Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Start-Up Survival: Part 1

By Angela Nguyen

After being either directly involved or tangentially involved in well over a dozen different start-up companies, I’ve learned a thing or two about both the nuts and bolts that need to be in place in order to keep a place running and the need to cultivate the spirit and identity of a company early on. Both are incredibly important, but for the purposes of this article, I’ll start on the latter, the items we generally consider as parts of the big picture.

Most companies will tell you what they are selling and what their product does or what their services are supposed to achieve. But the great ones will tell you the “why” of their existence. They’ll tell you how their vision guides how the company operates and presents their offerings as an attractive addition to your daily routine.
With so many companies doing the same thing and offering similar benefits and features, it is important to appeal to your audience’s higher self in order to effectively lure them away from the competition. Is your company a free-spirited, creative force? Is it for rebels with a cause? Is it for young professionals with little time on their hands? Know your target demographic, because they will get your vision and connect with you through it.

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and in the critical early stages of a startup, you have precious little time and resources to waste on people who cannot pull their weight. Be realistic about every single person you bring on to your team to help you run and operate your business, and don’t compromise on the integrity of your vision because you want to spare your friend’s feelings. Decide roles and identify strengths and weaknesses early on so you can plan out what you either need to learn or who you’ll need to staff to make up for the deficit.
And if you do bring someone on to fill an occupational void in your start-up, try to bring someone on who is better than you at the job, who will have the patience to break concepts down to you and help you fluidly bring your vision to life. You don’t want to be managing and teaching everyone everything. You just won’t have the time.

It’s tempting to want to try every strategy under the sun to get traction in sales and awareness, to pull every arrow in your quiver and let them fly in all directions, hoping one of them will hit your target. But the reality is you are probably starting off with a limited amount of money and manpower, and you won’t have the luxury to take your time with a ton of trial and error.
That’s not to say you won’t have to do some split testing – few plans work perfectly with so many factors out of your control, but you can minimize wasted time and money be honing in on a focused plan and coming up with other contingency plans in order to be able to roll with the potential punches headed your way. The world moves at a fast pace, and new companies have to know how to move even more agilely to get ahead.

But what good is a strategy if you have no action plan to put it to work? With a grand plan in place, you’ll need to appoint the people responsible for carrying out the different parts of it, delegate the tasks, and set achievable goals and realistic time lines for completing the tasks and hitting benchmarks.
Decide what timeline works for your business. A 90-day action plan may work for you. It’s long enough to set a high enough goal to aspire to and motivate your team, but it’s not so much room that you can’t reasonably predict market changes. Planning a year in advance might give you peace of mind, but so much can happen in that given time span that it may change drastically.

Even little actions are movement in the right direction. Have big goals as well as plans spelled out for the smaller, more manageable tasks that you know can get done in a finite amount of time. Keeping the momentum and not falling into planning paralysis is part of maintaining the balance of a healthy startup.

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