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A Serial Entrepreneur Becomes A Millionaire From An Accidental Startup

Monis Rahman, serial entrepreneur, accidentally launched Rozee.pk when he needed to find more programmers for his startup.

Getting A Mentor

I had a strategy session with a business start-up owner a few months ago. She was six months into her start-up and needed some ideas during her development stage.

Simple Steps To Creating Your First Website

When you make that decision to start a business, you immediately become a multi-tasking maniac. Let's face it, you will have a lot of work on your hands.

Why 'Core Competency' Is Important To A Startup

Well, I like the answer that Norm Brodsky gives in his book, The Knack: "It was the one thing we had that our competitors couldn't offer, and by the time they caught up, we had a foothold in the market and were known for providing that service."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Business

As I work on my business planning for next year, I've paused to reflect on some things. One thought I had was: when I first started my business, I wish there were some things I had known. Since my business is designed around helping start-ups develop their ideas, I know that this knowledge could have helped them also. So many things have changed in the banking world since I quit being a banker who helped small businesses, and so many things have changed in the business world since I first started.

Weeks ago I was interviewed on the Ministry Marketing Solutions Internet Radio Show hosted by the amazing Pam Perry and she asked me an important question. How had I managed to learn the intricacies of marketing and sales in the online world after coming from a banking background--a background so traditional that the computer systems we used were black screens that were accessed using a bunch of codes (if you've seen the Wall Street movie or a similar movie, you saw those type of computer screens). I'll tell you what I told Ms. Perry, it was a learning process. It still is.

So if you have a business concept that you've been working on for the past 6 months, this post is for you.

Since I didn't get a chance to start my business doing this, here are 3 things I wish you would do for your startup:

1. DO get a blog-powered website. I mention this briefly in my post on Entrepreneur.com: Walk Before You Run Into Entrepreneurship.  I didn't do this when I started and one of my websites is still a static site that does nothing for me. Once you've built a new website, your main struggle is getting people to visit your website to learn about your business. Static websites put you miles behind the game. And since you probably don't have the budget for a Search Engine Optimization Specialist, or the know-how, you end up being screwed. Blog powered websites are the new search-engine-packaged websites for the startup business. Although there's still more you would have to do, the fact is you're starting with some help. Wordpress theme sites like Woothemes have built in social media widgets to help you build the know-you-like-you-trust-you feeling with potential clients. (The know-you-like-you-trust-you feeling is the 3-step process that turns potential customers into paying customers).

If you're unsure about how a blog-powered website looks like, visit ContentRobot's portfolio, play around with website demos via Woothemes, or visit one of my websites: A Different Business Book. And if you're ready to build your blog-powered site and you can't do it on your own, I recommend contacting these guys: Digital Valiance.

** Disclaimer: I DO NOT get affiliate fees for recommending anything. I see, I try, I like, I recommend.**

2. DO start building your social media presence during your beta phase. Your first year of developing your idea is your beta phase. Don't get fooled by the Now, Now mentality. So many things will be changed during your first year, it'll leave your head spinning. In my opinion, that's the fun part. But it's still scary to a lot of people. It shouldn't matter that your idea is not fully developed. You should start talking about your process. It is at this stage when my startup clients are the most stubborn...hopefully you wouldn't be as stubborn. The truth is, social media is your new marketing, search engine, and sales assistant. It should be at the top of your startup toolkit--irregardless of the incomplete project at hand.

In his advice column, best selling author, Guy Kawasaki mentions the importance of social media in building a book business: Facebook Fan Page or Website? By now you're probably aware that a new book is a like a new business--the author must talk about it even before it's done. A Facebook Like Page could include your contact info, a description of your business, pictures, a way to add people to your database, a video, a wall that helps you communicate directly with your fans, and most importantly--it could help you figure out the demographics of your audience.  I'd love to have you join me on my Facebook Like Page: A Different Business on Facebook. And if you need advisors to help you with this process, feel free to visit the social media company I use: 360DegreeSocial.

