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The loyal readers of this blog know that I preach one concept very often– it’s so easy to start a business. This startup revolution is mainly attributed to the growth of some particularly amazing and surprisingly affordable cloud software geared towards small businesses. But if you aren’t aware of the tools currently available, then you might not truly understand that the brilliant idea in your head is much closer to being a reality than you might assume.
Because it’s so quick and easy to get entire systems up-and-running, especially when lean startup principles are leveraged with cloud software, a general plan of action will help you sustain that quick pace well into the lifecycle of your startup. Below is my personal checklist of the very first things that need to get done when starting a business, in more-or-less chronological order–
1. Speak to your future paying customers and answer a few basic questions
A lot of people wait too long before they actually have a conversation with a potential customer, when in fact it’s usually the very first thing you should do. Depending on your specific situation, you don’t even have to mention you’re starting a business — although there are certainly benefits to being completely transparent — but at the minimum you should ask some basic questions to better understand the market you’re about to enter. If you’re starting a product, how much volume do they move, and where are they currently purchasing it from? Are there any competing products? If you’re starting a service, what is your customer currently doing to deal with the given problem at hand? Who is the actual decision-maker when deciding to purchase this given product or service? What do they take into account when making a purchasing decision? What time of year do they make purchasing decisions like this? How do they make purchasing decisions? The answers to these questions you’ll receive from your future customers will help you identify and articulate the true value of your idea, and will help shape future marketing materials and the overall message.
If you want to go the transparent route and explain that you’re considering starting up a new business, people will be much more receptive in your questioning and thoughtful in their answers. They will also be more likely to be customers when the time comes, because they had a hand in crafting the vision. Also, don’t avoid this step because you’re scared someone will steal your idea. No one is going to steal your idea. Besides, if you have any sort of success, copy-cats are going to pop up anyway– you need to focus on out-competing everyone else.
It’s important to remember that you will likely experience your first encounter with a competitor at this point. Whether they are identical to you or only tangentially related, it’s important to remember that you don’t need first-mover advantage to be successful. Google was not the first search engine, they were just the next “Ask Jeeves”. Facebook was not the first social network, they were just the next “MySpace”. DollarShaveClub was not the first to sell razors, they just did it differently. You might not be the first to market, but that hardly matters.
It’s also at this point where you’ll encounter your first criticisms. Don’t ignore them, but don’t let them derail you either. You need to be humble enough to alter your vision if the situation actually warrants it, but confident enough to move forward in the face of adversity.
2. Weigh the path of least resistance vs the optimal launch situation
Having a great idea doesn’t matter– executing the plan is what matters. Yes, executing well is important, but executing at all is just as important– if you don’t move forward with anything, then all you had was a really good idea and nothing more. It’s at this stage — when people have a well-thought out plan and are ready to execute– that most people give up.
Don’t set yourself up for failure and give up before you even start. One of the most common reasons this happens is because people tend to build plans that are so complex, capital-intensive and time-consuming that they simply aren’t realistic or seem so daunting that people succumb to the thought of making that first move.
The best solution is to weigh your options of taking the path of least resistance versus the path that will lead to a more mature concept. I usually recommend erring towards the path of least resistance for the sake of getting something– anything– started up.
Thinking of starting a website? Instead of hiring a developer to build a custom solution — which takes a lot of time, a lot of money, and essentially guarantees that you will hit speed bumps along the way — grab a domain name and hosting account at BlueHost, install wordpress (with the click of a button), choose a free or premium theme and install (with the click of a button), get some key wordpress plugins installed (with the click of a button), and boom– your website is up-and-running within a matter of hours. [EXPERT LEAN STARTUP TIP– Choose a theme that uses a Google Font-based logo instead of a custom image, saving time and money on logo development costs. Worry about that later. Click to tweet this!]
Thinking of starting an ecommerce business? Instead of hiring a developer to build a custom solution, build an ecommerce website from scratch with Shopify, BigCommerce or WooCommerce with a few clicks and about 30 minutes of time.
Starting a product business? Build it by hand. Starting a service business? Go talk to potential customers face-to-face and close the sale in real life. Do you even need a website at all to launch? These are all relevant questions when launching a business.
Remember, the smaller and leaner you start, the easier it is to incorporate good feedback into your business, improve on things, and pivot as necessary. Once you know your general path forward, you’re ready to start putting things into action–
3. Claim your basic online infrastructure
The first thing you need to do before anything else when putting any startup launch plan into action is grab all of your basic online infrastructure. This would usually include–
- Domain name(s)
- Twitter handle
- Instagram handle
- Facebook page
There are laws against squatting on someone else’s names if they own the intellectual property. I’ve never had to go that route, but just avoid those potential headaches and grab all of these things. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook names will take a few minutes in total to grab, and it’s free. Depending on where you purchase your domain, and if you purchase hosting along with it, you’ll likely get the domain for free as well. That’s why this is the perfect first step– it takes a few minutes in total to grab everything, is free, and is an easy first-step to build momentum from.
4. Launch an anonymous or semi-anonymous “coming soon” landing page
This concept is simple– all businesses need a community of customers to be successful, and starting to grow that community as soon as possible is always a great idea. My favorite tool for this is LaunchRock, either using their hosted-solution, or using their WordPress Plugin on your own website and domain.
This is a very strategic move, and the details will vary from business-to-business, but I cannot think of any situation where some sort of simple email-capture landing page would not be of use to a startup. Many startups, such as Harry’s [Note: awesome case study here from Tim Ferriss on how Harry’s did it], have benefitted from using a basic landing page as a sort of “soft launch” well before their full-scale launch was ready.
There are two main reasons why this is a great idea–
First, you’ll start learning what works and what doesn’t as far as marketing
Even for the best marketing experts out there, it’s tough to tell which marketing plans will work and which won’t until they’re actually live. However, trends and patterns tend to develop from campaign to campaign, and after a while, it’s easier to predict what will resonate with your audience and execute accordingly. The sooner you learn what resonates with your audience, the better, and the simplest of landing pages can help you start that exploration process.
Second, you’ll be able to make a bigger splash into the market when you’re ready
When you’re finally ready to launch your business officially, viral growth, or at least word-of-mouth, is what you’ll most likely be aiming for. When it comes to those sorts of strategies, success or failure won’t be determined by you– it will be determined by your network. Having a robust network right from the start is invaluable, and the only way to do that is to have infrastructure in place to build that network, which is exactly what a basic, vague landing page can provide.
5. Execute your launch plan with the goal of assisting viral growth
Ok, so you’ve figured out your general plan of launch, grabbed all of your basic online infrastructure, and have a robust mailing list and social network to build on. You’re ready to launch. The most important thing here is to facilitate word-of-mouth whenever possible–
- On your “Transaction Success” page, whether it’s a purchase or an opt-in, make sure to include share buttons so the person can spread the word to their network
- Make sure you’re using clear, consistent, and successfully-tested language everywhere, from your website to your marketing materials
- Whether the action you’re aiming for is a purchase, an opt-in or a social share, make it as easy as possible with fewest steps possible
Obviously every business will be different, but these are the general step I suggest taking when launching a startup. Remember, as a startup, your biggest asset is your flexibility, so don’t be scared to take decisive action in order to increase value to your customers. Good luck, and as always, feel free to tweet me at @SL_Steinberg with any questions.