When advising new businesses, I often remind them of the challenges they are about to come up against. We like to recall the exploits of entrepreneurs after they have been successful, but that should not fool you into thinking the market loves new businesses. It does not. After all, who wants more competition?
Startups should never wait to be invited in. Instead, they must force themselves into the market by making noise, which is not always easy with few initial connections and even fewer resources.
From my experience starting businesses, there are 5 ways you can be small, but still be heard:
1. Get in front of the customer. We can all sit behind a computer and tweet out to a crowded space saying, “Look at me.” But the greatest battle facing any business today is getting the customer’s attention, the market’s most valuable commodity. To get your customer’s attention, you have to be in front of them. Nearly all of my businesses have arranged events and groups just out of the basic drive to be in front of the customer. These included product launches — a way to generate some immediate energy and word-of-mouth excitement around a product just ahead of launch — to focus groups, where we would invite a group of targeted customers into the office and ask for their opinion on particular products. My publishing company, Legend Press, also launched Legend 100 at the end of last year: A group of customers who receive advance copies of books in exchange for posting reviews online.
2. Be minutely focused. No one likes general noise. There is no point in telling everyone that you are a great business and are going to change the market and be the next big thing. Pick a product, campaign, outlet, customer or whatever it may be, and aim your attention and resources there. As a book publisher, we would highlight a particular book, market or even retailer and focus there for a headline. Break through with precision, and each breakthrough thereafter will become easier.
3. Establish partnerships. If you are not big enough to make an impact on your own, work with someone who does. Some of the most high-profile campaigns we have run have been in partnership with established brands and organizations, like Virgin, Guardian, Benugo and Prince’s Trust.
4. Have an opinion. Advertisements cost money, but being a thought leader costs nothing. Customers are used to being bombarded with advertorials disguised as neutral pieces of writing and can be quickly put off by it. But that does not mean they do not love opinions. Talk about your industry, your ideas and the future as you see it. I have always taken the time to make necessary connections and write across numerous publications.
5. Work hard. This sounds obvious, however, I am amazed by the number of startup founders I meet who print their CEO business cards, start living the image and wait for success to happen. Starting a business is hard, and pretension is usually a period ahead of going out of business quickly. When I had my company’s first book printed, I packed a box of them and visited every independent bookshop in London within walking distance. One of the best generators of noise is the build up of relentless hard work.
Customers, focus, partnerships, opinions and hard work are the factors that will help startups go from shouting from a distance to building up a deafening roar.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.
Image credit: CC by Anoka County Library