3. DO find a way to create buzz for your new product or service. One thing most start-ups have in common is the fear factor--you're afraid to talk about your new project. Understandably, there are some risks: the employer you still have, the idea you don't want stolen, the hesitancy about where this is really going, the reluctance to have naysayers bring you down...etc. Despite all this, you have to find SOME way to create buzz.

Whether it's talking about the new business in generalities, creating a diary blog that details your ups and downs, creating a phase-marketing plan that highlights each stage of the process, announcing a launch party (even if you only give a time-frame with no specific dates), or creating an email newsletter with some pictures of your progress, you would need to get potential customers interested.  Your challenge and duty will be to find a way around the chaos, to create buzz for your new idea. The best thing you could ever accomplish is to get other people talking about your business for you. Word-of-mouth referral is the best friend any start-up would be lucky to have.

Cheryl Isaac is a business planner who helps make business planning simple for new businesses and small businesses starting something new in business. She is an entrepreneur and the author of the book, A Different Business and the creator of the startup business planning bootcamp, The 48Hour Business Plan Challenge. She is also a blogger for Entrepreneur.com: the Plan With Pizzazz blog.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No One Really Cares About Our Startups...Cheers!

I'm transforming some office space into a startup incubator and this is the statement I plan to implant in the heads of my participants. While working on this incubator, I too am swimming through the waves of doubt that people usually send your way through such endeavors. Heck, forget the fact that my entire business has been the test phase for this project. So all this has inspired me to enlist a hardcore startup mentality at the incubator. Forget the sensitive thing. Who knows? I may even start the orientation with my "Get Over Yourself" speech.

You see, the few people you will find who do care about your startup, have some ulterior motive (usually in the form of ROI). Sounds bad but it's true. Otherwise, they're either a good friend, good family member, spouse or lover. And I do stress the word good. Most times, no one else has a vested interest or an ounce of optimism for you. So before you go around thinking that everyone else is supposed to fall in love with your idea, think again. It's your responsibility to make them love you, not through force or some weird camouflage, but with momentum and wherewithal.

Says the founders of MTV, "when we first introduced the idea of MTV, no one in the entertainment industry thought it would succeed because the programming was too narrow." Liz Lange, owner of Liz Lange maternity, heard everyone tell her that her business idea wouldn't work. She said, "I ignored all the outside advice and listened to my instincts."

Need more stories? I could go on and on with the list. Startup stories are the gas that runs my business passion car. I study them, I revel in them. I can go on and on with similar stories. The fact is, some of the most notable companies were started despite a cloud of doubt cast over them.  

So get to work on yours and I'll get to work on mine and let's meet up in a couple of years for a toast shall we? Maybe the toast will be, "to completely illogical people who against all odds, without any indication of success or failure, try to be the solution to a problem that everyone else is too busy being complacent or skeptical to solve."

Cheryl Isaac is a business planner who helps make business planning simple for new businesses and small businesses starting something new in business. She is an entrepreneur and the author of the book, A Different Business and the creator of the startup business planning bootcamp, The 48Hour Business Plan Challenge. She also writes the Plan With Pizzazz blog for entrepreneur.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Guessing Game? Trying To Figure Out Business Plan Projections

Today I talked to law students and future Lawyerpreneurs about start-up business planning. One of the students mentioned his puzzlement--"how do I make up numbers about business? He inquired. Another question, "how do bankers or funders analyze my plan, since it's a guessing game?"

My answer, "you don't make up anything."

A business plan for a start-up may have some estimations. It may be missing current performance data, because the idea is new. However, it has to read like a similarly situated business. The plan has to come close to what an actual business would do.

How To Write A Realistic Business Plan

Research your industry. Know what similarly situated companies charge and what they pay their employees. Your numbers shouldn't look exactly the same, but they shouldn't be far off either. That's the key.

