Starting a business is difficult, there’s no doubt about it.
But sustaining, nurturing, and growing a business is far more difficult than simply starting one.
Starting a business is just laying out ideas, which always seems very fascinating during the initial phase. But when you actually jump into the swamp, only then do you realize all of the facts.
Many start a business with guns blazing, but the majority of them don’t last long (or we can say that they “fail to sustain”). On the other hand, some entrepreneurs enter the market, conduct a failed experiment, and then come back stronger and mightier.
What is the difference between the two? Which approach should you choose so that your business sustains and grows over an extended period of time?
Allow me to make it simple for you.
Remember this bold statement:
- “Half the war is won in the mind even before the war gets started.”
That statement prevails because whether you will lose a battle or win a battle is already decided based on the strategy that you design for the battle.
That same rule applies to business too.
1. Planning Is Everything
Irrespective of the size of the enterprise, planning is regarded as the spine of every business. If you wish to be victorious, even you need to strengthen your spine.
Before you set sail, ensure that you have a working plan.
It is extremely dangerous to plan after you have started. When you are thinking of starting a business, ensure that you follow the steps mentioned below:
- Choose a business vertical that you understand: Choosing a business vertical that you already know about provides you with a competitive edge in the market. Moreover, as you already have an understanding about it, it saves a lot of time and effort which reduces the chances of failure.
- Conduct a personal survey: You may have all of the required knowledge, but investing some time in conducting research won’t hurt either. Examine the current market scenario of your desired business vertical. Analyze what problems your desired business solves and analyze what prevailing solutions are currently offered in the market. Make a note of them and brainstorm what makes your solution better than the rest.
- Conduct market research: Pay close attention to the businesses that function in your desired business vertical. Analyze what they are doing in terms of quality, customer retention, marketing, growth, etc. This will help you to understand what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. This way, you can see what’s working and you can avoid making some of their mistakes.
- Collect the money: You will need money. Once you have analyzed all of the above, initiate thinking about the capital you will require to get going. This should include all money-related aspects such as:
- the cost of evolving the prevailing solution
- the cost of all legal formalities
- the minimum operating cost
- the cost of the resources you will require
- the sum total of the wages that you will need to pay employees
- the minimum marketing budget
- Also, consider some miscellaneous calculations (because you never know how random a situation might get).
Once you have all of the above in hand, start compiling them to make it look like a proper business plan. After the compilation, proceed to proofreading. This is a very essential step as you do not want have any missing links in your business plan.
Proofread your plan thoroughly so that you can pin point each and every element. Perform this activity over and over again because once is never enough.
You will discover a lot of shortcomings in your plan after performing this activity. Now that you know where your plan is falling short, start improving it.
Entrepreneurs are usually very excited about their ideas and plans which results in overlooking the fatal flaws.
But what if you are not a good proofreader?
That’s where #3 comes in.
3. Have A Mentor
Many successful entrepreneurs seek advice from their mentors. There are quite a few reason for this.
- They see what you don’t: This comes in handy for the above point (proofreading). A mentor is the right person to share your plan with. Your mentor won’t overlook the shortcomings. They will act as a moderator for you and your business plan. They see everything objectively, which is why they are more likely to discover flaws. This practice is very good because you can go back and work on improving these shortcomings.
- Their advice is logical: You always want a mentor who has more knowledge and more experience than you do. They have the knowledge, the experience, and the ability to sense what a customer needs. This will make them more valuable when giving feedback and advice.
- They are morale boosters: Irrespective of whether others stand by you or not, a real mentor will never leave you. Mentors are always backing up their mentees. It doesn’t matter whether you need a proofreader, a consultant, or just a pal to support you, they are always there when you need them.
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4. Plan About Hiring
Hiring is one of the most important skills that you should strive to master.
If you have the right team, the chances of your business being successful are multiplied.
Plan out the kind of manpower you will require and in which phase you will require them. Strategize about how you will source them and what will be the eligibility criteria.
When the hiring process begins, be an active member of the hiring process. You can outsource your hiring or have an in-house team of recruiters, but ensure that every candidate passes through your vigilance.
Hire people who have the attitude of working hard and working smart (aka “A or A+ players”) because they are the ones who will help you in achieving your target.
