One of the first lessons learned is that you have stand out. You have to differentiate yourself. When you’re just getting started, the biggest thing you’ll be vying for is attention. Nobody is going to pay attention to a company that’s doing exactly the same thing as everyone else, but on a much smaller scale.
What helped us is to think about why people don’t do business with whatever the status quo is in your industry. Then try to fix it. So for us at Confidently it was, “why wouldn’t someone use a job board to find a job?” and “why wouldn’t a company post a job opening on a job board?” From there we set out to create something that people and companies who don’t normally use job boards would use.
One of my favorite books on this topic is Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. Remember that when you do determine what will set you apart, there will always be people who will tell you it can’t be done. Ignore them.
2. Don’t be afraid to change everything
Everyone says that what you start out with isn’t how you’ll end up building your business. Yet in the beginning everyone who hears that says, “not in my case, what I’ve got is something that’s perfect, it’s sure to succeed!” There’s really nothing wrong with thinking that in the beginning. But when the time comes to make that big change (and it will), be ready to let that go.
When you get to that indelible crossroad, don’t overthink it. Trust your gut and make the necessary change. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.
3. Know when to stop planning and start doing
Some people are planners and some people are doers. Of course you need a little of both. But in the start-up stage it can be easy to over-plan. As hard as it is you need to make sure you’re executing. Read Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky and follow the Action Method he presents. It really helped me.
4. If something doesn’t work, stop
Cue overused but dead-on flying spaghetti metaphor. If something doesn’t work, and the spaghetti slides off the wall, the same thing is going to happen again and again. Don’t waste your time (and your sanity). Do yourself a favor and move on.
Learn from it, though. Take what didn’t work into account when planning your next move. It takes some tenacity, but as long as you have a next move, keep going. And when you find something that does work, do it more.
5. Looks matter
It makes no difference what industry you’re in. Design is in everything these days. Having your logo, website, brochure, office, shop, or whatever look good is an easy way to give you a much needed boost in the beginning. People will like you more and they’ll take you more seriously. Like it or not it’s just the way it is.
6. Think like a big, successful company
Wait, aren’t big companies supposed to think like small, nimble companies? Yes, but that’s just the point. You need to be both.
There will be times when you’ll make assumptions because you’re small. You will say, “We can’t land that whale, that’s who the big boys go after.” How do you think they got to be the “big boys” anyway? At some point you have to start building the successful thinking into your culture.
7. Learn how to follow-up
Relationship building is important to every small business. Inevitably, everyone faces the disappointment of realizing the unresponsive contact you’ve been dying to start collaborating with is clearly not as enthusiastic as you.
Look, everyone is busy. You’re unproven and just starting out. You have to show them you’re important. How do you do that? Well, you can start by swallowing your pride and following up. It shows that you’re on the ball, you really have something to say, and you just might be worth their time. Make it a habit.
8. Stay organized and get into a consistent routine
Inevitably, when you’re building a business, you will hit a plateau. It will seem like a lot of hard work with little reward and you may start to lose focus.
But building your own company shouldn’t feel like a drag. Most of the time, people just need to know what to do next. Sometimes a simple project-based checklist is all you need. If you’re just starting out on a part-time basis, make sure you are working consistently. Put in a bit of time each day.
Find the tools that help keep you going and work them. For me, Less Annoying CRM, Wunderlist, and Evernote are simple tools that help me stay on top of my leads, get stuff done, and remember everything.
9. Always be learning
This is the old life-long adage. It is very true, though, and one of the most important lessons learned. Never be afraid of new insight. Just make sure to apply it to your situation and challenges.In another three years this list might look a lot different for me. I hope so. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong now. If it’s not, then I’ll need to learn more. Isn’t that what life’s all about, anyway?
Carl Phelps is an entrepreneur from Rochester, NY with expertise in digital marketing. He is a co-founder of Confidently, an online community that helps connect college students and recent grads with top opportunities at awesome employers.