One way to succeed in the marketplace is to develop your own ideas, try them, and keep the ones which work. This is laborious and time-consuming.
A smarter way is to use standard ideas that have brought success to other businessmen in the past.
The following are tips I compiled for a project years ago. I’ve streamlined them, so you can read them quickly.
So here they are!
Make a plan.
You have a massive resource for research: the internet. You have the greatest writing tool ever invented: the PC. Marker-pens and paper are dirt-cheap. So, draw your future.
Write a pathway for the next year. Decide what you will do and not do. Sleep on it and then revise the plan.
No plan means you’ll just react to circumstances and your own random ideas. This means you are more likely to fail.
Critique the unique.
If no one has ever done it before, there may be a good reason.
Do exhaustive research before you try something unique.
Research the market.
You think you can sell woolly mittens to Aborigines? Research up-front is cheap.
Buying £20k of gloves and marketing them, only to find there’s no demand? Expensive.
Start your business while you’re still employed.
Have money set aside that will keep you going when you have zero income and large outgoings. Save up enough to last you a YEAR.
Choose your business name wisely.
Make sure it has the right connotations in the country you’re selling in. ‘Nova’ means an exploding star in English. In Spanish it reads as ‘doesn’t go.’
A unique spelling will help get you higher in internet searches e.g. ‘Tail Gooner’ vs ‘Tail Gunner’. You will always be found by people searching for your unique name.
‘Best Dry Cleaners’ is not memorable. ‘Zest 121’ is better.
Get clients before you start.
You can’t assume you’ll get them after you’ve set up the business. Start before you ‘start.’ Start marketing and networking before you put up your shingle.
Write a business plan.
You need one to get loans and it will help you think things through. If it doesn’t look good on paper, then it won’t work in real-life. You’ve just saved yourself a lot of heartache.
Change the plan.
Circumstances change. You have certain ideas. The world may have different ones. Be flexible.
Adapt, survive and progress.
Take calculated risks.
Ask: “What’s the downside?”
The worst-case scenario will tell you how much you stand to lose. You can then proceed in peace.
Playing safe may lose you the game. Doing exactly what everyone else is doing means you can’t beat them. The other guy could be a ninny. Or just wrong. He could be copying trends that have now peaked.
Jump, after calculating your landing zone.
If you’re happy in your gut the next day, with the decision you made, keep going.
Define your goals.
What do you want to achieve. £70k by year-end? 2000 sales in 6 months? The front cover of Time magazine in year 3?
Setting goals and writing them down makes them more real, and thus, realisable.
Analyse your competition.
To succeed, you need to take market share from them. See what they’re doing and copy obvious good ideas. Keep in mind they might not know what they’re doing, so don’t copy everything they do!
Line up the money, first.
Don’t look for investors after you start. You will find banks don’t like new ideas or people without a track record.
Go pro from the get-go.
Would you lend £10k of your own money to some guy with a bad haircut, no history and no business plan?
– Polished shoes;
– Business cards;
– Phone number;
– Email address;
– Office address.
All of these should reflect the optimum in your business niche. Get comfortable with looking smart. Financial guys dress one way, marketers another.
If something is jarring in the picture you present, it puts people off, especially money-men. They get pitched all the time and are looking for ways to filter out losers.
That’s you, if you turn up in sneakers and ask for £50k.
The only people who can get away with being slobs are creative types. And they still make investors nervous.
Sort out the tax and legal stuff from the start.
A fat unexpected tax-bill in year 2 has sunk many businesses. Be prepared.
Tracking progress mathematically over time helps you govern your business. You keep that which helps profits and you cut overheads.
Partner with similar-sized companies.
A big partner will eat you up. You will try to compete with them. You will try to eat up a partner smaller than you. This is time-consuming.
Partner with people on the same level as you.
Have a partner exit strategy.
A parting of the ways will come. It’s inevitable. Plan yours in advance.
Don’t have a partner.
Most partnerships don’t work and can hamper speed and creativity.
Don’t buddy up in a way that causes big problems later on e.g. you get saddled with a partner who has 50% of the shares and is also a lazy ass.
Hire the right people.
Suit the man to the task.
A nerd won’t make a good salesman but an extrovert will. Don’t force people into roles which their character and CV show they aren’t suited for.