5. Strategize Marketing Phases (Plan ahead)
The market research which you had conducted earlier can now be used to your advantage.
You have learned what you competitors are doing and how they are doing it. Now it is your turn to design a fool-proof marketing plan.
Eliminate or innovate those aspects of marketing which your competitors are failing at and infuse these areas with your brilliant marketing plan.
When creating a marketing plan, take these points into consideration:
- Who/what is your target audience?
- What is the age of your target audience?
- What language does your target audience communicate in?
- Where will you find your target audience?
- How will you reach your target audience?
- What and how much geographical area should you cover?
- What sort of marketing platform should you leverage?
These are some crucial questions that you should ask yourself when planning out your marketing strategy. Once you have the answers, design a marketing plan that revolves around them and move towards deciding the phases of marketing.
You cannot go crazy here. You have to limit your marketing activities according to phases.
For instance, the initial marketing phase might be more inclined towards creating brand awareness or encouraging preorders/prebookings. The next phase will concentrate upon gathering the customer base and interacting with the masses in helping them to make a buying decision.
Likewise, you will have to plan out the next phases too. When pursuing these phases, it’s important to understand that you need to be persistent.
With all of this in mind, you also need to acknowledge your limitations. If you think you are not the right person to carry out the marketing activities, then hire someone who is capable of managing it.
But ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Transparently share your ideas, views, expectations, etc. The person responsible will take it from there, but that doesn’t mean your job is over.
Keep a check on their activities to ensure that you are always aware of what’s happening.
6. Decide Phases Of Launch
This may not be applicable for every business, but for those where it is, it’s important to plan the launch phases.
You simply cannot bombard people with all of the elements that you have planned to launch at once.
It has been observed that “too much of something is always dangerous” and this same observation applies to business. This is not only bad for consumers, but for you too. When you try to launch everything at once, you invest a lot of money, time, effort, etc. Moreover, when you do that, you are not even sure if your ideas will have value in the market.
This approach may encourage consumers to leave your site and visit your competitors’ sites. When you launch everything at once, it is difficult for consumers to navigate through so many options at once.
This is basic human psychology. When consumers are provided with numerous options, they can end up becoming overwhelmed and buying nothing.
This makes it even more risky to launch everything at once.
To overcome this problem you can always choose the alternate (and likely more “bankable”) path:
- Plan out the launch phases.
- When you are launching your online shopping portal, enter the market with only the basics. Have a beta version and introduce it to the market. Make it simple, yet elegant. The consumer should not be confused with their choices nor should they be confused about navigating through your site.
The biggest advantage of launching this way is that you aren’t risking much.
Even if it doesn’t hit, there has been little lost and recovery is easy.
But, if you wish to avoid even this small amount of risk, then you should focus on #7 below.
7. The Floating Period
“Criticism is good for growth.”
Many people don’t like criticism, but a good businessperson takes criticism and comes out stronger.
The floating period starts the day you launch your business and continues for a limited tenure.
Consider this as the testing phase for your business; who else could be a better tester than the consumer? This is the time when you collect feedback from the consumers and act accordingly.
You will likely have numerous bugs in your product/service (and in your business model as well). When you launch the first phase of your business, consumers often criticize some aspects or provide suggestions (which you should acknowledge and make the required changes).
When you start listening to consumers, you understand the reality of the situation and learn what people actually want from you and your business.
During the floating period, this is a natural phenomenon.
Do not get frustrated; instead, work on the details to make your product/ service even better so that the consumers can enjoy using them.
During the floating period, you have collected a colossal amount of feedback from consumers. Some may be compliments and some may be criticizing. For an entrepreneur, either of them works.
Compliments reinforce that you’re on the right path and the feedback can be used to your advantage for further growth.
Analyze all of the feedback that you have received and create a list of changes that are required in order to create a better product/service.
Once you have the list of improvements needed, start working on them one by one.
Gather your team and discuss the scenario with them. Clearly mention what your expectations are and ask for their suggestions as well.
- Important: The people in your team are the ones who will suggest the best path to follow in order to achieve the desired target as soon as possible.
Once you have the list of all improvements to be made and have allocated the necessary work to your team, start building back up to enter the market again, but this time, with a longer lasting effect on consumers.
