graphic is better than several small images that might not clearly portray your services or products.
  • Photo captions—Photo captions are read twice as often as the main copy.
  • Create a keeper—Make your brochure worth keeping. Include a calendar of events in your specific industry or some data that will be useful to potential clients in the future.
  • Quality is key—Your publications reflect you and your business. Using one to four colors in the brochure will make it stand out over one that is black and white. A good quality paper stock is also important (and comes in many colors and shades if you choose to use black ink). Remember to consider the weight of the paper stock in relationship to mailing costs.

It is wise to have your brochure professionally designed. Even if you have computer graphic skills, design is best left to professionals.

Develop a strategy that puts the customer first. Customers will receive the best possible service when employees are empowered to make this happen. This is not to say that you should be lenient with your policies, but have a degree of flexibility. Just remember, a lost customer could spread the word of their discontent, resulting in more lost customers.Review the most common reasons for poor customer service. Use these insights as a way to improve your customer service:

  • Too many rules—Employees lack creativity in problem solving. Rules are followed and good solutions are not developed because employees do not want to jeopardize their jobs.
  • Lip service, not customer service—Customer service is really only a name for customer complaints. Time is spent trying to fix problems rather than preventing them from occurring in the first place.
  • Unempowered employees—Approval is needed by a manager for small problems that can easily be solved by a good employee. This problem leads to long lines and time-consuming waits by the customer, who then refuses to come back-business operations turns a small problem into a large one.
  • Unmotivated employees—Personnel are not encouraged to please the customer because there is no merit in it for them.
  • Bad communication—Coordination of functions does not exist-one person may write an order while another picks it off a warehouse shelf and someone else delivers it to the customer. This can result in miscommunication, incorrect goods or services, and time delays.
  • Arbitrary policies—Policies that are followed blindly without room for situational allowances may result in angry customers. For example, a store’s return policy of 30 days prevents a customer who, with good reason, could not get back to the store in time from receiving a refund. That customer will refuse to do business there anymore.

Businesses spend a great amount of time and money in recording their financial transactions. However, are these painstaking efforts finally worth it? Let’s explore what role accounting has to play in businesses.

Accounting is extremely important for recording the financial transactions in a business. Without accounting, you cannot display the financial health of your business to your stakeholders. Accounting is pivotal for various aspects and plays a crucial role in preparing the compiled financial statements.

What is accounting?

A practice of systematic maintenance of records of financial records of the company, summarizing records to compile the financial statements of the organization.

Lenders and banks: lenders and banks have to consider the financial health of an organization, on the basis of which loans are granted, considering the revenue earning capacity of the organization. All this is impossible without the existence of a proper accounting system. Previous records of book profits recorded, taxes paid, assets and liabilities of the company are carefully studied before granting the desired amount to the management.

Information to the investors: accounts and financial statements represent the organization in front of stake holders, such as investors, creditors, debtors, government, customers, and employees. Accounts act as a representation to these stakeholders, who are directly impacted by the company’s financial position. For example, an investor would watch the company’s performance before investing in its shares.

Plan your budget: budgets help businesses plan strategies, save money for expansion plans, and capital expenditure. It also sets warning signals in case the expenditure is exceeding unusually. Accounting will ensure maintenance of historical records which forms the basis of making and planning budgets.

Report profits: primary objective of any business is obviously to make profits. Statutory taxes such as income tax on profits are required to be paid mandatory by business. To ascertain the profit amount, accounting is a must.

Without accounting, your business will be like a ship without a radar, moving direction-less. Even in our day to day mundane activities we keep an account of our income and expenses. Small and big businesses alike maintain accounts to keep a tab on their financial position, which is the major motive of any business.

Interested parties can make reliable decisions on the basis of accounts. Of course, management sometimes may engage themselves in dressing up of accounts that with an intention to defraud the stakeholders. That is the reason law stipulates compulsory auditing of accounts for businesses exceeding a certain turnover, which might differ as per the relevant terms and conditions of that particular nation.

Accounting principles refer to comprehensive guidelines followed when preparing financial statements.

A common set of principles should be used for financial reporting of all companies in a certain country to ensure consistency and enable comparisons with other firms. The use of principles in accounting leads to transactions that show the true financial substance of the firm.

Some of the generally accepted accounting principles are foregone consideration, revenue recognition, matching, consistency and objectivity.

 

1. Comparisons

Firms that use accounting principles can easily compare their statements with other firms in the industry that use the same principles. This is because they have a common guideline for preparation of statements. Comparisons are important because they assist companies to gauge their financial performance with others and rectify where they go wrong. Inter-period comparisons also show the trend in performance from one period to another.

2. Control

The accounting boards that prepare accounting principles such as the Financial Accounting Standards Board are able to control preparation of financial statements. Control is essential because it prevents unethical accountants from preparing statements that do not reflect a true and fair view of the company’s financial performance. Incorrect statements may lead the firm into financial distress and bankruptcy.

