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8 Ways To Grow Your Startup Much Faster Than Your Competitors

8 Ways To Grow Your Startup Much Faster Than Your Competitors

Mike Tyson was once challenged by a competitor who boasted he had a plan to take the pro boxer down. When asked what he thinks of this plan, Tyson replied: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Getting punched in the mouth is basically the story of every startup owner. Obstacles cause delays, but here are some things to let you roll faster than your opponents — fresh from the school of hard knocks.

1. First, try selling something

The #1 mistake that all founders make is that they think, “If I build it, they will come.” Generally speaking, this is false. The best sites on the web are probably undiscovered. But, we have a bias — we only hear about the successful websites.

From what I see at incubators, getting initial users or sales is by far the hardest part of a startup. So, I would recommend getting experience selling something before you jump in. To give credit where it’s due, similar methods are discussed in the book Four Hour Work Week, and the Sumo Business BluePrint:

The Sales Test

  1. Get a graphic designer to make a few “concept” screenshots (or product photos) and having a “preorder” or “sign up for the beta” form.
  2. Don’t get a custom website yet. To save time, use LeadPages, Weebly, Wishpond, or SquareSpace to build out a sleek web presence without coding. I personally like Weebly for the main pages and its really great blog support. I’d then recommend LeadPages or Wishpond as your landing page. (Search Google for landing page services.)
  3. Do whatever the heck you can think of to sell it: Kijiji ads, Google adwords, or Facebook ads, and send over some traffic. Be creative!

If you can’t get a few people to sign up or preorder, odds are your idea isn’t worth building out. But congratulate yourself! Unlike other failed entrepreneurs who try to sell a bad idea out of blind ego, you will keep trying other ideas until you find one that sells naturally, without 1000 pounds of stress.

KickStarter, IndiGoGo, or Experiment.com are great ways to sell after making your first prototype. However, here are some things worth mentioning:

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  1. Even building the prototype and sleek video is a lot of work. So, first follow the sales test I recommend.
  2. KickStarter is ideal. They don’t accept many types of online businesses; check their terms before applying. IndiGoGo is a much less effective platform, but will accept almost anyone. With KickStarter, they promote you. With IndiGoGo, I’ve found it’s completely BYOT (Bring Your Own Traffic).
  3. Spend time and money marketing your crowdfunding campaign. Search online for tips to promote it. Often, they recommend building up your social network 3 months in advance.

2. Use a platform

You want focus only on the innovation. So, even though it may seem more expensive, use cloud platforms. I’d recommend looking into Heroku, BlueMix, Parse, Google Cloud, or Azure. If your chosen platform doesn’t support cloud storage, look into Amazon S3. Each has it’s advantages and disadvantages. For more on learning programming, you can see my last Lifehack post: How to Choose Your First Programming Language.

It’s tempting to think you can reduce costs by using your own server or Amazon AWS (which is lower-level nuts and bolts IaaS, not PaaS), but there are so many little things that a platform does for you:

  • Setting up servers.
  • Dealing with scaling.
  • IT administration.
  • Often managing and scaling a database.
  • Managing your environment.
  • Easy plug-ins to 3rd party services.
  • Basic backend analytics.

It’s tempting to think you can do all this yourself and save a few pennies. But your labour cost is the most valuable asset by far. You should also invest in using an MVC (model-view-controller) architecture.

Use a Cloud Database

Often you have other data or analytics you need to keep in a central database. Sometimes, the best solution is your web host’s MySQL. But that can become a silo, since it’s often hard to get it access to any cloud services. Consider using a cloud database. Google offers a MySQL solution with a 60-day trial. IBM’s DashDB is a cloud database with 1 GB of free storage. DashDB is based on DB2. It’s extremely similar to MySQL, has some extra bells and whistles (like JSON and dashboards), and lots of docs (Full disclosure: I work for IBM). Amazon RDS has a free tier as well.

3. Use a landing page service

Landing pages require tons of work, bells and whistles to get perfected. So, use a landing page service like LeadPages.net or WishPond. Do not pay a web designer to make your landing page or attempt to code it manually. Landing page services might not look as perfect as you imagined, but there are important reasons to use them. It’s partially the powerful features that they provide out-of-the-box, but there’s more benefit than just that.

When it comes to landing pages, you constantly need to experiment. Plus, you then need to do A-B testing. It’s not realistic to move rapidly if you need your team (or yourself) to code this manually. Remember, it must look proper for all OSes, all browsers, mobile and tablet. That’s just not realistic if you want to move quickly.