This step is not often considered by many entrepreneurs, but it is a very effective technique if one wants to eliminate risk.
Phasing, floating, and improving provides numerous advantages:
- Eliminates the fear of losing everything in one stroke.
- Helps you in understanding the consumer.
- Helps you in understanding the market.
- Provides ample time to improvise and give consumers what they actually want.
- The cost of improving is much lower than re-doing everything from scratch.
- It brings your business closer to the consumers.
- Consumers can communicate with your business and ask for what they want.
- Helps in creating a brand that people will remember.
When you have completed all of these steps, you now have to focus on maintaining and growing it.
Which calls for our next point…
9. Creating And Following The Process
Once you have optimized your product/service and are on the verge of entering the market once again, it’s advisable to have your processes optimized and predefined.
There is no point in entering the market without a proper process. If you don’t have one, then you should develop one. If you don’t, you will fail sooner or later.
Define the tasks, calculate the approximate time for each, discover the best fit employees for each task, and allocate accordingly.
Always remember to share the load. One person can never take up all the tasks. He/she will only end up failing.
- To design a proper process, first you need to jot down the points/tasks which you or your team needs to perform in order to operate the business. Once the list is done and everything these things entail is calculated, start proofreading. You will find some shortcomings in the process. Take those shortcomings under serious considerations and initiate amending them. If you think you can’t do that efficiently, turn to your mentor. Discuss your dilemmas with him/her and try to fix them with the aid of his/her guidance.
Always remember, to nurture and grow a business, you need a rock solid business process which is flexible when it needs to be.
10. Capturing The Initial Market
Most businesses that stall fall prey to this situation.
Many businesses and startups neglect this fact.
To capture further markets and territories you need to capture the initial market first.
To ensure that your business lasts long and that it expands, you need to pick the low hanging fruits first. Prepare a strategy about how you will capture the initial markets, what additional efforts you need to have in order to capture the initial market, and strategize the marketing activities required for it all to come to fruition.
Brainstorm how much budget you will require and what team size will be enough to capture the initial/local market.
Create a plan of action of how these things will work. This plan should be in chronological order; if one thing messes up, others are surely going to misfire.
This plan should include:
- What geographical area do you want to target?
- Which type of people do you want to target (e.g. working professionals, businessmen, businesswomen, housewives, old people, teenagers, etc.)?
- What language do they prefer to use for communication?
- Where does your target audience gather?
- Do they prefer spending their time on social media or on search engines? (This survey can help you a lot when devising your marketing strategy. Find where your audience is and market there.)
- What kind of branding or advertising activities do you need to take into consideration in order to reach the right people?
- Do they participate in a particular type of event, competition, etc?
- How much capital, resources, and man-power will you need to employ?
- Allocate a rough budget to execute all activities.
- Give yourself and your team a realistic target.
- When do you think you and your team will be able to capture the market?
Once you have all of this executed, you can now take the next leap.
11. Planning For Exploring New Horizons
Once you have captured the initial market and have the bandwidth for expansion, move on to the next target and re-do this entire process.
When growing your online business, you don’t need to try anything fancy. Just stick to the basics and things will start rolling out naturally.
But you need to be smart enough to make smart choices. Always consider picking the low hanging fruits first. They are easier to reach and provide a great boost to your morale.
Analyze which will be the most favorable market to tap into. Choose a market where you do not have to make abrupt changes to your plan. This will save a lot of time, effort, and money, and will also prepare you for bigger challenges.
A quick suggestion:
- For businesses that do not have much funding or are not backed by any investors, think about leveraging a bootstrapping model.
As mentioned earlier, starting a business is difficult.
But nurturing it and growing it is an even more tedious job.
Many start a business, but it soon perishes. The most obvious reasons behind shutting down a business may not be the obvious ones. There are other elements which can also affect a business just as badly.
But if you strategize carefully and take the required baby steps, you are destined to be successful (depending upon how you define success).
This article will be very helpful for currently budding startups. Not many startups receive funding. Many times you may have total faith in your business plan, but the person seated across the table may not feel secure about investing their money into your business.
This plan of action can work wonders for you if you strategize and act accordingly.
Follow these steps and you will realize that you have already won the most important part of the battle:
The battle of the mind.
Good luck to all of you entrepreneurs out there!
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