3. Ease of Auditing

Companies that use accounting principles can easily be audited since the auditors already have knowledge of those principles. Auditors use these principles to audit financial statements of companies to ensure that the principles have been followed to the letter. Auditing is important to firms because they enable shareholders to ensure that their resources are utilized for the right purpose. Auditing is able to detect fraud and increases credibility of financial statements.

4. Flexibility

Accounting principles can be used in a variety of situations. For example, matching principle states that revenues and costs should be matched in the period in which they take place whether cash is received or not. This principle can be used in any type of business whether it is leasing or health care or banking because all firms incur expenditure and get revenues. Accounting principles can thus be used for unexpected transactions.

f you are wondering why you should pay close attention to your strategy, check out the following benefits.

Planning pays

Tracking your progress according to a set of criteria can help make sure that you are on track and growing. With a clear picture of what you expect your future to look like, you will always be aware of your priorities.

Helps in recognizing strengths and pain points

A good strategy can help you recognize your business’ selling points and pain points so that you can have a holistic view of what you are doing. It can help you stay updated on your progress, too.

Aids in assessing skills and talents

When you have a clear idea of your business’ growth, you will know what talent you need to work on. Strategically planning a business takes an unbiased and open mind.

Helps in managing resources

Businesses should realize that their resources might run out. With a great and complete strategy, you can prioritize the utilization of your resources. This way, the important things in your business are given priority over less important things.

Even though your business is running well, it is necessary to involve a business consultant. Today, many businesses are not sure whether they should hire consultants or not. Whether your business is small or big, you need to consider investing in consulting services

 

Here are some reasons why you need to hire one.

 

To help you plan for the future

 

Most companies lose sight of future goals. If your business has already lost focus on long-term goals due to numerous daily operations, you need to invest in a business consultant. A consultant will help you step back and invent strategies that will help the business grow and expand. Keep in mind that a business consultant has experience in working with a number of big companies. This means they know the best strategies to use to take your business to the next level.

To get an honest business view

 

If you would like to know the true position of your business, you need to engage professionals. Business consultants will give you a true and honest opinion of your company. Since they do not have a vested concern about the company; they will clearly state the true state of the business. This means you can rely on them for evaluations and third-party views concerning your business.

Consultants save you time and money

 

Companies that do not engage business consultants depend on trial and error techniques to operate their business. This is a costly and very tiresome process that might not work. You may spend weeks or months and a lot of money researching before having an effective strategy to use. Hence, the process is costly and time-consuming. On the other hand, a consultant has experience and skills needed to help your business expand and grow. He or she can also advise on the best strategy your business should take to maximize on income.

 

Take advantage of various opportunities

 

Most businesses fail to grow and expand for failing to notice various opportunities. However, when you engage a business consultant, you can be able to take advantage of all available opportunities.     Companies that fail to hire consultants lack plans to expand or offer their products and services in the best manner. Business consultants can help you design processes that will keep you ready for any new opportunities.

Be able to embrace change

 

Several businesses fear change, especially when implementing new strategies or operations. Also, some employees may fail to cooperate for fear of losing jobs. To enable change to happen smoothly, hiring a business consultant is very important. The consultants will train the employees on how to implement it and supervise the changes for the company to have a smooth transition. In addition, the employee gets a chance to learn new things and skills to be able to implement the new strategies.

Bottom-line   A business consultant brings a wide range of experience and skills to your new or existing business, helps your company to grow and expand, and offer impartial advice needed in any business.

There are many ways to solve management problems. Solving problems is not specifically a management task, but managers are faced with a lot of daily problems that need to be solved. As a manager you have a slightly different set of resources than your employees. So how do you, as a manager, go about solving your issues? There are ten ways to solve management problems.

Ways to Solve Management Problems

1. Prioritize Problems

Use the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) to prioritize problems and separate the trivial many from the vital few. Sure 100 things are going wrong, but if you can concentrate on the most important problems first, some of the rest will just go away in the process.

2. Focus on Problems You Control

Sort your issues based on how much control you have in order to focus on problems you can control. Why worry about problems that are out of your control?

For example: full control, partial control or no control.

Focus first on those problems you have full control over and ignore those you have no control over. You have to fix your department problems first. Don’t try to solve management problems in other areas before you have made sure your area is totally under control.

3. Utilize Root Cause Analysis

Using a structure problem solving methodology like root cause analysis (RCA) ensures you are solving the right problem right. If you try to solve management the wrong problems, this will not help you.

4. Make Decisions with Facts

Opinions can lead you astray. Be sure to collect data and make decision by hard facts.

5. Break the Problem Down

Big problems are harder to solve. Break the problem down into manageable parts that can more easily be solved. Divide and conquer.

6. Use Your Team

You are smarter as a group than as any one individual, so empower your employees to involve your whole team to solve management problems.

7. Break out of Your Paradigm

Any problem can be solved using the right paradigm. If you are up against an impossible problem then change your paradigm to find the solution. Learn to recognize your own paradigms and break free from them.

