No one starts a business just for the sake of starting a business. It is a complex and consuming venture that will take all of your determination and energy just to get off the ground, and you will not go through this just for the fun of it. The reason you started a business is that you have a vision for it. You have personal and professional dreams that have led you to develop a business structure and trying to bring those dreams to life.
However, many entrepreneurs are unable to fully develop and quantify their vision, and this can cause them to lose track of the dream. In order to reach any goal, you must clearly define the goal and develop a path to get there. Even if you already have the path built within your business, the destination may still be vague and undefined.
If you want to bring the dream for your company to life, you must have a clear picture of it. You must break down the vision into specific and measurable goals, and then you can identify the ways to make the dream a reality. The following are steps to take in order to identify the components of your vision, analyze them in a practical sense and bring the vision to life.
1. Define your vision
The first step may seem relatively simple, but there is more to it than what is on the surface. You may be able to mentally envision your goals and ideas, but it can be hard to make them a reality without defining them more clearly.
Think seriously about the vision you have for the future. This will go beyond the business aspect of it and include your personal dreams and what you want out of life. Ask yourself a few questions:
- What do I dream about for the future?
- Is this a practical vision or should I aim to make it more realistic?
- How do I see this vision unfolding?
- What specific steps must be taken to begin?
2. Write your vision
Once you have a better understanding of your personal and professional vision, you need to be able to verbalize it. Writing something down makes it more real and gives you a specific, tangible example of the dream you have.
Break the dream down into smaller, achievable goals and write these down. Then take a few of the more immediate goals that can be reached in the near future and put them on Post-It notes around your desk or any other visible area.
3. Develop a strategic path
Now that you know what your vision looks like, you need to develop strategies that will bring it to life. Depending on your specific goals, these may be steps that can be taken immediately or concepts that must be worked on in the future. The idea is to lay out a path for you to bring the vision of your company into the practical world.
These three steps can help you define and analyze the dream you have for your business, but they are only the beginning. Now you have to act upon them and implement your plan in a strategic way to achieve each goal. From there, your company will be on its way to becoming the vision you had when you first decided to start a business.
Starting a business can be one of the most challenging processes of a person’s life. It takes creativity, planning, determination and tireless effort, but once the doors are open and the business takes off, it can be one of the most rewarding moments of life.
But a successful entrepreneur cannot be content and stop there. Now that your company is up and running, you must continue to improve and grow in order to achieve any meaningful level of success. Even if your company is already thriving, the business world moves fast, and those who are not getting better will quickly be left behind. Your competition will always be right there with you, and you cannot afford to be satisfied with mediocrity.
In a sense, a business is like a living organism. It must continue to grow and evolve, or else it will deteriorate and die. If you take the right steps and care for your business properly, it can continue to grow and reach its full potential. With that being said, there are three essential building blocks of business growth:
By understanding and utilizing these elements, you can help your business achieve the highest levels of success.
This building block is the foundation upon which your new business was built. It is the expression of your creativity and the incarnation of your ideas. Innovation is what led you to the first moments of starting a business, and it is what helped you get off the ground. However, it is also what is necessary for your business to grow. Even after the initial innovation that led you to develop the unique product, service or technique that makes your company special, you must continue to improve upon it.
This building block is essentially the quantification of your innovation. It is where your business can be broken down, measured and accurately gauged in order to make improvements. In almost every case, the best information for proper analyzation comes from customer feedback. Listen to those who purchase your product or engage your service and identify what is important to them. Find out what they believe is best for your business and what could use improvement.
Once you have the quantifiable information from your customer feedback, combine it with your innovative ideas and implement them accordingly. This is the step in which it all comes together and your improvements are put into action. With the proper combination of these three building blocks, your business will continue to grow and thrive for years to come.
There are many ways to start a business, and each entrepreneur will take his or her own individual path. Variations may exist in terms of planning, development, funding, and management, and of course, there are countless different types of businesses offering countless different products and services. But no matter the paths taken or strategies implemented, the goal is always to create a profitable venture which you can call your own.
