First-time entrepreneur? 6 things to focus on

Building anything from scratch is very hard — even more so when you are attempting to do so with the intention of turning a profit. This is for first-time entrepreneurs who have never run a business before or perhaps have never even sold anything before. It’s also advice that I haven’t heard very often during business seminars or training sessions. This is as much for you as it is for me.

  1. Find a problem you’re passionate about or have experience

When you’re unsure of your ability to sell a service, it’s generally a bad idea to build that service around a problem area that you either are not passionate about or have no specific experience with which you can create the solution. Admittedly, it’s tempting to build a business around a perceived solution for your target market however you’ll be trapping yourself to how well that solution is received by the market. It can be very demoralizing when the market does not receive it with open arms especially if you committed various resources to bring the service to the market. If you focus on the problem then you will remain flexible as you gain market feedback which will encourage you to run experiments to determine customer demand before you commit prematurely.

2. Choose a customer segment. Be their champion

When focusing on a problem, it will be very easy to identify several stakeholders who can benefit from the solution. For instance, a grocery shopping app can benefit consumers, retailers, distributors and more. Rather than trying to build a one-time solution that serves all of them, choose one that you understand and care the most about. If you’re not sure which one to choose then spend time with each and consider which group you enjoyed talking to the most. Do whatever you can to be helpful to them and they’ll eventually want to help you in return.

3. Create a sales strategy

I don’t think it makes sense to spend months writing a business plan. Lots of people will disagree with me on this but what’s the point in having a business plan if you still haven’t even made one sale? Feel free to write one if it makes you feel comfortable but be sure to focus primarily on the sales strategy. Everything you do should be influenced by this strategy i.e. how will I sell to my first customer and how will I grow sales to customer #100? Also, focus on building a short sales cycle i.e. rather than focusing on gaining the business of a big player in the market; get a few small players on your side first. They will require less paperwork in the contract and you’ll get to a faster “yes” or “no” which is the best gauge of customer demand.

4. Don’t hide the struggle

There are untold struggles to be faced when commercializing a project into a company; struggles that often only other entrepreneurs will understand. However, they are not the only ones who will. Share with others who are genuinely interested in your personal development and not just in your business. This obviously excludes investors or “mentors” whom you only interacted with during a networking session or business seminar. You may be surprised to find out that strangers will be far more supportive than even your family or friends. Try not to take this personally — your family and friends will naturally not wish to see you take serious risks. You’ll discover weaknesses that you didn’t even know you had and having someone to speak to as you figure things out will be invaluable. Don’t run from it.

5. Find champions for your cause

It’s absolutely true that it’s easier to build a business when you’re working with a team of passionate persons with complementary skills however you’ll also quickly realize that even the best team needs outside help. Whether they are customers discussing their good experience with you or industry leaders giving you tips on how to really make an impact, you’ll be happy to know you are not fighting alone. Find ways to show your champions that you’re truly grateful for their support.

6. Have fun!

A lot of the pressure behind building a business is the desire to “look good” or “be the next Facebook”. That kind of BS pressure will drive you to stress especially if you don’t focus on any of the above. Aside from the struggles, you should be having a great time building the business if you chose to provide a service for which you are truly passionate or which is closely aligned with your expertise.

Remember why you are doing what you are doing — it wasn’t so you can be stressed all day long. Whenever you forget, go speak to your customers.

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