Do you have the mettle to mold a startup?

The dream of starting your own business is so common that nearly everyone has their canned daydream of leaving their day jobs and starting out into the great unknown. The economic downturn pulled the curtain back on many seemingly “safe” and “stable” jobs, encouraged many to jump ship and decided to start their ventures; realizing that perhaps the devil you don’t know might be a better option for long term financial stability. Of those who made that leap of faith, many found the realities of starting their own businesses to be far different than the fantasy. Once they got beyond the obvious lifestyle shift, perhaps waking up an hour later than usual and also working in pajamas, or hopping out midday for a workout, reality soon sank in. In the new world of self-employment, the buck stops with you. Every decision is yours. Every victory and of course every failure is also yours. That alone may be too daunting for some, but for those who have not yet decided whether to embrace the opportunity to become an entrepreneur, we have laid out a blueprint that might help make that decision.

We’ve outlined the top 10 behaviors and activities that we believe are essential to sustaining the day to day, real-world requisites of starting and then running your own business.

  1. Capital. It almost goes without saying, but if you have no funds in reserve, you will not be positioned to sustain yourself thorough the ramp up period of a startup. Period. The amount may vary depending on your lifestyle and of course geography. Not only will you need to sustain yourself, you’ll need to invest in your startup simultaneously. So, we recommend a year of living expenses plus additional capital to pay for the essentials to jump start your business. The type of business you are starting will of course determine the costs you will need in your coffers. Talk with someone who is running a similar business to understand the realistic startup costs. Remember: nothing ever goes 100% as planned, so give yourself a financial cushion in order to pay for the course correction. An expensive mistake could stop your entire process if you do not have the funds to overcome it.
  2. A Vision: Most would think vision is #1 but for the purposes of being pragmatic if you have no capital to invest, vision is probably irrelevant. So, back to vision. Vision is that first step in building the framework for your business. Your vision is your end result, your product, your storefront, your polished deliverable. From there you will need to work backwards to fill in the roadmap of your startup plan. But before you do that, you need to vet your vision. Is it realistic? Do you have the skills or the network to realize this vision or would it be better suited in someone else’s hands, someone with more experience? Is your vision based on any aspect of your experience? If not, it will be imperative for you to leverage and probably pay for expert advice in the area in which you do not have a clear understanding or background. Does your vision represent more than one basic outcome? If so you will need to dissect each of the parts and determine what must come first. You don’t build 15 pizza shops in your first year, you start with one and test and learn to see what works and what doesn’t before rolling out the remaining stores. Get clear on your vision and then be prepared for it to change. What if pizza isn’t as lucrative as Chinese food? Is your objective to make pizzas or to run a food establishment that can provide financial stability and freedom?
  3. Assemble a Team. No one goes it alone. While you may not be able to hire a team immediately to support your startup, consider hiring freelance or contract workers to get you up and running. While you may want to go it alone and play the lone wolf, doing it all yourself is not wise. Firstly, the time it will take for one person to do the work of 5 will set you back. You have to factor in the opportunity cost of delaying your launch if you try and go it alone. Let’s say you could launch in 2 months with help and 5 without: that’s 3 whole months of potential profit you lose by trying to go it alone.  Also, while I am sure you are great at eating pizza, you may not be the best at making them. You need to find experts that can make your overall product and presentation look professional. If your cousin designs your logo and does an amateur job of it think of the downstream effects every time someone sees it what impression is made of your business. What effect might that have on your profits? Spend the money and find talent to do things you don’t know how to do. Or else perhaps spend the money 2 times to have them fix the mistakes you made trying to do it yourself.
  4. Build a framework. Rejoice! The reality of working “9 to 5” now no longer applies to you. You will now join the ranks of those who can hop out and grab a coffee at 2pm without someone wondering where they are or what they are doing. But know this, once you take the leap and begin your startup it is imperative that you adopt a daily framework for activity. Given that all of your work now is going to be undirected and unguided, you need to create that direction for yourself. One way to aid in this task is simply by creating a basic framework which outlines what you will do and when. Some people find it helpful to assign certain tasks to certain days, kind of like a timely to do list; others prefer a more free-flowing agenda. You know yourself and know the environment that facilitates high-productivity vs. low, so outline that detail and keep it top of mind. If you know that you hate bookkeeping and that if you wait until 3pm on a Friday to do it that it won’t get done, then push it to the morning or at the beginning of the week. Know thyself but also create a framework that will support your business and its needs because early on it will be like watching an infant and require absolute dedication and vigilance.
  5. Gumby Joints. By that I mean, you have to accept that things are not going to go as planned and if you get stuck on a concept or a plan of attack that isn’t working you are going to lose precious time. If you have Gumby joints, or for those of you who don’t know the character Gumby (go here: http://www.gumbyworld.com/); in the meantime think of that friend of yours who goes to yoga religiously and strikes those pretzel-like poses randomly. You will need to become that person. Maybe not the annoying pretzel part, but the part that can bend around, move easily and fall into more beneficial situations. If you are hitting a brick wall with a process, you need to bend around it and find a new solution. By being rigid and inflexible you will lose time and perhaps get stuck on something that isn’t beneficial. So, flex on!
  6. Get a Lawyer. Hands-down one of the most important resources you will have in your process is an attorney. This resource will only be bested by a lawyer who is also an accountant. An attorney will help you set up your business structure appropriately, protect your ideas (provided they are worthy of such protections) and also advise you on certain aspects of business to help protect you from lawsuits. No matter what you are making there is always a risk of a lawsuit looming; protect yourself as much as possible up front in order to mitigate losses on the back end.
  7. Resilience. What does that mean exactly? I think resilience means being able to adapt to change. If you are resilient you will be able to pivot to new solutions, quickly adopt new practices and shed those that aren’t working and if worst comes to worst, pick yourself up after a failure and begin again. All great entrepreneurs are resilient. Most successful businesses were started with the learnings from a failed one.
  8. Timing. Even with all of the above skills in place if you do not execute at the right time you may create more problems than you solve. For example, knowing when to pivot away from a bad process is essential. How much time do you give something before you believe that it cannot work? Having the tools to measure success is one, but assessing the timing is unique to each scenario and process. You will have to become the expert in all aspects of your business in order to understand the impact of holding out too long on a bad process and how it could disrupt your business in the long run. There is no crystal ball here, but it is clear that waiting too long to stop doing something that isn’t working could be devastating.
  9. Naysayer Disposal. You must eliminate those people in your circle who do not believe in you. It is fair that as you begin something new you may not truly understand the direction that you will take, so there will be a natural sense of uncertainty. You do not need that compounded by the naysayers. Cut off contact with them indefinitely. If they are people that you are unfortunately stuck with then at least stave them off until your new venture has established some legs. In the meantime, keep them out of your court. You do not need their influence to pollute your process.
  10. Realistic Measures of Success. You must set realistic measures for success at the beginning of your venture. If you throw an unrealistic figure out into the wind and then don’t meet it that will disempower you and maybe even deter you from continuing your business. Keep it realistic. One thing we do is set daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly goals. This way we can celebrate the small success that invariably feed the larger ones. If you say that you want to sell 1MM units by the end of the year. That may happen, but you may not approach that goal until the month before the year mark. When your victories are so far out it is hard to keep momentum and positivity. I recommend creating small interim goals, that way not only do you get to see your progress in real time, but you all get to gage whether or not your yearly goal holds water. Maybe it isn’t 1MM after all…maybe it’s 2MM!