Retain good employees.
Reward successful ones. Praise them, pay them, give them bonuses. You spent a year training them, by haranguing them? Then don’t be surprised if they quit. You better hope you got your investment in them back before that happens.
The slave-driver method might work for some businesses, that can survive high staff turnover, like restaurants. It doesn’t suit tech or professions.
Employees are not property.
Slavery ended a long time ago. You can hector and finesse your employees but you can’t take offense if they quit.
You spent money and time on training them. Fine. You still don’t own them. They are giving your their time and effort in return for your money. That’s it. They have hopes and dreams and families to support.
An employee who misses his son’s graduation to finish a report for you is supine and you are a martinet to demand that he do so.
A mix of staff.
Hire people who are smarter than you. Hire people with different characters and expertise. Your company can then adapt and survive future circumstances better than one which is full of nerds or salesmen only.
You can’t do it all yourself. A set of diverse talents around you doing the heavy lifting is what you need.
Hire for attitude.
Skills can be acquired, but attitude is set in stone.
Listen to your staff.
Staff old and new may come up with good ideas, or point out real problems. If what they say rings true, heed it.
Most staff are ‘phoning it in, but even a dullard occasionally has good idea.
You can’t think outside your own head. So, cherry-pick your staff’s ideas.
Don’t heed everybody.
You don’t know everything. Everyone knows something. Pick people’s brains. But if the janitor offers you stock tips, pass!
Most people don’t think; they just react to circumstance. Don’t heed everything you hear.
Just because someone is vehement about something doesn’t mean they’re right.
Exorcise psychic vampires.
Any vampires in your company, give them the boot. These are the people who complain, depress, whine, drag down and disrupt any initiative. They leech energy. They perk up, while you pass out.
Don’t confuse them with mere worriers. Worriers can see what can go wrong but, overall, they want you to succeed. They may have good ideas that stop you making serious errors.
The vampire, on the other hand, just leeches energy from everybody and everything. They may not do this consciously, but the effect is the same.
Exorcise the demon!
Have trusted advisors.
Have at least one person you can bounce ideas off. You need to check if you’re being sensible. A lone obsessive soon goes off track.
Meetings, forums, group, conferences, communities; if you find one that’s energising and relevant, stick with it. Otherwise, leave.
One way to get people to do things for you is by offering them something in return: your time, expertise and encouragement.
If you get nothing back, leave.
They call back if they care.
Give them a reminder call.
It’s possible to badger people into agreeing to a deal, if you’re persistent and they’re weak. If they don’t follow up, after two reminders from you, then they don’t care. Learn when to lay off.
Don’t take it personally. People are much more interested in their own needs than they are in yours.
Match your offering to their needs if you want someone’s co-operation.
– Write down ideas in a notebook, as you have them. Don’t rely on memory.
– Make a to-do list. Tick it off daily.
– Use a calendar to set dated goals.
Early to bed, early to rise.
This is true: “An hour before 12 is worth two afterwards”. Give the body what it needs to be alert. A refreshing sleep makes problems solvable and improves your mood. You will have better ideas.
Being sleep-deprived is like being intoxicated. Who makes business decisions while they’re drunk? Yet millions of businessmen think working late and rising early is a key to success!
They’re wrong. And because they’re zombies, they can’t see that.
Eat refreshing food.
Some foods you eat makes you feel tired, or even ill. Some food makes you feel better. Not eating makes you irritable and weak.
Guess which is better for your business?
Time, money and energy will be required to push your business into solvency.
Give great service.
– Reply to enquiries quickly.
– Offer small bonuses to good clients.
– Have someone pleasant and lively answer your calls.
Get existing customers to buy more.
They bought something once. That makes them much more likely to buy again.
Don’t focus 100% on new leads. Re-visit old contacts with new goods or add-ons.
A bad builder has to constantly advertise. A good one is booked up for months.
The best product or service is inherently sellable. Mediocrity has to constantly advertise.
Ideas, alone, are worth nothing.
You can’t copyright them. They’re not a work of art. Anyone can have the same idea as you. It’s only worth something if it’s put into effect.
Make a merely plausible idea work as quickly as you can, with your current resources. Don’t wait for a supposedly brilliant idea to grow by itself.
Copycats mean you’re on to something.
