Just like an electrician or a mechanic, every business owner needs a strong set of tools to depend on to help get the job done on a daily basis. You can’t get by on skills alone, so you need a means to make the ideas fall into place and run smoothly. Once you have these five essential tools in your business toolkit, you’ll have a solid starting point and a better sense of direction:
Starting a business means navigating through a range of hurdles and challenges. Walking through it alone can make the decision-making process more daunting. Sometimes the path to success is not as clear as you’d like it to be, so it always helps to have someone to help you see it through and provide input and feedback. That old saying “two heads are better than one” is very true when it comes to business, and there’s a reason that more and more medium to large sized companies are shifting into collaborative workspaces and team-focused operations.
Having the right support for your business means leaning on someone who you can trust, and who you can count on to provide honest feedback. If you haven’t brought on business partners, this can be particularly important. Draw on someone’s experience and ask them to help mentor you through the process. Your mentor could be a business coach (like the coaches at Commons!), a trusted friend or colleague, or someone whose success you’d like to emulate.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. You won’t necessarily have to take all advice given to you, but it can give you a better perspective before making big business decisions. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to asking questions about your specific business, but there may be problems you can’t anticipate that someone else can point out to you from their own experience. At the very least, a mentor can likely provide you with some pros and cons you hadn’t considered when making big decisions.
The best relationships go both ways, so ensure that you are actively engaging in a two-way conversation and providing your own feedback and ideas.
Tool #2: A Network
You can’t build a network overnight, but the good news is, you don’t have to. Chances are, you have a strong network to draw on to get you started, whether that includes business associates, previous colleagues, contacts from school, or just your family and friends. These people might not be able to speak directly about your product or services, but they can speak to your work ethic, innovation, or past experience, which immediately helps you build credibility.
Building a network is an activity that is just as it sounds; it requires some assembly. Your network acts as a sales team for you, which means the most important tool you can provide for the people in your network is education. If no one knows what it is you’re doing or selling, they can’t help you sell it. Take the time to talk to the people you know in-depth about your venture, and make sure that they know who an ideal client is for you, so that they can make those connections effortlessly.
To begin building your network out, it helps to join a business networking group in your area. If the time or financial obligations of a group won’t work for you, another great way to build a network is simply to get out there and attend as many business-related events, seminars, and presentations as possible. For example, NABI’s Lunch & Learns are a great way to network and build your presence by word of mouth. With the added benefit of a little learning, you can quickly make contacts that will push your business forward into continued growth.
Just like mentorship, networking is not a one-way street, so be prepared to put as much into it as you expect to receive, or you won’t get the results you need to grow your business. Help others make great connections, and you will ultimately help yourself. Also remember to be patient; you have to plant a lot of seeds before you reap the harvest!
Every business needs a story, and that story should be your ultimate hook. Your story should personalize your business, and tell people why they need to be part of it. For many startups and entrepreneurs, the best story to tell is the one you’re currently working on developing. There must be a reason you decided to take the risk to venture out on your own, and people are fascinated with the “why” behind these stories.
Maybe you tried a few different brands of the same product and found that they all came up short in one specific way, so you decided you needed to be the one to fill that gap with something completely new and innovative. Or maybe you founded your business more organically, with clients coming to you with a specific need over and over, and you realized that you needed to shift your focus and venture out on your own.
For the best results, turn your story into your brand and tell it in everything you do. Make your story part of your visuals and your content, and help your audience connect with it by telling it in an honest and relatable way.
Turning a new venture into a profitable business takes investment, and not only where it concerns your financial resources. Your time is one of the most valuable resources when you’re getting off the ground, because you need to be a jack of all trades, master of none. With so many different aspects of your business to manage, the only way you’ll be able to keep a tight hold on everything is to have strong systems in place to guide your processes – particularly where those processes concern your clients.
The system you choose doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as a Word document outlining the steps you need to take with each client or sale. For a more responsive system that automates some of the work, you can try to find a CRM (customer relationship management) program that will lay out your systems for you.
Whether you choose to manage your processes on paper or with a program, your system should be able to guide you through the steps of your client process, from contacting leads, right through to billing and client feedback. It should also be outlined clearly enough to save you time on communications when you need to start delegating work to someone else, or bring on a new hire.
A professional wesbite adds instant credibility to your business. If people can’t find you on the web, there is an automatic sense of wariness. Scammers and dishonest “business owners” have inundated the business world, and it makes people automatically wary of any business that doesn’t have a verifiable online presence, particularly if you also don’t have a physical location they can visit. At the very least, having a website tells potential clients that you’ve taken the time to think out your ideas and put them into a cohesive strategy.
Again, your website can be as simple as you want it to be. You don’t need to drop thousands of dollars on a top-rate website designer to have a digital presence that will get you through the startup phase. If funds are tight and you just need to have something in place to direct people to, there are many ways to easily set up a website from a template using website design platforms like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace. Keep it as simple as you like, but make sure your URL shows on your email signature and business cards. Even if people don’t go to the site, it will make them more comfortable knowing that you have it in place.
We want to know…
What are some other tools you have in your business toolkit that have helped you launch a successful startup? Tweet them to us at @NABIBiz or find us on Facebook.
Do you have questions about these tools, or need more resources to help you with a new venture? NABI offers one-on-one coaching for entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses. Book your FREE 60-minute coaching session today!
Northern Alberta Business Incubator Society (NABI)
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