To the average person, the traditional method of starting a business involves developing an original idea, product or technique. While there is obviously nothing wrong with this entrepreneurial path, it can be much more challenging and risky than a common alternative. That alternative is the franchise, and it allows entrepreneurs to create and build their own business with less strain and creative development than its traditional counterpart.
The Fundamentals of Franchising
By its simplest, most legally correct definition, a franchise is essentially nothing more than a license. But in a much more practical and meaningful sense, a franchise is an agreement and a relationship between a company (franchisor) that allows its name and operating methods to be used by an entrepreneur (franchisee). In exchange, the entrepreneur agrees to operate their business according to the terms of the lease.
Business Format Franchising
The most commonly known and recognized type of franchises are known as business format franchises. These are based on an earlier model called the trade name franchise, and the main difference came in the rights of the franchise. Whereas in a trade name franchise, a franchise only owned marketing rights for his or her company, modern business format franchises allow entrepreneurs to have more ownership rights over the entire business, even including operating methods.
Product Distribution Franchising
Also known as traditional franchising, product distribution franchising may be less recognized and identified with franchising by the general public, but it is actually larger in terms of total sales than its business format counterpart. While business format franchising puts the focus on the system of doing business, traditional franchising has more emphasis on the products manufactured by the franchisor and supplied to the franchise. This is commonly found in gasoline, bottling, automotive and other industries.
The changes that came about in the rights of franchisees allowed for much greater control and customization for entrepreneurs who were looking to own a business. These shifts put a much greater emphasis on the success and development of small business owners, instead of simply churning out the same old thing from major corporations. It also allows for a more significant local impact, as franchisees can tailor their service and marketing to the needs of their communities.
But in order to obtain a franchising license and successfully operate this type of business, one must still adhere to franchise standards. If you feel this might be the right path for you to create your business, the first steps include:
- Developing an effective business model, including prospective customers and suppliers, as well as funding strategies.
- Developing a model that will provide consistent positive results without obvious issues.
- Creating a system for employing, training and maintaining a staff that will provide a high level of quality production.
- Maintaining a model with the same standards, branding, and values as the franchisor.
There are many ways of looking at a business. To the outside world, it is a source of value and commercial interaction, but relatively meaningless in any major or impactful way. However, to the owner of a business, it is something much more important and meaningful. Some entrepreneurs think of their businesses as pets or children, and almost all of them view it as some sort of living organism.
While this metaphor can obviously not be completely accurate, a successful business does have a life cycle that can define its existence. Additionally, a small business requires much of the same care and attention that other living things need, especially in the early stages. But whether you view your business as something that is alive or just the tangible manifestation of your abstract idea, the analogy has its merits.
With that being said, a successful business must go through several stages of development, similar to those experienced by a human being. The following are some of the key stages in the life cycle of a business, and while each comes with its own rewards and challenges, they are all important for your company.
The embryonic stage of a business is the point at which your idea has been developed, but the business itself has not been created. A business can exist in this stage for many years, up until the time in which its brave owner decides to take the necessary steps to create an effective business plan, gather funding and bring it to life.
Now that your business idea has come to life through your efforts and ideas, it begins its existence in a state of infancy. This is usually the period in which entrepreneurs feel closest to the company and when they generally have the most involvement. You may even be the only person involved in the business at this point, and while it is still fumbling to find its way to maturity, it is most certainly alive.
This is the period in which your business begins to grow into a truly profitable enterprise. You may have already experienced some level of success in the infancy stage, but now comes success which requires you to bring in a more involved support staff. This can also be known as the manager’s stage, as it is the period in which the company grows from being your baby to a thriving business that requires more experienced management and a larger staff.
There comes a point in the life of every business in which it begins to grow up and spread its own wings. This usually happens through an explosion of growth that is usually unmanageable according to your original model, and adaptations must be made. Either you scale back and keep your business small forever, or you develop a responsible plan for manageable growth and let the company thrive.
While this is the final stage on our list, it is only the beginning for your company. It has developed into an important establishment that will continue to grow, serve customers and produce dividends for years to come.