A great business gets cloned. If they’re not copying you, something is wrong. Copyright litigation is the price of great success.
Profit is the only true measure.
Weekly, monthly, yearly profit; these are the only worthwhile indicators of success.
“40,000 signups”, “No. 1 in Google”, “5000 likes”? Only trivialists and the simple-minded value these.
Loving what you’re doing helps you keep going.
Your energy will keep your project going. If you don’t like it, it might be successful short term anyway (if you’ve found an untapped niche) but the energy comes from the top.
Keep going after the initial excitement has gone.
Entrepreneurs sometimes drop good projects. They don’t have the grit to keep going.
A successful business isn’t a constant holiday party.
If you’re on target to make a fat net profit, keep the project going. Go skiing if it’s thrills you want.
Keep pushing after breaking even.
Businessmen often slow down after reaching their breaking-even point. There no guarantee it’s profit all the away, after.
Keep going. Don’t let up on your momentum.
Ride the momentum all the way.
When you have a small initial success, keep pushing as far as you can go.
Don’t stop. You may be surprised where you end up.
Cannibalise failed projects.
Shut them down smoothly. Don’t leave parts online. Maintain a professional image. Move any useful assets to the next project.
One possible exception: leave as-is a website full of useful content, which has lots of backlinks, which doesn’t takes the shine off your latest project and which doesn’t require expensive maintenance.
Use it to direct relevant traffic to the new site. A backlink to the new site will help the new site rank in search engines.
Promote before the launch.
Start building a community before you sell an item. Social media is for socialising. So, promote your new project on there.
Focus on the positive, learn from the negative. Drop behaviours that don’t work.
Embrace people who help your cause and drop those who don’t. To master your environment you must first master yourself.
Then, whether disaster or success strikes, you will react the same: with tranquility.
Skim the business pages. Lurk in a leading forum. Subscribe to a couple of newsletters. But beware wasting time online!
Here and there the future emerges from the noise of the crowd. It will surprise most people. It shouldn’t surprise you.
Announce your success.
Mass media is very crowded. Blow your own trumpet. No one else is going to do it for you.
Success is attractive. Attract more people by announcing yours.
Fear is the body’s way of avoiding harm. Sometimes it’s rational. Often it’s neurosis. You will one day die. Today’s fretting is petty, by comparison.
What you are worrying about now will soon be memories and dust. So, be brave today!
Maintain your energy level.
Sleep, good food, positive people, bright prospects; get these and drop people, habits or things that militate against them.
Be self-sustainable before asking for funding.
Angel investors will put unwanted pressure on you when you have negative cash-flow. In the early days, get money from friends, family and fools instead.
When you are self-sustaining, then announce you want investors. They’ll come running. Everyone wants a part of a business that’s already in the black.
Become a brand.
People relate to other people. “Does this person like me and do I like this person?” is a basic human attitude.
Hitler and Charlie Chaplin became icons. People could imitate them in 5 seconds. How long would it take for Joe Public to do an impression of you?
When people start imitating you, you’ve made it.
Come up for air.
Climb a hill and see where the trail leads. Don’t confuse being busy, with accomplishment. It’s possible to be a busy fool.
Too much work? Business turning a profit? Time to hire help!
Separate work from home.
A business is a means to earn security for yourself and loved ones. It’s sad and stupid if it becomes the entire focus of your life. You may also get burned out.
9 to 5, Monday to Friday developed because that’s as much as an average person can work without getting ill.
The geniuses who work ‘all the hours that God sends’? They’re constantly ill, are more prone to psychological problems and probably won’t live to see their grandchildren take their first steps.
But, hey, they’ll be rich, right?
Well, a man with a million bucks and a stomach ache is as miserable as any pauper.
Is your investor your master?
An investor will buy your market share, clients and contracts. In exchange for money you will provide support for a limited period and then you’ll be out.
An angel will buy your brains and work for several years, in exchange for money and maybe his know-how.
Different time points, different roles.
Watch your cash-flow.
No money = no business. Know where you can get cash from in an emergency.
If you are constantly running on fumes, you’re eventually going to halt.
Know approximately how much you’re going to have at bank in 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and 1 year. Factor yearly expenses into your projections e.g. tax returns.
That little splurge you made on an office refurb may cost you in dearly 6 months.