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Once you’re 100% positive about the landing page that works the best, you can then invest in coding it perfectly if needed. Although I’d argue that with less work, you can use the landing page service permanently.

4. Get a cofounder

If you want to move fast, you need help. It’s really tempting to try to do everything yourself, but even if you work 24 hours per day, it’s not realistic. I’d say, try to find someone who you’ve known for a long time.

It’s well known that single founders rarely make it. In fact, most incubators will not even allow single-founder startups. If you look at Microsoft, Google, Facebook, or Instagram, you’ll see they all had multiple founders. Even if one person took the lead, they still relied heavily on their cofounders.

Don’t expect a perfectly even division of labour. But, ensure there’s honesty about how hard you each want to work. Remember, always go to a hackathon or two with your cofounder before you commit, to see how he or she works in a team — even if one of you doesn’t code. Do hackathons to learn about each other and the latest coding trends quickly. But, don’t commit longterm to random hackathon projects.

5. Focus on only one thing

Do not get sidetracked. Have no side projects — ignore this advice at your own peril. If you have any other projects aside from your startup, it should be work-for-pay and be only for the sake of paying bills.

I know it seems like side projects might pay off, but the human brain just doesn’t work that way. If you look at big cofounders like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, you’ll notice that none of them work on 2 businesses in parallel. There are many serial entrepreneurs, but almost no parallel entrepreneurs. I have confirmed this with almost every entrepreneur I know: Dividing focus is deadly.

You may be thinking of people like Richard Branson, but so far as I know, he launched Virgin Airlines 12 years after he created Virgin Records. In other words, he had the cash and name to hire many full-timers by that point.

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6. Go to an incubator

An incubator is critical. It’s not just what the incubator organization gives you. That’s often less than you expect. It’s about absorbing the experience of the other 20 cofounders.

To show the power of an incubator, here’s a story:

I was running my business in isolation before I went for a visit to Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre. In just 1 day, here’s what I learned:

  • I met 3 cofounders, all of whom shared sensitive financial details about valuations, the current investment climate, and details about specific investors I was thinking of contacting.
  • I discovered a government grant program for a limited time that would let me hire a web designer for free for 3 months. And, I knew it was worth the paperwork because other startups went through it.
  • They tipped me off about a “founders and funders” event I could attend, where investors casually meet founders (10x easier than fighting tooth and nail for each investor meeting).
  • Marketing techniques that practically worked for the founders.

And much more. Here’s a dangerous line of thinking I’ve heard many times: “I don’t need an incubator. I’ve read books and attended events. I was told I don’t need an incubator. I have mentors. I don’t want to lose equity or pay rent, etc.”

None of these are valid excuses. You don’t need to be in an incubator for a long time, but you must go for at least a basic program. Check out a few of them in person. But I would say, even a mediocre incubator is better than no incubator. There are incubators that don’t take equity as well. You can find a list at Angel.co.

7. Get it designed professionally, faster

Right now, everything is about design. Get a professional designer with a portfolio you love. Even if you’re a great front-end developer, a pro designer will take that design to the next level.

I’d look around at individual designers on 99designs or Dribbble (more expensive) and choose someone who you like to make your design. Also, I’d recommend choosing an existing design and modifying it, rather than letting the designer make something from scratch. Every time I ask a designer to do something from scratch, I’m unhappy. It’s just never going to be what you have in mind. If you have all the time in the world, by all means, let them come up with some concept work. But, if you want to move fast on a budget, start with a piece of work they already have and ask to use that as a base and change specific things (including colours).

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Ensure they pay attention to colour. Ask for the colour scheme. I know that sounds picky, but the biggest difference I’ve found between a good and bad designer is that the best designers pay special attention to colour: Every colour should be in your colour scheme.

8. Assume things will take much longer to complete

There is really very little risk to creating a startup, as long as you follow 2 rules: Budget for 1.5 years of having no personal cashflow, and go to an incubator. You may close a seed round in under 6 months. But, things often take longer. You want a really, really long runway.

The hard truth: Sometimes, that requires asking your parents or a relative to move back in, or asking your partner to cover your living expenses. Don’t try to start a business without relying on a loved one. It’s tempting to try going it completely alone, but it’s not realistic if you want to be successful.

There’s a reason why so few people start successful businesses. It’s not because people have bad ideas. It’s not because they don’t work hard. It’s because it just takes a really, really long time.

Similarly, when you decide to do something for the business, like improve the website or add a feature, keep in mind that it will take longer than you think. So be selective — focus on work that will have the greatest impact.