Throughout your experience as an entrepreneur, you are likely to encounter thousands of personalities and types of people in the business world. Within a successful company, there will be several different personalities and individuals who each contribute something important, and without whom the business could not function in the same manner. This is true in any efficient company, but it can be difficult to try and emulate a formula that is so varied and complex.
Because of this, you will need to try and group people differently. You need contributions from several different perspectives and personality types, but it would be impossible to specify the exact person you need and then go out and find that person. Until effective human cloning techniques are distributed, or you develop a way to create the exact type of human you need, there are some other strategies you can use to get the right type of person.
While you may have dozens or hundreds of employees and staff members, your essential executives, managers, and support can generally be broken down into three categories. Each contributes his or her own talents, perspective, and individual personality, and all three will help make a healthy company.
This person is essentially the “do-er” of the group, and he or she will be responsible for much of the tangible, tactical and technical action that goes on within the company. The Fixer is generally an active, outgoing individual who loves a challenge and is ready to get to work from Day One. Because of The Fixer’s constant activity and action within the business, he or she will also be one of the most visible individuals and may be seen as “the face” of your company.
Your manager will be the “thinker” of the group who solves difficult problems through specific processes and tried-and-true methods. He or she will usually be a more traditional type of person who likes to apply these time-tested methods that have worked in the past to new situations and find ways to adapt processes to new problems. The Manager is a pragmatic individual who is serious but fair with employees, clients, and colleagues.
The Innovator is the creative force within your company, and this is likely the role that you will fill, as the entrepreneur. Your innovative ideas and vision for the business will drive the company and every aspect of it for the entire time that you are involved. As Innovator, you must constantly be seeking new ways to improve products/services and finding better ways to fill the needs of your customer.
Starting a small business is one of the most exciting and meaningful events in a person’s life. You will likely go through a rollercoaster of emotion throughout the process, but this is all part of the journey and worth it when done correctly.
But unfortunately, many people fail in business simply because they believe in certain myths which have mislead them. Some seminars, speakers, blogs, and marketers will lead you to believe that all you need for success in business is a bit of capital, a targeted profit projection and a strong desire. While these things are necessary when beginning the journey, they are far from all that you will need in the marathon ahead.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know what information is misleading and what is truly valuable in the world of entrepreneurial beginnings. However, there are a few keys to spotting the myths and those who are selling them. These include:
- Any information that comes with a price tag
- Unrealistic testimonials from “real people”
- Newsletters or subscriptions that charge money for “business advice”
- Anything that guarantees success in business
- Any information that sounds too good to be true
These are just a few factors that may signify bad info, but none of these are sure-fire signs of a scam or misleading information. You have to judge for yourself whether the advice you take is legitimate or is only for the profit of the person giving it. Generally, those with legitimately helpful information and good intentions do not need to (or even want to) charge to give advice and help.
The Marathon Ahead
The fact is, there are no sure-fire strategies or guaranteed techniques for quick success in business. Business is not a sprint; it is a marathon that will be full of ups, downs, trials, and challenges. But luckily, it will also include excitement, education, fun, and friends. Eventually, with a little bit of luck– and a lot of perseverance– it may also include great success.
If anyone has ever told you that marketing is not a creative field, that person is dead wrong. In fact, successful marketers are some of the most creative, ingenious and pragmatic people on the planet. They must develop effective, persuasive strategies to convince people to buy a product, and then develop creative, efficient means of getting the message out.
Throughout a career in marketing, I have developed several notebooks full of little strategies and techniques that have been effective. Some of these were developed independently, but the majority are based upon strategies of industry legends. This little article is meant to share a few of the best tips, techniques and marketing hacks in my notebooks that could help take your business to the next level.
- Create a monthly or bi-weekly newsletter for your business. These should be both in print and email formats.
- Utilize direct mail and direct response campaigns to reach a wider audience.
- Always stay involved in your community by contributing to local charities and events. Take advantage of any local events as an opportunity to grow your business.
- Keep a list of your previous customers and stay in contact with them. Those who have bought your products/services before are the most likely to buy it in the future.
