Written by Alex Quilici
Passion? Check. Vision? Got it. Five-year strategic business plan? Triple-check. Tomorrow's to-do list? Hmm, not so much. Every startup begins with an idea in search of a business model, but your startup's growth and development—and how you transition it into a more established company—is a unique journey.
While a powerful vision can start a company, it's not what makes it last. No matter your goal—whether to be acquired or to become the next Google, Facebook, or Uber—that journey requires innovation, focus, determination, and a willingness to embrace a few business basics. As old-school as it sounds, a back-to-basics approach is a winning formula. We look at six essential business strategies for long-term success.
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Business Basics that Build Success
- Focus on Growth
Notice we didn't say "Focus on Standing Still." You may think we're stating the obvious, but if you want your business to succeed, you need to be disciplined about growth. Developing something shiny and pretty and then waiting for people to come to you won't work. Successful, growing companies think very seriously about growth—where it will come from, how to get it, how to nurture it, and how to expand.
If you haven't done so yet, implement a concerted "awareness" marketing effort that includes social media, blogging, SEO, and content development to help expand your visibility. If you can afford it, get an experienced PR team on board to get you in front of the appropriate press and influencers.
Are you focusing on the right market? Do some research and find out. Look to the industry or the companies most similar to yours. Know your industry and learn what you can from those who came before you. Understand the big picture and embrace the fact that customer needs constantly change. Your job is to anticipate and contribute to that change.
- Team Wisely
Make no mistake, this is a BIG deal. Chances are that you work 60- to 80-hours a week, so hiring the right team is critical to your success. Find people who are committed to the startup environment, people who are doers and will get things done regardless of the resources or the challenges. Tenacity, energy, and a bit of fearlessness should be at the top of your list. A diverse group—whether it's generational, geographical, or experiential—is something to consider as well.
This applies to the companies you work with, too. Whether it's a partner, a PR firm or some other vendor, you need to team wisely. Are potential hires or vendors experienced? Do they know your industry? What's their success rate? How quickly can they pivot or shift gears? Will they take your call at 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon?
- Stay Relevant
Relevance dominates. "Companies are afraid to ask the relevance question; 'Is what I am making or selling still relevant, and will it be five or ten years from now?'" says innovation expert Debra Kaye, author of the book Red Thread Thinking. She goes on to say, "But they need to ask it every year, because if a company loses relevance, it dies."
Why is staying relevant such a challenge? The simplest explanation is that things change. Customer needs evolve, and sometimes the competition gets better at filling those needs. Professionally, it's important to network and to stay abreast of new technologies and market shifts. Reassess your ideas and ask yourself if they're still relevant. Are you talking with your existing customers? What are you learning? Have you identified any new risks or issues? If so, embrace the challenge and be ready to make a change.
- Listen Carefully
As a business leader, it's critical to make sure people on your team have the opportunity for honest dialogue. Have everyone be part of the conversation. I'm a big believer in walking around and asking questions. Leaders need to be interested, receptive, and approachable. Make sure that you go beyond your four walls—talk to customers, partners, and others in your industry.
Feedback is all about listening to your customers and potential customers to figure out what you should be doing differently—whether it's improving your product or service, changing it, or changing your pricing. Listen and learn.
- Celebrate Wins
Close a big deal? Sign on a major partner or reseller? Did you recently launch a new product or service? Hit a major milestone? Cue the confetti. Actively celebrate when things go right. This goes for the small wins too (customer referral, press, heck—even a bug fix).
It's really important to note those points of progress, since it's very rare for a business to explode overnight. Rather, it's much more likely to be a series of little steps and little wins that all combine to help you find the pathway to success.
Namaste, people, namaste. The startup life can be draining. Long hours, crazy travel, and anxiety-filled quarter ends. That means it's critical to take time off every once in a while. Step away from the office, unplug a bit and allow yourself the luxury of some much needed downtime.
Trust me. Burnout is real, and it can it pose a serious problem both for business leaders and the folks on their team. Lead by example. Take that vacation and encourage your employees to do the same. They'll be much more apt to sustain those 60-hour startup workweeks if they're rested and recharged.
[Don’t miss out on more startup tips: 7 Tips for Small Business Startup Success]
Alex Quilici, a successful entrepreneur in the telephony industry for the past 15 years, is currently the CEO of YouMail, a call management app that replaces traditional voicemail to enhance productivity.
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