Most Important of all, Good Luck!

Brandon Kelly, CEO NYCVanity (www.nycvanity.com)

@NYCVanity

 

 

 

 

The Top 15 High-Yield Pre Launch Activities you MUST DO NOW to ensure your businesses success!

Shuttle Launch Pad

The Top 15 High-Yield Pre-Launch Activities you MUST DO NOW to ensure your businesses success!

So, you’ve decided to start a new business. You quit your day job and you’ve set up your office; your LLC is official and your website is nearly there. But you aren’t quite ready yet. There are still some details that you are waiting to be finalized before announcing to the world that you’re open for business. This downtime is common and typically can’t be avoided, whether it’s to submit your patent application or to get your business process and team in place. But remember this, the Devil is in the Downtime, because it is during this period of time when it is essential to keep your momentum going and tie up any loose ends preemptively that could be your launches undoing. Here are some great high-yield activities that you can do in the meantime to ensure a successful launch and also sustain your momentum before you open your new business.

60 – 90 DAYS UNTIL LAUNCH

  • Attend local networking events with the expressed purpose of refining your pitch and both collect and hand out business cards. You never know which contact will become your advocate so take as many cards as you can. Fundraisers are great, if you go, try and get photographed, no press is bad press.

 

  • Research larger conferences that are relevant to your business and for which you may endeavor to attend and/or showcase your products. If budget is a concern, consider attending in order to establish a presence and network contacts.

 

  • Join as many social media networks as you can and contribute daily to attract followers and begin building your online network. On the day you launch formally, know that your customers will research your online presence beyond your website. Having 10 Twitter Followers and 5 FB friends will not bode well for your business.