- Develop a short, concise report that summarizes your services and your values. This should be sent to any new prospects, usually as your second touch, or the second time you interact with them.
- Maintain ads in the Yellow Pages. These provide great value and are not yet obsolete.
- Offer free eBooks, webinars, product demos and other digital items that can entice potential customers.
- Contribute to local newspapers and publications. These articles should not be blatantly promotional but should relate to your industry.
- Contribute to blogs and websites that are relevant to your industry.
- Offer free seminars or lectures that can help build awareness of your business.
- Create a podcast that is relevant to your industry. Bring in guest speakers and industry experts who can lend credibility and helpful information to your podcast.
- Tweak, test and adjust your current ads to find the most effective message, format, and medium.
- Offer incentives to new customers, such as one free month, introductory prices, purchasing benefits and other rewards/bonuses.
- Create regular incentive programs for new and current customers. This may include drawings and referral bonuses.
- Always be on the lookout for effective marketing strategies including those of competitors, industry leaders or anyone with good ideas. Tailor these strategies to your audience and make them your own.
- Barter for your marketing services. Offer free products or services (as opposed to money) in exchange for marketing.
- Do a free giveaway for anyone who brings in one of your print ads.
- Be willing to bring in new clients, even if it means taking an initial loss.
- Create and manage affiliate programs that reward referrals and marketing.
- Cultivate relationships with your vendors. These relationships may prove to be crucial, especially if your business hits a rough patch.
- Offer free public clinics to teach your community about industry-relevant information.
- Offer to pay for leads and market data. This may seem difficult at first, but this information will pay off. Just make sure not to pay too much; the key here is value.
- Conduct polls, studies, and customer satisfaction surveys. Some of your most useful information will come directly from your customer base, and it will come for free through these techniques.
- Network and cultivate relationships with others in your industry. You can develop a plan to trade leads with whom you were unsuccessful.
- Approach large companies, organizations and corporations, offering to be their exclusive provider at a significantly discounted rate.
It is unlikely that all of these techniques will apply to your business, but you should be able to identify several which can be tailored to your needs and help your business grow.
In today’s fast-paced world of instant information, on-demand entertainment and personalized marketing, every business must take advantage of every opportunity for marketing and publicity. There are countless possibilities for this, from television commercials and radio ads to social media campaigns and viral marketing, but small businesses and startups are generally at a disadvantage. For one thing, they are small and have small marketing budgets; and secondly, they likely have a small audience and little brand recognition.
This means that small businesses must be even more eager to take advantage of marketing opportunities– particularly those that come with a small price tag. Enter, public relations, the medium which allows startups and small businesses to reach a large audience and significantly increase branding, for free.
To be specific, public relations is the professional maintenance of a favorable public image by a company, organization or person. Of course, there are a number of ways in which this favorable image can be cultivated, and you must identify the best ways to use this practice for your own business. Speaking generally, there are three key areas to public relations on which a small business can capitalize for marketing purposes:
Developing and implementing a strategy that includes all of these areas will greatly increase the efficiency of your public relations efforts.
This may seem obvious, but the first step to successful public relations for small business is getting noticed. In fact, the entire goal of your public relations policy should revolve around continuously getting noticed in a good way, and for good reasons. This means that your strategies (in both public relations and marketing) should always be based on providing value to your target audience.
The best way to begin is through a press release. For PR rookies, here is a step-by-step guide for successfully creating and distributing an effective press release:
- Create a press release announcing something special or significant about your company. Remember that it must be an attention-grabber that is relevant to the needs of your market.
- Summarize and compress the release into a single hook or angle that is most likely to be noticed by the media and your customers. This will be your headline.
- Develop your press release in a professional format, on your letterhead. It should include:
- Important information
- Supporting facts and figures
- Your contact details
- Send your release to each media outlet you choose with an opening letter that will be interesting and specific to each media person who receives it.
