If you are in the beginning stages of starting a business, let me be one of the first to welcome you to the agony and the ecstasy of self-employment. It’s going to be a wild ride, and in this post I hope to offer you a few words of advice and encouragement.
Explosion Media Group is the fifth company I’ve started in my life. By now, you’d think I’d be pretty used to the emotional hairpin turns that one faces during the first few months a new business venture, but I’m struggling with the ups and downs of this startup every bit as much as I did with my first company.
You might also think that, as a marketing consultant, I’d have an easy time getting my message out and building a new client base. In reality, I find it much easier to offer advice to others than to take my own. Trying to craft branding and advertising for my own company brings me a lot of emotional turmoil and sleepless nights. I can’t put my finger on why, exactly. I just know that it’s much easier for me to connect the dots and put the pieces together for a client’s strategy than for my own.
I offer a lot of services, from building websites to Business English classes. I just launched this website a couple of weeks ago, and I am not afraid to say that it still has a long way to go before I’ll be happy with it. I am spending a very small amount of money (about $3) each day on online advertising on a trial basis and it’s very likely that that’s how you got here. Right now I am watching how potential clients (read: you) interact with my site, what drives you to click and read, and what drives you to leave without even saying goodbye.
I will be the first to admit that my website is, currently, far from the most compelling marketing site around, but it is improving gradually and I’m already getting my cost per click for my advertising down to a pretty modest rate, and I have extended the average time a visitor lingers here by about 15% over the last week.
This brings me to my first piece of advice for new business owners:
Don’t waste time waiting around for perfection.
One of my filmmaking mentors back in college used to always tell me: a project will never be truly finished, you can only hope for it to be good enough to get the job done. I could have spent months, even years, fiddling around with my website, and in fact, my last advertising agency went without a website for an embarassingly long time because my web team wanted everything to be perfect before launch.
This put me in the terribly awkward position of always having to explain to my clients why my website was eternally in a state of “Coming Soon!” How could someone trust me to build a website when I couldn’t even finish my own? It would have been far better for me to simply build a simple, clean little website and build on it gradually over time. Hindsight!
Another problem is sorting out your product lines, and that’s something you really need to get a handle on straight away.
Know your product lines and know your target audiences, and refine them over time.
I myself have multiple audiences that I am trying to address in the long term. Many of my video clients tend to be other advertising agencies or production companies, and all of the info on my site about branding and web design is really just a distraction to them, so I am actually setting up a second brand and website that will focus on video and film production. I also have some potential clients for my business English classes in Vietnam who would be distracted by all of the media/marketing “noise” so I am setting up a separate “landing page” specifically tailored to those customers here — I’ve already found a couple of clients this way, even though it’s far from finished.
These efforts are still in their infancy but hopefully they demonstrate what I am trying to accomplish in setting up and tailoring various value propositions and strategies for various target audiences. So many of my clients have this same problem, because the kind of people who become entrepreneurs tend to be “jacks of all trades” in their fields with broad knowledge and capabilities. In a lot of ways it is much easier for those people who can only do one little thing but do it very well. In the long-term I think we Renaissance Men and Women CAN have the upper hand.
Finally: don’t let the waiting kill you.
Once you’ve launched your business, opened your doors, and invited everyone to drop by, get ready for an excruciatingly long period of time before anyone steps forward. One of the most fundamental principles of marketing is that the average prospective customer needs to see an ad anywhere between three and twelve times before they will act on it. This means your ads have to be out there for quite some time before you will get any results.
This is the hardest part of my job, and it’s why every marketing consultant has to be part-therapist. A large part of my job comes after a campaign is launched and we are waiting for it to have impact. There is usually a three or four month lag before it will really start to kick in, even with big budgets and fantastic ideas. The nail-biting lag between launch and impact is miserable, both for me and for the client, but we all just have to understand that that’s the nature of the beast. That’s why I always tell people that if they didn’t start advertising their business six months before it opened for business then they waited far too long.
Once you finally DO get some customers, things will speed up so quickly that you will look back on the slow startup days with wistful nostalgia, and you will ALWAYS crave more time, so make the most of your first few months. Improve your business, prepare materials, processes, and tools that will help you to be more efficient once things start heating up. Try to think ahead to the kinds of problems you will have once you’re really busy. Go to networking events and get involved with your community. All of these things will make your business much stronger in the long run.
Just remember: every single business owner has gone through the trials and tribulations that you’re facing now. If starting a new company were easy then everyone would do it. Even if you fail, you should be extremely proud of yourself for sticking your neck out and giving this a shot. I am just as proud as my two failed businesses as I am for the three that made it, and they taught me a great deal about business and life in general.
Best of luck! And if you ever need someone to help talk you through things, feel free to drop me a line. I offer free consultations to all new business owners and I have been where you’re going.
Play us out, Calvin!