Running a startup can be difficult.
For at least the first year and likely the first few you’re kind of reaching for straws, seeing what works.
There are no rulebooks for how to run your particular business. It’s beneficial to look at those that have come before and use their experiences and successes to chart your own path. You don’t need to reinvent the route to success.
However, even with that knowledge it’s difficult to figure it all out right away. Sometimes you feel like everyone else is successful and that there must be some kind of secret they have that you don’t.
The truth is that others, even the ones seemingly successful, go through ups and downs. It’s easy to pay attention to the ups and easier to ignore the downs when it’s happening to someone else.
But with ourselves it’s usually the opposite.
There might be something to the secret concept, though. Throughout the life of GBW I’ve had a-ha moments where a light bulb has come on in my mind. It’s made me think why I didn’t think of this before.
And I don’t think I’m the only one.
So in this post we’re going to look at some of the big “secrets” startups have had. Hopefully the insight can turn on a light bulb for you and get things heading in the right direction; maybe a little faster than they would have happened otherwise.
1. Use Psychology And Behavioral Science To Your Advantage
In this TED Talk, Alex Laskey discusses his incredibly successful startup. It’s a software company that works with energy companies to improve energy efficiency and usage among consumers.
By using behavioral science, Laskey and his team figured out a way to get people to use less energy. Users would turn their lights off when leaving rooms. They would turn down the AC and the heat when they weren’t home. Overall, people became more efficient.
Laskey used a study that tested different ways to get people to respond. Monetary incentives didn’t work and neither did a couple other motivations. The one that did work was social pressure. Laskey’s software uses comparable users in each person’s area to show how their energy usage compares to their neighbors. Each month, users get the report and if they fall behind their own internal competitiveness kicks in and they work to get back on track.
Is there a social pressure aspect to your service or product? There might be and you could use this same psychology to your advantage. Otherwise, look at studies to see if there is a better way for you to understand how your target customers behave.
It could lead to fast growth just as it did for Laskey.
2. Find Your Niche
In this article, my favorite secret is the one about finding your niche and trusting the customer. This seems like an important one. Startups generally (not always) have an idea for a product or service. They may have an idea of the target customer, but over time the customer and even the product can evolve.
This is a good thing as long as the two items are narrowing in scope.
A common problem with startups and even some large businesses is focusing too broadly on the market. If you’re trying to be everything to everyone you’ll wind up being valuable to nobody.
Refine your product and make it really good for a certain area of the market. Find the niche and focus on that. Don’t worry if you get feedback from someone that doesn’t fit your customer profile that they dislike your product. Your product can’t be for everyone so you’ll hear negative feedback about what your product does from time to time.
At GBW, we hear this sometimes when people ask about other types of content like landing pages. It’s not our focus. We could do it, but we stick with blog posts and customers that want blog posts. It took a while to learn that, but it’s helped.
3. Find Your Low-Cost Customer Acquisition Channels
The section of this article is entirely about sales. One area where startups can get bogged down is focusing too much on the product or on non-sales related aspects of the growing business.
The reality is that without sales you’re not going to grow. In fact, without new customers you’re not going to grow. Even established businesses won’t grow without new customers. You can squeeze current customers for a little bit, but eventually you need new customers.
For startups, it can be tricky to generate sales without a large cost. You’ll have to test some methods, but keep your mind on the idea of finding your low-cost customer acquisition channels. They can be difficult to find, but when you do you’ll set yourself up for real growth and success.
It might be an advertising channel or it might be blogging. It could be a partnership, which we’ll talk about later.
Test acquisition channels. They may be expensive now, but look for those that show promise of producing great customers for low cost.
You can start with these two articles:
- 5 Ways For Small Businesses To Get More Sales In One Month
- How To Get Sales From Your Startup While Still Working Full-Time
4. Build Trust And Don’t Take It For Granted
This article is about being honest with yourself and it’s a big part of running a business. You have to be honest with yourself, your support team, your partners, your employees and your customers.
You have to earn trust by doing what you promise. It’s easy in concept, but requires diligence in practice. You’ll need trust with each of the people mentioned because you need them to be on your side through thick and thin. When they trust you they’ll stick with you no matter what is happening.
But you have to earn it. That means being honest about the status of the business. You can also earn trust by going beyond your promises. This is one benefit of a company blog. For customers, you can provide added value with knowledge on your blog. That’s something your customers get without having to pay you. It earns their trust.
Build trust and work to never lose it. It’s more difficult than you might realize at times, but always work to keep it because it’s critical for a growing business.
5. Use Partnerships To Get Exposure
Finally, partnerships can be great for startups.
As a new business, you’re starting with no audience for your brand in most cases. You need an audience to build a customer base. It can take time, but to cheat a little you can tap into existing audiences.
One way to do this is to partner with established businesses to tap into their existing audience. You’ll have to make it worth their while by providing some kind of value.
It could be as simple as providing your complementary services to their clients. They look good because they solve a problem for their clients and you get new clients.
Another partnership might be something like a webinar where you do all the work to get it setup and to create the content while the partner markets it and gets participants by promoting to their audience. You get exposure and they can do the webinar without needing to organize it or contribute work to create all the content.
Look for partnerships early on in your startup. It can be a really great way to build your audience and customer base.
There are generally no shortcuts to success. You have to work hard and figure out the path for your own startup success. But hopefully the ideas shared here can help you see the light a little faster. These secrets provide insight into strategy and direction, but the executive is still up to you. That’s where the hard work comes in that I know you’ll be willing to undertake on the way to your own success.