Lessons From An Entrepreneur: The 8 Keys To A Thriving vs. Dying Business
Many people ask me, "How did you do it?"
That is, how did I leave the comfort of a nice, corporate job (and salary, I might add) as Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for one of the top publishers in the US and launch a new business in a tough economy (back in March of 2009).
Launching a new business always lends itself to some apprehension. But now, more than ever, during such a volatile time when many businesses are closing their doors and millions are losing their jobs... makes it a tad more intimidating. However, my business didn't only survive, it thrived. And it is still flourishing. I had taken a company with $0 and catapulted it to more than a six figure revenue generator in only 10 months.
So, back to the original question, "How did I do it?"
Well, timing sure wasn't on my side. The state of our economy over the last few years makes it quite a challenge to get and keep clients. However, I owe the success of my business to a few critical drivers that I'm going to share with you. You can take these principals and apply or adapt them to your own business efforts as you see fit.
1. Market Smarter, Not Harder. This is a no brainer. Any start up entrepreneur will tell you they have little to no marketing budget. So how do you build your brand and create awareness? It's being a strategic AND creative thinker. And it's also taking something most companies have (that's content) and leveraging it. Using a systematic approach I developed called the SONAR Content Distribution Method TM
SONAR is simply taking your content and disseminating the release of it on the Web in a strategic and synchronized manner. The platforms you're releasing it to is targeted, highly visible, and free. This helps create a momentum in traffic, buzz, and then you help monetize that traffic though lead generation (or sales).
2. Relationship Cultivation. Networking, and tapping into your network, is key when launching a new business OR gaining market share with an existing business. I happen to have a very strong Rolodex of friends, colleagues, and professional acquaintances that helped create a good foundation for my launch efforts. They either hired me right off the bat as some of my very first clients OR referred me to their colleagues OR advertised my services to their lists. Always keep relationships open. Touch base with your network regularly. Offer assistance (gratis) if they have questions. People will reciprocate the gesture and it could lead to a multitude of benefits.
3. Strong Work Ethic/Reputation. People that know me... that I worked for... or know my experience, know what I bring to the table. They also know that I am committed to any task on my plate. It's a strong work ethic that people remember and helps build your reputation in whatever niche you're in. My reputation speaks for itself in the industry. And that doesn't just help with new business or referrals, but also helps with getting testimonials from those I worked with. Those testimonials are invaluable as a marketing tool on your website and in collateral material. Prospects can get a good idea of what to expect from those few "sound bites" about your work.
4. Leveraging Social Media. I have fully utilized social media. It's cost effective and casts a wide net. Where else can you get your message out to the masses for zero advertising cost? I've had the most success with LinkedIn.com as well as doing free press releases (that get picked up by bloggers and online news aggregators). LinkedIn is a professional networking community. I joined several "groups" where my target client would be and started writing relevant, useful articles. Soon, people started contacting me (on average 5 per week) with requests for proposals. I actually had so much success with LinkedIn I spoke on the subject matter at the SIPA Mid-Year Marketing Event this past December in Miami. If you're interested in a copy of that presentation, please contact me.
5. Contribute Content. I happen to enjoy writing and enjoy sharing my knowledge. In addition to syndicating my blog's content on the Web, I also reached out to relevant marketing newsletters and magazines and asked about being an editorial contributor or guest author, providing strong, valuable editorial. I also speak at industry conferences. From these efforts I gain exposure for my business, build credibility, and also get leads.
6. Business Basics. Create a strategic plan. Determine where you want to be in 1 or 2 years and what tactics you're going to do to achieve your goal. Go over your break-even point per month and how many clients/customers it will take to maintain or exceed that point. Keep little overhead. Establish a "true" home office. Share office space. Rent space or time at a business office center. Or get a "virtual office". When you're just starting out, cash flow is vital. If you need to outsource work, look into college interns related to the field you're in or bid out jobs in places like elance.com or ifreelance.com.
7. Confidence is Crucial. I don't just talk the talk, I walk the walk. I can back up everything I say by my past experience and future actions. Bottom line: I'm damn good at what I do and I make people money. I know it, and the companies or clients I've worked for (that take my advice and implement what I recommend) know it. This comes, however, with being in the marketing world for over 16 years. It also comes with being an accomplished professional. Once you have several successful tenures under your belt you know your worth and can set a value for your time. There's a difference between being confident and cocky. Confidence is self assured. Cocky is obnoxious. You need to know the difference and become your own advocate. This is conveyed in all that you do and is transparent to potential prospects.
8. Balancing Act. Any start-up business can be a drain on your life and family. A lot of time and effort goes into the launch, maintenance, and client relationship management. Then of course there's the administrative functions like daily accounting and record keeping. But it doesn't have to be that way. Make sure you set specific time for your work and time for your family. When work is done, leave it in the office (even if your office is another room of your house). Enjoy time with your loved ones and soon you all can reap the rewards of a successful company.
After all, you work to live, not live to work!