If you like this article or have further questions, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter!

Featured photo credit: Mark Zuckerberg @ Cannes Lions 2010/Marco Derksen via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 18, 2019

How to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills For a Swift Career Switch

How to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills For a Swift Career Switch

Most people grow up with dreams to go to college and graduate with high-paying job offers waiting for them the week after graduation. Others may favor non-traditional career paths. But the desire is the same: to find a job we love where compensation is commensurate with experience.

However, plans change. For instance, what started out as a dream to be a surgeon is cut short by a nasty injury and you’re debating how to transition into a new role. Or you might be facing being let go from your current employer and are anxious about “options out there.”

Whatever the case may be, switching careers can be intentional or unintentional. What matters is that you’re well-prepared, and the only way to do so is to learn new skills — hone in on your transferable skills.

Why Hone in on Your Transferable Skills?

There are several reasons you need to develop these skills if you want to go far in life and your career. In a nutshell, honing in your your transferable skills can lead to:

Better Job Offers

Continuous assessment and improvement of your skills widens the pool of job offers for you to make selections from. You’re no longer tethered to one industry as you’re able to lead your career by design, not by default.

People with transferable skills on a resume also open up opportunities for more potential employers.

Increase in Pay and More Responsibilities

You’ve heard the saying “with great power come great responsibility.” In your case, transferable skills make you more marketable to employers which could lead to pay raises.

Although this isn’t an automatic process– you have to be proactive about what you want in the marketplace, there is a chance that these pay raises will come with change in titles and roles.

A Shot at Entrepreneurship

Yes, changing career paths also includes the possibility of working for yourself. With these skills and work experience, you could live anywhere in the world and design a life and career you want.

We’ve talked about why you need to strengthen your transferable skills but what are some these skills, and how can you work on them?

13 Tips to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills

1. Update Your Resume

You might be surprised to know this but yes, updating your resume is a skill. The very first thing you should do while thinking about switching careers is to highlight attributes that make you very desirable candidate to employers.

Think about your volunteer experiences, freelance projects, and school projects. Although they might seem insignificant, they demonstrate your ability to deliver results that several companies are looking for.

While you might have held several positions since college, switching careers will require you to have a different type of resume.

There are three different types of resumes: functional, chronological, and a combination resume. However, if you are looking to switch careers you’ll want to have a functional resume. A functional resume is strengths-based that emphasizes skills that are transferable rather than a collection of dates and job titles.

2. Brush up on Your Communication Skills

Every attempt to get ahead in business and in life starts with the need to communicate effectively. Whether it is interpersonal, intercultural, or multi-generational, the ability to be seen and heard while respecting the boundaries of work relationship matters.

That’s why it’s one of the top skills you need to master. Strong communication skills allows you to effectively tailor your messages to specific audiences, which will make you a stronger asset to any organization.

To hone this skill:

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Pay attention to your listening skills. To communicate effectively, you need to first learn how to understand others.

Your ability to decode overt and implied messages, no matter how nuanced they are, is key to knowing how to foster deep relationships with others.

This article can also give you effective ways to enhance your communication skills:

How to Master Effective Communication Skills at Work and Home

3. Learn Technical (or Business) Writing

Another form of communication, writing, is a skill that can take you anywhere.

Companies communicate a lot through written memos, emails, newsletters, and other audio-visual means. But at the crux of this all is someone or some people who are tasked with translating the organization’s vision into statements anyone can understand.

To hone this skill:

Consider taking some free or paid classes online. You can accomplish this through several community colleges or online platforms like Lynda, Udemy or edX .

4. Practice Public Speaking and Presentation Skills

No matter how intelligent you are, no one will take you seriously if you’re unable to pull off a decent level of persuasion through presentation skills.

Most presentation can be done through either electronic devices or require your physical presence. Your chosen career may require you to be in front of several hundreds of people or you could be charged with developing materials for presentation.

To hone this skill:

Volunteer to lead projects that give you some responsibility for putting together presentations.

Also, try taking courses that will improve your public speaking skills if you feel lacking.

These tips on public speaking would be helpful too:

The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

5. Get Comfortable with Identifying Problems and Solutions

Every organization has got its problems no matter how greener the grass is on the other side.

How to hone this skill:

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Practice being resourceful.

Do you know where to find every company policy on the intranet in less than five minutes?

Think about a time you noticed some inefficiency at work and proposed a solution. Think about instances where you lent your voice to a cause which resulted in improved processes for your department.

