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8 Ways To Grow Your Startup Much Faster Than Your Competitors

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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 August 25, 2021

Why Personal Branding Is Important to Your Career

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Why Personal Branding Is Important to Your Career

As a recruiter, I have met and interviewed hundreds of candidates who have no idea who they are.

Without a personal brand, candidates struggle to answer the question: “tell me about yourself—who are you?” They have no idea about who they are, what their strengths are, and how they can add value to the company. They present their CV’s believing that their CV is the key to their career success. In some ways, your CV still has its use. However, in today’s job market, you need more than a CV to stand out in a crowd.

According to Celinne Da Costa:[1]

“Personal brand is essentially your golden ticket to networking with the right people, getting hired for a dream job, or building an influential business.” She believes that “a strong personal brand allows you to stand out in an oversaturated marketplace by exposing desired audiences to your vision, skillset, and personality in a way that is strategically aligned with your career goals.”

A personal brand opens up your world to so many more career opportunities that you would never have been exposed to with just your CV.

What Is Your Personal Brand?

“Personal branding is how you distinctively market your uniqueness.” —Bernard Kelvin Clive

Today, the job market is very competitive and tough. Having a great CV will only let you go so far because everyone has a CV, but no one else has your distinct personal brand! It is your personal brand that differentiates you from everyone else and that is what people buy—you.

Your personal brand is your mark on the world. It is how people you interact with and the world see you. It is your legacy—it is more important than a business brand because your personal brand lasts forever.

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I have coached people who have very successful careers, and they come to me because they have suddenly found that they are not getting the opportunities or having the conversations that would them to their next role. They are having what I call a “career meltdown,” all because they have no personal brand.

A personal brand helps you become conscious of your differences and your uniqueness. It allows you to position yourself in a way that makes you stand out from the pack, especially among other potential job applicants.

Don’t get me wrong, having a great CV and a great LinkedIn profile is important. However, there are a few steps that you have to take to have a CV and LinkedIn profile that is aligned to who you are, the value you offer to the market, and the personal guarantee that you deliver results.

Building your personal brand is about strategically, creatively, and professionally presenting what makes you, you. Knowing who you are and the value you bring to the table enables you to be more informed, agile, and adaptable to the changing dynamic world of work. This is how you can avoid having a series of career meltdowns.

Your Personal Brand Is Essential for Your Career Success

In her article, Why Personal Branding Is More Important Than Ever, Caroline Castrillon outlines key reasons why a personal brand is essential for career success.

According to Castrillon,[2]

“One reason is that it is more popular for recruiters to use social media during the interview process. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process, and 43% of employers use social media to check on current employees.”

The first thing I do as a recruiter when I want to check out a candidate or coaching client is to look them up on LinkedIn or other social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Your digital footprint is the window that highlights to the world who you are. When you have no control over how you want to be seen, you are making a big mistake because you are leaving it up to someone else to make a judgment for you as to who you are.

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As Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”

In her book, Becoming, Michelle Obama writes about the importance of having a personal brand and her journey to defining her personal brand. She wrote that:

“if you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”

When you have a personal brand, you are in control. You know exactly what people will say about you when you leave the room.

The magic of a personal brand is that gives you control over how you want to be seen in the world. Your confidence and self-belief enable you to leverage opportunities and make informed decisions about your career and your future. You no longer experience the frustrations of a career meltdown or being at a crossroads not knowing what to do next with your career or your life. With a personal brand, you have focus, clarity, and a strategy to move forward toward future success.

Creating your personal brand does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of work and self-reflection. You will be expected to step outside of your comfort zone not once, but many times.

The good news is that the more time you spend outside of your comfort zone, the more you will like being there. Being outside of your comfort zone is where you can test the viability of and fine-tune your personal brand.

5 Key Steps to Creating Your Personal Brand

These five steps will help you create a personal brand that will deliver you the results you desire with your career and in life.

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1. Set Your Personal Goals

What is it that you want to do in the next five years? What will your future self be doing in the next five to ten years? What is important to you? If you can answer these questions, then you are on the right path. If not, then you have to start thinking about them.

2. Create Your Unique Value Proposition

Create your unique value proposition by asking yourself these four questions:

  1. What are your personality features? What benefit do you offer people?
  2. Who are you and why do people enjoy working with you?
  3. What do you do and what do people want you to do for them? How do you solve their problems?
  4. What makes you different from others like you?

The answers to these questions will give you the information you need to create your professional story, which is the key step to creating your personal brand.

3. Write Your Professional Story

Knowing who you are, what you want, and the unique value you offer is essential to you creating your professional story. People remember stories. Your personal story incorporates your value proposition and tells people who you are and what makes you unique. This is what people will remember about you.

4. Determine Which Platforms Will Support Your Personal Brand

Decide which social media accounts and online platforms will best represent your brand and allow you to share your voice. In a professional capacity, having a LinkedIn profile and a CV that reflects your brand is key to your positioning in relation to role opportunities. People will be connecting with you because they will like the story you are telling.

5. Become Recognized for Sharing Your Knowledge and Expertise

A great way for you to promote yourself is by sharing knowledge and helping others. This is where you prove you know your stuff and you gain exposure for doing so. You can do this through social media, writing, commenting, video, joining professional groups, networking, etc. Find your own style and uniqueness and use it to attract clients, the opportunities, or the jobs you desire.

The importance of having a personal brand is not going to go away. In fact, it is the only way where you can stand out and be unique in a complex changing world of work. If you don’t have a personal brand, someone will do it for you. If you let this happen, you have no control and you may not like the story they create.

Standing out from others takes time and investment. Most people cannot make the change by themselves, and this is where engaging a personal brand coach is a viable option to consider.

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As a personal brand coach, working with my clients to create their personal brand is my passion. I love the fact that we can work together to create a personal story that defines exactly what people will say when you leave the room.

Other People’s Stories

Listening to other people’s stories is a great way to learn. In his article, 7 TED Talks About Personal Branding, Rafael Dos Santos presents the best Ted Talks where speakers share their stories about the “why,” “what,” and “how” of personal branding.((GuidedPR: 7 TED Talks About Personal Branding))

Take some time out to listen to these speakers sharing their stories and thoughts about personal branding. You will definitely learn so much about how you can start your journey of defining yourself and taking control of your professional and personal life.

Your personal brand, without a doubt, is your secret weapon to your career success. As Michelle Obama said,

“your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”

So, go own your story. Go on the journey to create your personal brand that defines who you are, highlights your uniqueness, and the value you offer to the world.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

Reference

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