Remember that your public relations strategy should include all media, especially those that are most relevant to your industry, market or business. A diversified strategy should include:
- Social media
- Any other media outlets that your audience may view, read or listen to
It may seem cliché to say that “business is all about relationships,” but there is a reason clichés like this exist. Business is, in fact, all about the relationships you build from your partners and investors to your staff and employees to customers and vendors. Every business interaction is also a personal interaction, and you should capitalize on every opportunity to strengthen relationships in every area of business.
One of the key relationships– and one that is often overlooked– is that with your vendors and suppliers. Entrepreneurs rightly focus largely on relationships with customers and clients, but your vendors provide the fundamental materials that make your business possible. For many small businesses, relationships with vendors consist of a monthly transaction– a routine in which there is little to no improvement in the relationship.
While your company may be able to survive with this type of mentality, you would be missing a key opportunity for growth and branding. The vendors and suppliers with whom you work provide the chance for cooperative growth, as they have a vested interest in the success of your business. As your company expands, the business you give them grows as well, and you should use this to your advantage.
The best way to strengthen vendor relationships and capitalize on the opportunities therein is through affiliate and incentive programs. These programs not only reward vendors for their business, they also encourage competition and increased business with performance-based incentives.
In case you are inexperienced in building affiliate programs, here is a step-by-step guide:
- Begin building your program from the perspective of the vendor. What would they want to gain? What rewards would encourage business?
- Create a program that is generous towards vendors, specifically encouraging new business and increased performance.
- Develop an email campaign to let all current and potential vendors know about the benefits of your new program.
- Develop a clear and concise tracking system that the vendors can view. Allowing vendors to see their own– and others’– contributions and progress will encourage competition.
- Create monthly bonuses, programs and additional incentives to encourage further performance, enrollment, and participation.
Try to think of vendor relationships similarly to your customer relationships. Keep things exciting; encourage further business, and take advantage of every opportunity to strengthen the relationship.
The internet has changed the business world unlike few other innovations since the invention of paper money, and the marketing industry may have felt this impact more than any other. For many small businesses, the digital world has opened up boundless possibilities for reaching audiences that were not possible before. Because of this, the size and scale of many entrepreneurs’ marketing efforts often completely outweigh their capabilities of converting prospects actual paying customers.
This is one of the many reasons why direct response marketing can provide some of the most beneficial and tangible results for small businesses. In addition to the measurable success of direct response campaigns, many modern customers respond better to marketing that opens a dialogue with them and asks for their immediate input. While there are many kinds of digital direct response strategies that can be effective, most small business owners find two tried-and-true marketing techniques to be the most efficient.
Direct mail marketing and telemarketing have both been around for decades, and even with the prevalence of digital marketing, both strategies can be highly effective when used properly. For many specialized or higher-priced items, these techniques provide higher conversion rates than any digital strategies, and the direct response element adds measurable data for future campaigns. Here are a few tips to get the most out of each:
- Build and/or purchase a mailing list that fits your target market.
- After accounting for the cost of mailing lists, determine your budget by comparing the cost of mailing vs. cost of the order.
- List the benefits customers would receive from your product/service and determine which is the most meaningful.
- Develop an engaging, informative sales letter centered around that specific benefit. Add appropriate graphics and headlines.
- Include supplementary items that would aid in the purchase, such as an order form, reply envelope, brochure, etc.
- Develop a call plan that lays out exactly what you hope to accomplish during your calls. Add topics to discuss and potential questions that may arise.
- Create a sales script based on this initial call plan that includes appropriate verbiage, product features, product benefits, selling terms, etc. This will provide a structured guide for the call, but you should not expect calls to follow it exactly.
- Ask questions that demonstrate that you understand the potential customer’s needs and offer feedback to show that your product/service can address his/her needs.
- Be relaxed and conversational, always focusing on the needs of the customer but always guiding the call towards an eventual purchase.
- Remember to be grateful for the prospect’s time and allow your demeanor to reflect that.
As with all marketing techniques, the key to success in both areas will be continual evaluation and adjustment. You should not expect overwhelming success on your first direct mail campaign or in your first series of calls, but paying attention the data of direct responses and adjusting accordingly will ensure increasing levels of success as your business grows.