In other words, they talk about technology, business skills and infrastructure.
Not many, however, talk about you.
And at the end of the day it’s not the software, business tools or inanimate objects that make or break the business. You do.
Your motivations, your world views and the way you react to problems will determine the fate of your startup long before you officially open doors.
In this article I’d like to explore some of less commonly discussed, more intangible and yet crucial factors which determine your success when starting a business.
Because regardless of how knowledgable, well-funded, connected, motivated or technologically advanced you are, your startup will not succeed unless your head is in the right place.
1. Embrace Failure.
As humans, we are pre-programmed to have a fear of failure. We are a tribal breed and thus we do not want to look bad, be embarrassed in front of our peers or become the topic of negative discussion.
Entrepreneurs, however, are not your average human beings. They are leaders, not sheep of the herd. And leadership without mistakes is impossible.
Failure is an intrinsic part of starting a business – if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not breaking new ground, which means you probably won’t succeed.
Accept that you will make mistakes, that you’ll (as much as you don’t want to) upset some customers and you’ll take your business in the wrong direction. And that’s a good thing – it means you’re walking a path which you haven’t walked before. And possibly one which others haven’t, either.
It means you could be creating something valuable (more on that soon).
And when you do stuff something up, simply clean up your mess, apologise to the people you offended (and mean it!), offer them a compensation for their troubles, learn from your mistakes and move forward.
(If you go for too long without making a mistake, treat it as a warning sign – you’re probably not taking enough risks. And it also probably means that a competitor of yours is taking more risks, managing them better and is beating you).
2. Ignore Doomsdayers.
You’ll always hear people telling you that starting a business is too hard, that you should just get a day job, that having a business which you’re passionate about and make a good living from is a myth, etc, etc.
The thing is – that’s all they do. They spend their life giving themselves – and, sadly, others – reasons why they shouldn’t succeed.
I think that right now has never been a better time to start a business.
If you had a business idea as recently as 10 years ago you had to take on a huge amount of risk to even test it. You’d probably have put up your home as security for a loan, which would pay for people, marketing, advertising, infrastructure and distribution channels.
Today most of all those things are either free or cheap.
You can literally test your business idea with a $100 AdWords campaign and a $20 website.
Plus, distribution is precise and inexpensive, social media is free, talented people can be found and hired anywhere in the world, SEO is a by-product of producing content which makes a difference and you can get incredible online functionality and more digital technology than you need in the startup phase – with very little expense.
The good news is that it means you can start a business with next to nothing. The bad news is that everyone is doing it.
3. Create Value.
It’s such a cliche, isn’t it? But do you know what it really means to create value?
Well, to answer you need to first realise that precisely because starting your own business has never had less barriers, there are thousands of people all around the world competing against you in your niche. Right now.
And it means that to get ahead, you need a remarkable value proposition.
If I shook you out of sleep at 2am and yelled at you “what value does your business deliver?” you need to be able to explain that in crisp, succinct detail. You need to know exactly what problem your customer is experiencing and how you can fix it.
Your business will not move anywhere until you can do that.
Value, value, value. If you remember anything about marketing, remember this: the sole purpose of your business is to create value. And your sole purpose as business owner is to make your business create value.
The amount of revenue your business generates will be proportional with the amount of value it creates. If you’re not seeing much revenue, ask yourself – how well do understand your market’s problems? And how good are you at fixing them?
4. Eliminate Distractions.
Understanding how you create value also helps you use your time effectively.
If you don’t know which of your activities produce value you’ll waste your days doing things which might seem important, but in the context of your startup’s success, aren’t.
When I started my business I wasted way too much time making sure my web pages looked good, my bio sounded nice, my logo was impressive and my Facebook page was getting some likes.
I also spent a lot of time browsing the Internet and consuming all kinds of content, however remotely related it was to my work (at the end of the day, when you’re starting a careers business you can convince yourself that watching a BBC documentary about El Nino is market research – “what if people lose jobs because of it?”)
Thing is, none of those activities – although important on some level – were producing anything valuable or unique in my market.
5. Understand Your Motivations.
Why did you decide to start a business?
Was it because you wanted to work for yourself? Because you hated your boss? Because you wanted more flexible working conditions? Because you wanted less stress? Because you wanted to spend more time with your family?
All those motivations are valid, though notice how they have little to do with .. you guessed it, creating value.
The most successful businesses are born of an entrepreneur’s desire to fix someone else’s problem, not their own. Spend some time thinking about what it is outside yourself that you care about most. What kind of difference do you want to make in the world? What kind of problems you’d love to see vanish?
The more you focus on other people’s problems, the more value you’ll be able to create, the happier you’ll be and the more successful your startup will become.
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