Starting a business is like sailing a freshly built ship into the open sea. You start with a brilliant idea, a dream to conquer the horizon. Then come the architectural blueprint and countless engineering intricacies. Finally, one fine day you roll out your ship into the sea — and come the storms.
Just like no two storms at sea are alike, no one can exactly prepare us for the exact challenges of entrepreneurship. However, just like a captain has all kinds of strategies, helpers, and gear to weather the storm, so does a business owner.
To understand what kinds of life-rafts you definitely need to stack aboard, I talked to business owners who brought their businesses up from challenging times. Here are their tips on dodging the biggest icebergs and sailing into calmer seas.
1. Set the compass with a business plan
When you’ve got a brilliant idea, moreover one that fills a gap in customers’ needs, it’s tempting to fill that gap with enthusiasm and hard work alone. In the present troubling days especially, countless small businesses launch thanks to an “aha moment” but lacking a thorough business plan.
Kim Chan, Founder and CEO of DocPro, advises business owners to balance goals with a practical guide of how to implement them: a thorough business plan and a financial model. These two are like the compass that keeps your ship following the steady, set course.
“Revisiting (or developing if you have not already got one) your business plan serves as a useful opportunity for an entrepreneur to carefully research the company’s existing or intended industry, market and competition, identify the factors that will account for its success and failure,” Chan says. “[It helps] plan ahead in terms of acquiring and managing human, physical, technological and financial resources that are needed to operate successfully.”
A business plan and financial model are also necessary when you’ve come to the point of seeking angel investors and venture capitalist (VC) investments. However, some business owners, like Shiv Gupta, CEO of Incrementors Web Solutions, advise against rushing with this strategy.
“Don’t offer out investment until you require it to survive to grow. Initially, I followed investors for the Startup Guide. But I finished up bootstrapping in a plan to commence the first guidebook, and I am so happy that I managed. At the end of the day, your experience as a founder is about higher than just rises and financial success. You will hold yourself better if you continue to control, especially in the initial stages.”
2.” Roger” your TA
The way a business uses feedback to continuously drive change has a big impact on sales and consequently, the financial stability of your business. If your business is up against a storm, don’t panic. Instead, start talking — and the best way is to “roger” your target audience (TA), ASAP.
“[Challenge] is a good learning tool,” says serial entrepreneur and president and co-founder of Enventys Partners Roy Morejon. “If a campaign isn’t taking off, use surveys, feedback, suggestions from friends and family to figure out what isn’t working. Then fix the problem and use PR to get the word out.”
In the era where plain advertisement no longer works and marketing is built on personalized offers, all outreach from a business to its target audience must be personalized. In 2021, we’ve come to the point where even a business’s phone number should be personalized (a personalized business number is called a vanity number and there’s nothing vain about it). Personalization is the kind of customer service a client doesn’t even know exists, except it does. It affects all aspects of your business. Even Google loves it since niche keywords are some of the easiest ways to build up SEO presence.
To get personalization right, the route is simple: ask your existing customers and your target audience directly. Don’t beat around the bush. Communicate with clients preferably through several live channels, says award-winning Product Manager Anna Miranchuk.
“It’s usually thoughtful, rather than spontaneous communication that gives the best results,” Miranchuk says. “At MightyCall, we use several successful feedback channels. Some, like our live support, e-mail, and feedback forms, are always available. When launching new functionality, we always include a feedback request right in the new interface.”
Learn to gather feedback, organize it, and directly act on it, so nothing gets put away in the drawer. Continue the feedback loop of tweaking and perfecting for as long as your business exists.
3. Find a “crew” to support your course (and cause)
Your crew is a lot more than the people on your ship or your colleagues. Think of your “extended crew” as basically any person who’s in some way relevant to your business idea. In business, your “extended crew” will help you out on two critical fronts: networking and crowdfunding. And these two are closely tied together.
Crowdfunding campaigns are gaining incredible popularity as a way to support startups and business ideas even prior to launch. However, if you plan to embark on a crowdfunding campaign to support your business idea, startup, or product, the choice of a crowdfunding platform is the last thing you have to worry about. It’s the preliminary networking that you’ve got to start with, and here’s the surprise: most people who’ll pitch into crowdfunding your business will be people you know.
“38% of startup founders report raising money from their friends and family.” — (Fundable)
Crowdfunding is often mistaken for a strangers-supported endeavor. In practice, most of the funds will come from your close and extended circles. In this aspect, Morejon notes the importance of timing as an urgency factor in crowdfunding campaigns.
“A good rule of thumb is to get 30% of the funding within the first 24 hours,” Morejon says. “Timing is critical, and you want to use the wave of momentum to your advantage.”
Since networking is essential to nailing those first crowdfunding campaign days, entrepreneurs suggest starting networking for a startup 6 months ahead of the crowdfunding launch. In those months, the vital thing is to engage in as many online networking communities as possible, form an email list of all contacts (personal and business) and get the word out about your brilliant idea and goal.
4. Pivot fearlessly when needed
A captain’s greatest asset is their ability to take responsibility for the whole ship in times of crisis. Quite often, this responsibility means taking evaluated risks which, in a naval environment, is nearly impossible to avoid.
In the ranks of business soft skills, entrepreneurs repeatedly rate adaptability as 2021’s primary survival skill — not least, because of the incredible challenge posed to small businesses with the pandemic.
What we’ve got to realize is that everyone comes into business with a dream, but like the college plan for a dream job, one person’s love boat becomes another’s Titanic. In other words, even with the best plan, an entrepreneur’s greatest tool in overcoming challenges is their ability to pivot and take responsibility for it.
Think it’s time to change or adapt your course? You’re not alone. Companies like Twitter, Wrigley’s, Starbucks, Pinterest, and HP are all examples of famous “pivots” that allowed once struggling companies to become breakthrough brands. A case in point is William Wrigley Jr., the entrepreneur we know as the founder of Wrigley’s gum brand. What most of us don’t know is that Wrigley started out as a humble baking soda and soap salesman in 1890s Chicago. His “improvised” idea of sending his soap customers (plus the whole phone directory of Chicago) free samples of chewing gum turned into the brilliant Eureka moment of becoming the ambassador for his own brand.
Just like an engineer twitches a problem over and over in their head before gaping at the solution in their dream, the “aha moments” of successful entrepreneurs come from thoughtful brainstorming. This is where online entrepreneur communities and competitor research kick in.
Online entrepreneur communities are a safe and simple environment to learn from each other’s experience, form business partnerships, and dive into a pool of business ideas. In its turn, competitor research helps to explore the industry, identify needs, and even combine several ideas into one perfected product.
Having a modern compass and map, steady communication with “land”, a network of “extended crew”, and the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions are the essentials for navigating — and taming — the wild seas of entrepreneurship.
As entrepreneur Mike Falahee puts it,
“Bruce Lee says to be like water. I’d take his word for it. Rigid things shatter. [Embrace change], learn how to see opportunity in adversity, and you can overcome anything.”
The sea here is a lot more than a metaphor. Because the entrepreneurship road brings the greatest reward to those who learn business from the forces of nature itself.
Angela Yurchenko is a business journalist and classical musician. In her personal writing, she shares stories of the human experience through the lens of emotional intelligence, philosophy, arts & culture. Find more of Angela’s writing on Medium and on her blog, Birdsong.
Image courtesy of energepic.com.