Entrepreneurship is an exciting adventure that I have recently leapt into. The idea of creating your brand, signing your first customer, the smell of fresh ink on your business card… this is the stuff dreams are made of! Once you have your great idea, the next big question is: “What do I do now?” Here are some insights that I appreciated learning during my start-up and now I want to pass them on to you.
You need to understand your offering and identify what differentiates your business from your competitors’ businesses. Your offer needs to be compelling and solve a problem for your customer. You need to be excited about your offering and believe it provides true value in a way that is different from your competitors. If you don’t believe in your offer, you cannot expect your customers to either.
You need a plan! It does not matter if it’s a formal document or a photo collage on your wall. What is important is that you have a plan in place that helps you understand your marketplace (including your competitors and prospective customers), as well as where you fit in, how you will bring your offering to market and your vision at the end of the road. There is nothing saying that you have to stick to your plan, but you need a starting point and this is it.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money (or any money at all) marketing your services. There are so many free and almost free avenues in which to market your business. Social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook, Google , LinkedIn), blogging and PR opportunities all provide amazing outlets to reach prospective customers for free. Creating lots of outstanding content for your target market and continuing to stay relevant with the material you provide helps strengthen your position as a thought leader in your industry.
You should already have customers onboard and additional prospects in the pipeline before you open your doors. These first few customers will be instrumental in helping to establish your credibility and can be invaluable references moving forward. Depending on how willing they are to give feedback, these customers can also help you refine and shape your offering to make it stronger moving forward.
Focus on your strengths. If you are a phenomenal sales representative but you are bad with numbers, hire a freelance bookkeeper to ensure your finances are in check. It is generally recommended to outsource your weaknesses to someone who can do it quickly and efficiently for you. The time and energy it would take you to learn the skill and apply it correctly, as well as the lost opportunity cost of not spending that time selling, make it worth paying a professional to handle it for you.
Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you have an idea, the hardest part will be taking the leap of faith and giving it a try. Once you try it, refine it, then try it again, refine it and so on. Because starting is the hardest part, do not get stuck on trying to deliver a perfect version of your product or service the first time. “A good decision today is better than a perfect decision tomorrow” is a piece of wisdom that helped me overcome those days when I did not quite feel ready to release my ideas to the world but knew I needed to. As Nike says: “Just Do It!”
As I continue to learn each and every day, I know there is a lot I am doing right, and a lot I could improve upon. I know there is a lot more to learn and that learning is a neverending process, so think of entrepreneurship as a journey, not a destination. I recently came across a very simple diagram that has helped ease the days when I have feelings of uncertainty or doubt in what I’m doing. I take a look at what success really looks like… and then I smile and get right back to building my business.
In-Action Example: Dan Thompson, DT Print Solutions
DT Print Solutions is a small digital printing company based in the heart of Toronto, servicing core customers in the downtown area. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dan Thompson, Founder of DT Print Solutions, to discuss his thoughts on entrepreneurship.
Dan started his business in April 2003 and he hasn’t looked back! When asked to what he attributes his success, his response is clear: “Starting off in an atmosphere and environment where people like to deal with us, vendors like selling to us and people like working with us, was essential.”
Generating goodwill with all of one’s business communities (vendors and customers) enables trust and relationships to form where everyone has each other’s best interests in mind. Dan believes that this type of environment creates a solid foundation to build a business and allows everyone to grow together.
When asked about challenges faced today by entrepreneurs in the Graphic Arts industry, Dan said that there are two major challenges. The first is cash flow: making sure there is enough cash coming in to pay all of your expenses. The second is being consistent and making sure you deliver exactly what you say you are going to deliver. “This can often mean delivering the same service as a larger company who has access to more resources than you.”
When asked to give advice to new and soon-to-be entrepreneurs, Dan lives by the mantra: “We’re going to be successful because we have to be”. When framed this way, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for you to be successful because there is no other alternative.