Invest excessive savings.
Money is credit in a bank. It can disappear at any time. It’s losing value all the time, due to inflation.
Invest excess money in something that will add value in itself e.g. marketing, product enhancements, a share portfolio.
Hire a good accountant.
Hint: your best friend’s cousin’s bookkeeper probably isn’t one.
You need an expert who treats your money as a sacred trust. Even then, don’t trust him.
Ask him for updates constantly. Make sure you know where you money is and how much you have access to now.
Get clarity. If you don’t understand what he’s saying, make him explain it in simple terms.
Your embarrassment and his feelings are utterly irrelevant, compared to what will happen if he’s a crook or incompetent.
Make long term deals.
Subscriptions are king. Having £5k coming in monthly is much better than hoping for a £10k deal as-and-when.
Find and maintain a pool of stable clients. A stable cash-flow makes starting new projects much easier.
Buy high-quality, near new, second-hand equipment.
Cheap brands waste more money than they save. They break down and you waste time and money on repairs. They will need replacing sooner.
Top brands, bought second-hand and a year old, are different.
Electronics, white goods and vehicles depreciate so fast it’s frightening. Save thousands by buying other people’s near-new discards. Fit out your office with the product of someone else’s reckless spending.
Budget x 2.5.
Set a generous budget for your project and then multiply it by two-and-a-half.
Real Life will intrude on your parsimony. Unforeseen expenses arise. Sudden success means you have to add more resources. Building projects never run to time.
Money saved is money in your pocket. Startups which spend money on espresso machines and table-tennis sets are stupid. In month 8 you may bitterly regret the money you wasted in month 3.
Bored? Then bail out.
A bored entrepeneur is a bored employee working for a bored boss: himself. You start letting things slide and you finish up filing for bankruptcy.
Be prepared to lose, and then move on.
Human psychology works like this: “I put so much time and money into this, I must stick with it.” Rationally, just because you sunk your life-savings into it, doesn’t mean you’re owed a payback. The universe may have other ideas.
Your time, money and energy are finite. While you’re flogging a dead horse the other guy has changed mounts and is speeding on his way.
Contracts: Learn how to to write, understand and sign them.
If it’s not on paper, it doesn’t exist. If it’s not clear on paper, there will be conflict later. It should also be clear in your head.
Find out what legal terms mean, exactly.
Learn how to Say ‘No.’
If you don’t want X, say so! ‘No’ is a powerful word. People heed you when you say ‘no’, with finality.
We live in a world of liars, ditherers, crowd-pleasers, leeches and soft-soapers. If you’re always giving, people will assume they can always take and get offended when you eventually DO say no.
Directness is refreshing. Don’t be the goof that gives his life away because he couldn’t say no.
Follow your gut instincts.
Your instinct is your subconscious mulling over a problem while the conscious mind is gawping at seagulls.
Your brain has processed 30 million gigabytes of information while you were distracted and has come to a conclusion: Yes or No.
Your competitors might not actually know what they’re doing.
Therefore, don’t copy them blindly.
Quality over quantity.
The world is currently competing on price. It’s a race to the bottom. This inevitably means lower quality.
Low quality = poor brand image;
Low quality = disgruntled customers;
Low quality = more competition = low sales;
Low quality = cheap = lower margins.
Conversely, what do consumers get excited about? What fills their dreams?
Gucci, Apple, Prada, Marilyn Monroe and space travel!
YOU will be happy about your product. You will be able to say “it’s the best”. This helps sales.
Your customers will be happy and, more importantly, they won’t bug you for technical support or refunds.
A luxury car salesman only has to sell 10 cars a year to make a living. A used-car salesman? 100.
Investigate modern technology.
Technology is best used to automate boring, repetitive, labour-intensive tasks.
This saves time, and thus, money. You can employ people to do more interesting tasks. This makes for a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.
Technology can also make your product more interesting. Who knew a simple phone could be modified to do so many things?
Be pound-wise, penny-foolish.
Watch your outgoings, but don’t sweat small, occasional expenses. Totting up the petty cash while sales flatline is stupid.
Don’t be the moron who writes memos about staff using too much tea and coffee but buys a company Maserati for the chief executive: himself!
Follow up referrals, fast.
Don’t let your leads go cold. Your actions reflect on the referrer and he’s done you a favour; don’t make him look bad.
