Written by Catherine Warrilow, MD at www.daysout.com
An early-stage business is an exciting prospect – or is it?!
Building something from scratch, deciding on the approach from a blank sheet of paper, designing the solution around all of those ideas and dreams that have been bubbling away…..
But there are distractions too – the six-figure side-hustle pressure. The profitable in the first 90 days expectations…
So, let’s face facts – in reality – away from the clickbait news that there’s a side hustle out there for everyone that will make you rich tomorrow, launching a brand-new start up business is far from straight forward – and there are many rules that leaders break in trying to rush towards the ultimate goal of profit – or just a point of break even.
And when you’re initially putting pen to paper, to craft that magical idea into reality and actually commit to making this venture work, what are the most common steps that founders fail to prioritise? You’re on this quest for world domination – to take centre stage or that elusive title of ‘disrupter’?
In many ways, the goal does need to be profit – and fast. Because in many instances startups are spit and sawdust ventures – a bit of a wing and a prayer, without the backing of an investor or cash flow from another business in many instances.
Ok so we’ll park the pound signs for a second because the other reality is that without a combination of the right steps, the cash is never going to come – sorry. That’s just how it is. And unfortunately, it’s why such a huge proportion of startups fail.
They say fail fast, but wouldn’t you rather succeed slowly? For the long-term gain? Yep, me too.
SO, here goes – the 7 most common steps that startups skip over – and ultimately regret not giving more attention to.
- Ok so let’s start here at first base. No business worth its salt will survive for the long term; at least in its current form, without a clear set of values that have been created by the entire team. Not prescribed or described at a top-down management meeting, but the actual feelings that people come to work with and take home with them from a fantastic working environment. Ours include being rebellious, perceptive, kind, brave, proud and always at your side. They are a combination that brings together curiosity, a wider self-awareness, an eagerness to challenge and be challenged, as well as a commitment to oneself and each other to be supportive, generous, and engaged with each other and the wider world. Without these values, a new business doesn’t have an anchor – everyone needs a level of accountability that isn’t commercially driven and speaks to them directly. Start with the values of the team and you’ll create a pretty unbreakable foundation.
- I recently attended a seminar where the speaker unpacked what happiness actually means. When the audience were asked the question, the responses varied wildly from being present, to knowing and understanding yourself, right through to a range of other emotions from joy to pride and beyond. The speaker revealed his take on happiness – a choice as to how you manage yourself in any given situation. And when you think about it, this couldn’t be more true. You have a choice whether to arrive at a meeting with a smile, to greet your colleagues with a warm welcome, to talk to the receptionist. It’s up to you – and there are very many people who believe strongly that the image of yourself that you present, reflects the response that you get back. Try it. Smile at a stranger, talk to the person you wouldn’t normally talk to – push yourself to create a little stream of happiness wherever you go today.
- Purpose and values are often confused and muddled together. But purpose is different. Values are the set of rules you assign to yourself around how you’re going to show up – how you’re going to hold yourself accountable. Your purpose, or the purpose of the business you run is about WHY you’re doing what you’re doing. What problem do you solve? Why you? Why this? Why now? This can be more complex than you initially imagine, but it’s all in there somewhere, you just have to take the time to ensure that your purpose has clarity, and direction, and – well, purpose. I can’t recommend researching Ikigai enough – especially if you’re an owner/founder – work through the exercise of understanding what you’re good at, what the world needs, what earns you money and what makes you happy. If you follow the process properly the results are quite amazing. I’m happy to share my Ikigai with anyone who is interested.
- Again, values, purpose and vision can all be a bit of a Mary Poppins bag. And if you don’t get these right up front – and they don’t feel natural and top of mind all of the time, then you’ve skipped over some of these critical first steps – and that means in many cases that the commercials will be a massive struggle.
Your vision is pretty self-explanatory, right? It’s where you’re going – or at least where you’re aiming to go.
Your vision is the wider goal for the business – the direction your values and purpose are hopefully guiding you towards.
But a vision can be pretty complicated – it’s not to make millions or sell to everyone. It’s not fame, notoriety or even recognition. Your vision has to be the outcome of solving the problem you’ve identified whilst honouring the values you set out to adhere to. This is about reaching a peak of success that completes a triangle – one where nothing is compromised – not your values, not your purpose and not your vision. And that’s pretty fricking tough!
So, to get a vision down on paper means a lot – and takes a lot of thought and soul searching. For many, a vision becomes clear in those early days of running your business, and that’s fine – it’s not like you can’t open your doors until you have it, but don’t leave it for two years, because inevitably you’ll find yourself working in circles.
