I was one of the judges at the Scottish heat of the Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards today, and was really impressed with the standard of the entries. Everyone gave such impressive, confident pitches.
I was also asked to give a short talk on ‘What are the vital tasks that young businesses need to undertake in order to succeed?‘ I wrote this in preparation but ended up ‘winging it’ as usual, despite the butterflies in my stomach. Apologies to people in the audience if I rambled on; clearly I had not put as much work into my preparation as the finalists who were pitching.
Anyway, these are just my thoughts, please let me know if you agree, and do add your own ‘vital tasks’ too.
Find out what you really care about
What does success look like to you? Is it about making lots of money, is it about responding to a social issue? If you don’t care about your business, why should anyone else?
I’m not talking about writing a 64 page business plan that goes into minute detail and quotes endless market research statistics here. But you do need a guide for where you want to be, and how you are going to get there. At SIE, we favour the Business Model Canvas which is a very simple tool for mapping out the essential elements you need to consider.
Don’t be afraid to change your plan as you go. Sometimes, as you gain knowledge of what your customers and market really want, you need to change direction. But don’t keep changing direction. If you have to change too often, perhaps you need a complete rethink. Pivot, don’t spin!
If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business! Your product or service may not be ready yet, but the sooner you start to look for customers, the sooner you will know if your business idea has traction. But they have to be the right sort of customers, the sort that pay you money and appreciate you. Successful businesses want to get repeat business and referrals.
Do your potential customers/market know what you are selling? Is your message (and your product) simple to understand? Are you listening to what they are saying? Communication is a two way process, and listening to what customers want is a vital part of becoming a successful business (unless you are Ryanair!).
Get some money
Of course you need money to succeed, and the best money to get is from paying customers. However that may take a while, so what do you do to keep going in the meantime?
For those of you who have not been successful in this competition, don’t give up. Your businesses have great potential and there is plenty you can do without a lot of money. You don’t always need as much as you think. Think about what else you have, skills that you can share in order to get something in return. What help and resources you can you get? Maybe you can partner with someone? Don’t be afraid to ask – you need to become a ‘master asker’ (my favourite definition of an entrepreneur).
Staying still is not an option. You may be perfectly happy in your little niche, but If you don’t plan to grow, eventually someone will come along and take your business away. The world is a big place, but its accessible, so don’t be afraid to go beyond borders. Keep challenging yourself to take the next step, and the next, and the step after that. Be prepared to move outside your comfort zone – its only uncomfortable for a while.
Be the best
You probably already are an expert in something, whether that is whisky, wedding dresses or computational linguistics. But you need to be the best you can be in your business. Customers (yes, them again) need you to solve their problems and want to believe they are getting the best solution. What’s your USP, or ‘unique selling point’? What can you offer that no-one else can?
Find advisors you can trust
It’s great that there are plenty of people who will give you help and advice, It could be a bank manager, someone from a support organisation, even a friend or a family member. They may have a vested interest, they may be completely impartial. Listen to what they say, but also trust your own judgement. They may be highly recommended, but they need to be right for you. Take time to reflect. Sometimes the advice you get is wrong – you need to be able to believe in yourself and trust yourself above all.
Finally, just do it!
You won’t get everything right, every time, but you will always learn and do better the next time.