Call your referral in good time.
Watch your sales cycle.
Every business has slow periods. During these, plan your next marketing campaign.
Plan, time and budget large purchases.
These can create a hole in an otherwise solvent balance sheet.
Treat time as you would money. In a way, it’s more valuable. You can never create more time, but there’s no limit to the amount of money you can make.
Add time to deadlines.
You’re pretty sure you can deliver on Friday? Tell the client Monday. That gives you some leeway. If you deliver on Friday, you look efficient. If you deliver on Monday, you’re a still a man of your word.
Revise your budget.
You have your own ideas. The world may have others. Previous budgets are only a starting point for future ones. You can’t predict the future but you can organise your response to any and every eventuality.
Be visible where your customers congregate.
Often, these days, it’s online.
Why do big brands sponsor sport events? Because they’re fun? No, it’s because that’s where people are looking, looking, looking.
Be out front.
Advertising costs money. A lot of money. You can promote your business and save thousands if you’re prepared to be a public personality.
Shyer businessmen have to pay though the nose for column inches which extroverts get for free.
Get professional help when it gets too complex.
You don’t need an accountant or lawyer every time you leave the office but you do need one when there’s important paperwork to sign and you’re not 100% sure of the implications.
Eyes on the prize, Don’t let tantalising side-ventures side-track you. Your time is limited. You can’t do 5 jobs equally well. Do one exceptionally well.
Know what you can do. Do what you know.
Create a business around your expertise. Showbiz might be ‘sexy’, to a frustrated accountant, but he’s going to be beaten into the ground by people whose families have being doing it for three generations.
Sick people are no use to anyone. Even a cold affects your judgement. Being ill means you will do less and want to do less.
No more junk food. Eat your vegetables and take some exercise. Observe the difference in your attitude.
Tell the truth.
Emphasise the positive, deal with the negative and don’t be a braggart. You can tout yourself but don’t be ‘all hat and no cattle’.
Some people aren’t fools and there are fewer fools in business. They’ll find you out if you’re a liar.
Keep it up and you’ll have to leave town if you want to start again. You’ll never know the opportunities you missed because you telegraphed that you were not a sound person to do business with and ‘they saw you coming’.
Outlast the competition.
Offer great service, offer high quality, watch your overheads, manage your image. Watch as your competitors fold after year 2.
Some people start with a bang and then go bust. We eventually find out who’s ‘all flash and no cash.’
Know when to fold.
Learn from your mistakes, then walk away from them. If it’s not working and hasn’t worked for a year, it might be time to close it down and start again.
First impressions count. So do the the second, third and fourth.
People are bamboozled by advertising. There are so many messages to filter. Your message should be attractive and stay that way with subsequent interactions.
Your second encounter with a customer is when they have a problem. How you handle that will determine whether you keep them long term.
The customer is often wrong.
The mantra ‘the customer is always right’ was written to encourage emollient customer service, in the era of the small shopkeeper.
The customer, however, is often wrong.
– They want a bargain they don’t deserve;
– They want your goods for too low a price;
– They want to make a deal that will make a lot of work for you;
– They are ignorant, uneducated or simply mad.
They have found that customer service is supine, everywhere, so they take their frustrations out on the staff.
They spend 30 minutes on the phone with your staff over something that could have been sorted in 5 minutes by email.
Because ‘the customer is always right’!
The internet means they can send a 400 word email, which asks 10 questions, to 5 companies and end up buying from none.
You need to work out when your staff can put their foot down. A small percentage of bonehead enquirers can take up a lot of time. This type is used to dealing with ‘the customer is always right’ companies and probably hasn’t been told to take a hike before.
NB: Be civil. The first one to get angry, loses.
Work out what your policy is going to be regarding yammerers, cheapskates, crooks, nutcases, ignoramuses and simpletons and have your staff recite it calmly as the need arises.
For example, you can simply state that you exist to make a profit. No one can argue with that. Take pride in what you’re selling and don’t give it away for beans. People respect calm authority.
You will find people tend to back down when they realise you might not want their custom, after all.
You will also find that as your business expands you can drop truly problematical clients and life becomes much more pleasant.
Pick up the phone.
A phone call makes you more real to your client.