8. Obtain Objective Input

Sometimes a fresh new look at the problem from someone outside of your area can provide the insight missing to solve your problem.

9. Consider All Possibilities

Solutions that may not have worked in the past may work today. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking — if it was tried before it can’t work. It might just work this time. Consider all of your possibilities when trying to solve management problems.

10. Hire a Consultant

If all else fails, then maybe its time to hire a consultant. Consultants bring an objective viewpoint free of your internal politics. Consultants have a wider range of tools to use like value stream mapping. And consultants have experience solving problems encountered at other companies (and yes I am available…).

If you are having trouble improving your processes, certifying to ISO standards, or implementing lean, or improving any steps of your process then contact us. We will be happy to bring an objective viewpoint, improvement tools and experience gained from solving problems encountered at other companies. We have a lot of ways to solve management problems.

Even though your business is running well, it is necessary to involve a business consultant. Today, many businesses are not sure whether they should hire consultants or not. Whether your business is small or big, you need to consider investing in consulting services

 

Here are some reasons why you need to hire one.

 

To help you plan for the future

 

Most companies lose sight of future goals. If your business has already lost focus on long-term goals due to numerous daily operations, you need to invest in a business consultant. A consultant will help you step back and invent strategies that will help the business grow and expand. Keep in mind that a business consultant has experience in working with a number of big companies. This means they know the best strategies to use to take your business to the next level.

To get an honest business view

 

If you would like to know the true position of your business, you need to engage professionals. Business consultants will give you a true and honest opinion of your company. Since they do not have a vested concern about the company; they will clearly state the true state of the business. This means you can rely on them for evaluations and third-party views concerning your business.

Consultants save you time and money

 

Companies that do not engage business consultants depend on trial and error techniques to operate their business. This is a costly and very tiresome process that might not work. You may spend weeks or months and a lot of money researching before having an effective strategy to use. Hence, the process is costly and time-consuming. On the other hand, a consultant has experience and skills needed to help your business expand and grow. He or she can also advise on the best strategy your business should take to maximize on income.

 

Take advantage of various opportunities

 

Most businesses fail to grow and expand for failing to notice various opportunities. However, when you engage a business consultant, you can be able to take advantage of all available opportunities.     Companies that fail to hire consultants lack plans to expand or offer their products and services in the best manner. Business consultants can help you design processes that will keep you ready for any new opportunities.

Be able to embrace change

 

Several businesses fear change, especially when implementing new strategies or operations. Also, some employees may fail to cooperate for fear of losing jobs. To enable change to happen smoothly, hiring a business consultant is very important. The consultants will train the employees on how to implement it and supervise the changes for the company to have a smooth transition. In addition, the employee gets a chance to learn new things and skills to be able to implement the new strategies.

Bottom-line   A business consultant brings a wide range of experience and skills to your new or existing business, helps your company to grow and expand, and offer impartial advice needed in any business.

Even though your business is running well, it is necessary to involve a business consultant. Today, many businesses are not sure whether they should hire consultants or not. Whether your business is small or big, you need to consider investing in consulting services

 

Here are some reasons why you need to hire one.

 

To help you plan for the future

 

Most companies lose sight of future goals. If your business has already lost focus on long-term goals due to numerous daily operations, you need to invest in a business consultant. A consultant will help you step back and invent strategies that will help the business grow and expand. Keep in mind that a business consultant has experience in working with a number of big companies. This means they know the best strategies to use to take your business to the next level.

To get an honest business view

 

If you would like to know the true position of your business, you need to engage professionals. Business consultants will give you a true and honest opinion of your company. Since they do not have a vested concern about the company; they will clearly state the true state of the business. This means you can rely on them for evaluations and third-party views concerning your business.

Consultants save you time and money

 

Companies that do not engage business consultants depend on trial and error techniques to operate their business. This is a costly and very tiresome process that might not work. You may spend weeks or months and a lot of money researching before having an effective strategy to use. Hence, the process is costly and time-consuming. On the other hand, a consultant has experience and skills needed to help your business expand and grow. He or she can also advise on the best strategy your business should take to maximize on income.

 

Take advantage of various opportunities

 

Most businesses fail to grow and expand for failing to notice various opportunities. However, when you engage a business consultant, you can be able to take advantage of all available opportunities.     Companies that fail to hire consultants lack plans to expand or offer their products and services in the best manner. Business consultants can help you design processes that will keep you ready for any new opportunities.

Be able to embrace change

 

Several businesses fear change, especially when implementing new strategies or operations. Also, some employees may fail to cooperate for fear of losing jobs. To enable change to happen smoothly, hiring a business consultant is very important. The consultants will train the employees on how to implement it and supervise the changes for the company to have a smooth transition. In addition, the employee gets a chance to learn new things and skills to be able to implement the new strategies.

Bottom-line   A business consultant brings a wide range of experience and skills to your new or existing business, helps your company to grow and expand, and offer impartial advice needed in any business.

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