The key to defining your vision is this – what does true success look like? How is the world better for it? Why does it make you proud? Why does it feel incredible to invite new people into that world? If your vision doesn’t make your body tingle, even just a tiny bit, then you’ve still got work to do.
At this point, you may well be saying, ‘of course I’ve got a brand’ otherwise I wouldn’t be launching a business. But have you? Have you really nailed startup branding? Or have you got a name, a logo and a website? Because they’re not the same thing.
A brand goes right back to your values and purpose. A brand encapsulates your why, your tone of voice, your personality, your everything. So that’s why it can’t be skipped over – it’s your startup DNA.
The thing about an incredible brand is this. It speaks for itself. Even though it has a look, a feel, a tone, a reason, a take, a style – you can look at that brand for just a single moment and know what it’s trying to say and how it makes you feel.
In the world of marketing, advertising, loyalty and trust, that’s like the elixir – it’s worth its weight in gold.
If you have that, you have a connection with your audience. And if you carry on getting it right, you have more than that – you have a relationship, then you have a community – and eventually – an ambassador.
So – remember these three things about branding for startups.
- It’s a persona, it has life, character, charm, wit – it also has its limits, off moments and quirks – if you don’t have a brand personality that captures all of these things, then you’ve missed something important.
- A brand evolves – it can grow up, or down – depending on how the problem you solve changes. It has to be agile and adaptive – think of your brand as a 7-year-old rather than a 45-year-old!
- A brand has faults. A brand, like a person, is not infallible. You – and it, will get things wrong. If you haven’t explored that layer of honesty and humility yet then do it now – decide how you’ll own mistakes, how you’ll make amends and create a transparency that means even when something goes wrong, you can rebuild trust.
You’re done with the layers already?! Brand, vision, values, purpose – and NOW – proposition.
But this is critical – because your proposition is your USPs – what stands you apart from everyone else in your market. And as you hopefully know already, your USP is not always price.
Like your brand, your proposition should really pull together your purpose, vision and values in some way – but on top of that is the USP cherry – you’ve got the problem you solve – but loads of other people are solving that very same problem as well. So why do I buy from you, Peter, rather than him, Paul?
This is the real nitty gritty. Let’s say the problem you solve is getting to the airport for a flight. The solution to the problem might be a shuttle bus. But there are many shuttle buses. How does yours tick more boxes for your target audience?
Are you faster? More sustainable? More luxurious? Great wifi? Free snacks? A scenic route?
Telling your brand story or illustrating your brand proposition has to be instant – an idiots guide to why – but the hard work comes in here – it has to encapsulate your values, purpose, brand and vision too.
Ok that sounds overwhelming, but actually it’s not – here’s the maths.
The solution to a problem + the way you make someone feel = brand engagement.
The way you engage + the delivery of the solution = trust
And there’s more:
The way you continue to engage + the customer experience = advocacy
It’s like this beautiful golden circle. If any of that feels like utter marketing jargon crap, let’s refine it some more.
Do the right thing, solve the problem, smile. That’s it.
7. Future proofing
This is a vital point to end on. Because having a vision, values, purpose, USPs, brand, story, proposition, and the rest is brilliant, but if you can’t lead and manage a business that has longevity, then you’re going to be back at that drawing board before you can say ‘we’ve got another new prime minister’.
Future proofing your business isn’t about trying to imagine how people, or tech, or data, or science will evolve. It’s about having options. It’s about not putting all those eggs into one basket.
Future proofing is about this important 3 factors:
- Constantly reviewing how the market is changing and how your product solves an issue. If that is shifting, are you shifting with it? And ideally, faster than it!
- Having a, b and c options – if your revenue stream has just one source, find others. Even if they’re not immediately valuable, don’t ever rely on just one source of income.
- Own as much of the process as you can. Where you outsource, whether that’s because of skillset, cost or other efficiencies, explore from day one how you might move on to own those disciplines.
So that’s the guide to the 7 most common steps that startups fail to prioritise and hopefully some handy startup business tips too. There are more – for sure! And every business will have those moments when they reflect and say ‘I wish we had…’ or ‘If only we’d known…’ And startup mistakes are all too common – it’s part of the fun – right?! And hindsight is wonderful – and equally unhelpful. So, take the chance to create as much self-reflection as you possibly can for you, your decision makers, stakeholders, and teams – right now! That way, there might just be one less ‘if only’ in store for your successful startup business.