Is your client having a serious problem? Don’t try to fix it by email. Emails can quickly escalate into arguments. A phone call cuts to the quick of the problem, while you are still friends.
Emails should be used for the boring technical stuff, after a relationship has been established.
Your sales staff should have a process whereby they filter out dud prospects, leaving the gold. A set of questions, pre-prepared, will save a lot of time later.
Get paid upfront.
At least get a deposit. It’s stupid to sell a valuable good or service to someone for nothing and then have to chase them later, yet it seems to be a norm, at least in the UK.
Only charity cases should be let run up a tab. Everyone else pays upfront. In cash!
Always be polite.
The one who loses the argument is the one who gets angry, first.
Bark only when you are very sure it will help matters. Even if you’re right, people will use the fact that you were mean to them, against you.
Be ruthless with your ‘baby.’
You made this business. You put a lot of yourself into it. This can be a problem when radical change is needed.
Be dispassionate. Mothers and artists can coddle their creations. It’s madness to do this with a business.
Not everything will work out the way you want it. Learn to cope. You can’t control events but you can control your reaction to them.
Put out the fire while ninnies are running around screaming. Then take some time out, sit on a park bench and watch the children playing. They’re not worrying about tomorrow. Neither should you.
Worry is a product of anxiety. Anxiety is fear about the future. It moves us to act. This is good. We meet the reavers armed and ready, instead of waiting to be attacked.
Constant anxiety is irrational, however. It wastes energy at times when we can’t do a thing about the source of our fear. We also worry about things that are not important. This is a product of our ‘shut-in society’; small things loom large in a small space.
Take a break. Stand back. You will find that ‘problems’ often sort themselves out without your doing a thing.
One of the things laid against American president Jimmy Carter was that he was fretting about things like the White House tennis court scheduling while he was in office. He agonised. Publicly. He was extraordinarily moralistic.
Contrast this with Ronald Reagan, who used to sleep 12 hours a day and made a joke about nuking Russia on a radio broadcast.
One is famous for his bad handling of a kidnapping crisis is Iran. The other is famous for facing down the USSR and seeing it crumble.
When you’re making a major advertising push your secretary’s family problems are zero on the scale of priority.
Try to be more jovial. This word is derived from Jove, the senior Roman god, who was benevolent and jolly, at least notionally.
Is the building on fire? Well, don’t add to the panic by screeching and running around yourself! It doesn’t help.
Take a moment, think, then act.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
You have an idea. Check: does it already exist out there in some form?
If it does, and it’s making money, can you improve it?
It’s stupid to recreate it from the ground up. It’s short-sighted not to research it.
– You can make money making a better vacuum cleaner.
– You can make money solving problem X, a problem many people have and which they’ll pay money to have solved.
– You can make money saving people time, energy or money.
You can lose money merely duplicating something that already exists.
Truth is easier, in the end.
It takes a lot of energy and a good memory to maintain a lie. Be the best nerd, salesman, accountant, crackpot, designer or whatever, if that is your vocation.
If you care about people, show it. If you don’t, hide it and don’t pretend you do.
People like a curmudgeon who’s comfortable in his skin. You can state upfront “I am not comfortable around human beings generally. I like being alone”, and people will accept it, if they see you as … straight up.
They don’t like Mr Gung-ho who, every so often, lets the mask slip. He makes people uneasy.
Even a dog knows who truly likes him and who doesn’t.
One caveat: Contribute energy. Don’t be a vampire. Whatever your disposition, positive or negative, help the tribe get the food. Don’t hinder the hunt!
Keep your sense of humour.
Things go wrong. You can’t control everyone and everything. Laughter is the response to life’s absurdities.
All material endeavours end in the grave. Things decay and fall apart. Empires rise, shine briefly in the sun and then decline.
There can only be one winner and one second-place in business. Everyone else is an also-ran picking up the crumbs. If you can live on crumbs, tomorrow is another day when you might feast!
– The emperor proudly processes up the cathedral nave while his senior ministers know his mistress is working to undo him.
– The farmer looks at his rosy-cheeked family seated round his table and is content.
– The holy man of God dances in his rags in the square and makes a small child laugh.
Who’s the winner, here?
It’s not the miser in his mansion, fretting about his losses and gains.
Try your best, and if that doesn’t work, try something else!