No matter how small or inadequate you might feel, you’ve got some problem-solving skills that some organizations want.

If you look for more ways to improve your problem solving skills, take a look at this article:

6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills

6. Recognize Your Team-Building Ability

Your ability to smoothly switch careers also depends on how well you can energize your team, especially if you’re aiming for a leadership role. Unfortunately, team-building usually isn’t something you learn on the job in most careers unless you hold a managerial position.

The good thing is that you possibly know one or two things about team-building. Think back to moments in college when you had group projects with colleagues and had to work with 3 to 4 other strangers for months. Were you able to get past your differences and disagreements to focus on the uniqueness of everyone at the table?

Making a career switch might require that you work with multidisciplinary teams whether you have a deep knowledge of what the other team does or not. I can easily think of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and social workers working closely to achieve the goals in a patient’s care plan.

How to hone this skill:

Look for collaborative projects and team building activities that excite you and challenge yourself with new possibilities.

Try some of these tactics to keep your team motivated as well:

17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

7. Lean into Your Leadership Skills

Although similar to the previous point, leadership skills extend far beyond building teams, managing time sheets and correcting behavior.

What I’m referring to here is your ability to develop a vision, believe in it, and inspire buy-in from everyone involved. This isn’t about knowing how to run a particular machine; it’s about how to lead a team of people with various backgrounds, experiences, and ideas of how things should be done.

How to hone this skill:

Although more complex than the rest, it all starts with an introspective look into your strengths and weaknesses. Then get a mentor or a coach who can bring out your leadership qualities so you can operate from a place of strength.

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Learn more about the effective leadership types here:

5 Types of Leadership that Help You Build a High Performance Team

8. Improve Your Analytical Skills

Are you good at taking large amount of data and interpreting them? Your skills could come in handy.

Organizations are looking for people to make sense of the data around them, explain how it affects profitability, and make projections based on it. Best of all? You don’t need to be an accountant to be analytical.

How to hone this skill:

Try taking data interpretation classes online or at a community college. Learning Microsoft Excel or Access is also a plus. If you’re ambitious enough, you could consider getting additional certifications to up the ante.

Take a look at these ways to help sharpen your analytical skills:

What Are Analytical Skills and How to Strengthen Them For Success

9. Don’t Discount Your Time Management and Prioritization Skills

How good are you when it comes to deciding how important tasks are, organizing schedules, and coordinating plans?

Should you be willing, there is a market waiting for you out there. Organizations and busy executives are always looking for talented individuals to outsource these tasks to.

How to hone this skill:

Although not everyone possesses secretarial superpowers, you can improve this skill by focusing on taking huge tasks and breaking them into smaller goals or steps in order to achieve a bigger goal.

Here, you can learn to prioritize to achieve more:

The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

10. Embrace Your Creative and Critical Thinking Side

Although it’s often believed that creativity is for the arts and right-brained people, I believe everyone is capable of being creative. In fact, most organizations recognize creativity as a vehicle that will drive successful inventions in the future.

How to hone this skill:

Try doing something fun. As simple as this sounds, you’d be surprised to learn how much. In fact, behavioral and learning scientist, Marily Oppezzo, says taking a walk might be all you need to get your creative juices flowing.[1]

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Anyone can be creative, you just need the right way to train your brain:

What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

11. Don’t Stop Learning Tech Knowledge and Skills

Being tech-savvy is a huge plus. If you have an affinity with computers, software applications and are abreast of technological improvements, it is a transferable skill that is worth highlighting.

You don’t have to be a young college graduate with silicon valley dreams to work

How to hone this skill:

All you need is the determination and the readiness to learn. This article will give you some ideas on the types of skills to learn:

How to Improve Your Computer Skills to Get Ahead in Your Career

12. Build Networks and Relationships

You aren’t free from networking. Not at the moment. With your goal to switch to a different career, your networking skills will come in handy.

Fortunately for you, networking doesn’t have to be so hard.

How to hone this skill:

Attend conferences and job fairs. Chances are you already have people in your network you can move you closer to your dream career.

To enhance your networking skills, take these steps:

How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life

Final Thoughts

Although there are several people with the same qualification and degree(s) you possess, what ultimately determines hireability comes down to a myriad of things such as culture fit, how teachable you are, cultural sensitivity, inter-generational awareness, and your ability to navigate uncertainty.

You have a chance to stand out by letting your dream companies know how these soft skills make you an invaluable asset, and how saying ‘YES’ to you is a win-win for both parties.

Happy career switching!

More Resources About Career Advancement

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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