 

  • Identify any trade publications or consumer publications (online or off) that you feel would best serve your product/service/budget. Most will need lead time in order to include your advertisement. Once you identify where you would like to advertise, contact a team that can put your ad together. If you are on a budget, I recommend reaching out to professionals on Craigslist. I have had great success there finding talent. Remember, unless you are a major brand, approaching an agency might not be within your budget. And frankly, the premiums are often completely unjustified since much of the work is generally done by associates, not senior staff, the talent that is all over craigslist; by cutting out the middle man you can save some money.

 

  • Get a professional head shot. If you are a smaller business than chances are that you are the face of your business. That said you need to make sure that face is captured professionally in a head shot. Yes, you could pay a friend to snap a photo on his iPhone but don’t think people won’t notice. Image is everything, spend the money and do it right because if you don’t, your customer might wonder what other corners you cut.

 

  • Follow your competition. Research those currently in the space you wish to occupy and see what they are doing. What type of media are they pursuing? Are they running social media contests? Are they featured on local or national media outlets? If so, what is the nature of that engagement? Are they hosting an annual golf tournament that generates press or are they subject matter experts brought in to address real time topical concerns? Where might you fit into this strategy? Imitation is a form of flattery and it may also save you money on strategic development.

 

  • Survey Says! You must execute 3rd party reviews of your product/service. Stay away from yes men, find a colleague or friend who is hard to please and won’t lie to you. You might want to broaden your circle in order to get an unbiased review but now is the time to refine before you are in the final stretch. It is cheaper to make changes than to recall a product line OR make a bad first impression with your customer.

 

  • Be the expert. You decided to branch out on this course for a reason. You felt that you could offer something that nobody else could, so TALK ABOUT IT. Begin to set the groundwork to disperse your expertise. A BIO is one thing, but creating calculated topical pieces is another (HINT: you’re reading one right now). Blogs are everywhere, use the platform to share your knowledge and build an audience. Industry has been using white papers forever to drum up business, there is a reason why.

 

  • Alt funding sources. I am sorry, did you say you didn’t want a tax incentive or free money? That’s right, I thought I heard that wrong.
    • Public: Contact your local chamber of commerce and the mayor’s office. These entities may be able to offer assistance to your venture. Depending on where you live, the city may have resources to help fund your business. For example: in some cities there are empowerment zones where, provided you establish your business within one, you may receive incentives.
    • PRIVATE: By now everyone knows the power of Crowd funding. Depending on your business offering this avenue may or may not be relevant to you, but if it is, start your process early. While it isn’t necessary to hire a team to do your crowd funding video, odds are you won’t have the skills or equipment to do a top quality job yourself. So, hit craigslist and find a filmmaker to help you, engage them early as filming is a complex process which is best left to the professionals.

 

30 DAYS TO LAUNCH

  • Now is the time to iron out any glitches in your website. Go link by link to make sure there are no dead links. Print out any pages that are somewhat copy dense, most people find it easier to QC in hand vs. on screen.
  • Engage your LinkedIn Network. Since you are now in the final stretch this is a good time to let old colleagues and associates know about your launch. Telling them too soon may leave the impression that you are not confident that you will in fact be launching. A 30-ay lead time says that you mean business and are ready. CAVEAT: Just make sure that you are ready, LinkedIn is your tried and true network, when you pull that trigger, you better launch on time.

 

  • Test your customer service. You don’t want to wait until the day of launch to find out that there is a flaw in your customer service process; check the phone numbers, check the voicemail boxes, QC the email addresses and fine tune any auto-response messages/scripting you have in place. Remember, it’s all about the customer; as such you need to be ready to support their needs before you launch.

 

  • Craft your press release (ePress Kit). Just because you are a small business doesn’t mean you have to act like one. Think of all the pomp and circumstance which surrounds the entertainment industry, literally, we hear announcements before projects are even produced. There is a reason for that, it builds excitement and also establishes credibility in their product. Submit your press release on launch day. Submit it to online resources and also to local media groups, TV and radio.

 

  • Increase the frequency of your social media activities while simultaneously announcing your launch date. You want to pique the interest of your social media followers and create excitement for your launch.

 

  • Last but not least, buy champagne. Your launch ends the initial planning phase of your venture, so it is important to celebrate. Running a business is a marathon not a sprint and you need to make sure that you pause intermittently to reflect, thank those that have helped make it possible and celebrate the adventure that you have undertaken! Good luck.

 

Brandon Kelly is the CEO of NYCVanity, who (with her husband and business partner) is actively engaged in pre-launch activities for their new product venture which will launch in the fall. Follow her @NYCVanity and Facebook.com/NYCVanity.