Have a Realistic Sales Forecast. Don't think of your business plan as the lottery. Writing an unrealistic business plan that makes you a millionaire overnight, is laughable. No matter how long it takes you, treat this section like homework that will be graded.

Be Aware of Industry Trends. Nowadays, it seems like every industry has moved towards a different trend.. Being stuck in the comfort space of 5 years ago is a mistake that could cost you your business. For instance, if ad agencies are gaining traction from social media and you are a startup ad agency, you are not being logical when you don't include social media within your marketing plan.

Estimating Sales vs. Expenses. Always estimate low on sales and high on expenses.

Have a Strategy. Believe it or not, business planning is not about the business plan. The strategy and planning is really what counts. Don't write a business plan that just exists simply because of its title. Long gone are the long, boring, repetitive business plans that make your head hurts. Nobody reads those things, they just pretend to. You want to have specific, short, strategies with a plan for implementation.  

Cheryl Isaac is a business planner who helps make business planning simple for new businesses and small businesses starting something new in business. She is an entrepreneur and the author of the book, A Different Business and the creator of the startup business planning bootcamp, The 48Hour Business Plan Challenge

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Pill That Relieves Most Startup Headaches: Finding Your Target Client

In one of my favorite business books, The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber quotes this important aspect of business planning:

"The entrepreneurial model does not start with a picture of the business to be created, but of the customer for whom the business is to be created. Without a clear picture of the customer, no business can succeed."
During my experience as a start-up business planning consultant, I've realized that the target client creation is a mind boggling experience for startups, and some small businesses. Everyone wants to "help everyone." This is great--a business should be able to help everyone. However, it is foolery to think that your business is designed for everyone. You could even consider it completely asinine.

Why Have A Target Client?

To help you identify a REAL need. Let's face it, a need is a need. However, a real need in business terms means that a person needs something, REALIZES that he/she needs it, and is WILLING to purchase the solution. So, irregardless of whether Annie needs some slippers, if she doesn't realize she needs it and won't spend  the money to get it, you don't have a perceived business need from Annie.

This is when you move to Plan B for the target client planning. Plan B Scenario: Annie needs slippers and doesn't realize that she does (I suggest you avoid looking at Annie's feet while you think this through). Well, maybe someone else has a way of introducing the slippers to Annie. Start thinking to yourself, who does Annie help? Who is she usually around? Who wants the best for Annie?

In this case, maybe Annie is a 12-year old orphan in New Orleans. Perhaps her orphanage recognizes the need for her to have slippers. Or maybe, the supporters of her orphanage recognize her need for slippers. Better yet, parents within the community could want to see Annie and other orphans have slippers.

Can you see where I'm going with this? Although you're making slippers that Annie could wear, Annie may not be your target client. After you have identified your target client, you are well on your way to developing a business model that suits that client.

To Test The Feasibility of Your Business. I'm a HUGE advocate of business remodeling--when you change the model of a business to suit the needs of the target audience. Your target client helps you identify roadblocks and obstacles. Interestingly enough, they even help you realize whether or not they are indeed your right target.

To Move To The Next Level. You can't move to the next level in business without having a good grasp on your ideal client. I'm talking about the level where you create a scalable business. The level that helps elevate you from a do-it-yourselfer to a team leader...a business advocate...a service-to-product magnet...an entrepreneur focused on business growth and sustainability. Your target business client helps you to develop your model.

What Happens If You Don't Develop a Target Client?

  • You find yourself still at square one. You're confused, helpless, working 60 hour weeks, etc. You're still trying to grasp it all. You feel as if you're stuck in a rut.
  • You're still struggling with customer service. Your employees are not selling (or at least selling to the right people) your customers are not satisfied, or they keep asking for more. 
  • You're doing more but not exactly getting more. The workload has increased, but the money doesn't seem to payoff. You're getting more in, but it's going out just as quickly. You feel screwed either way you turn.
  • You don't feel appreciated. You start to get this sinking feeling. Because your team is confused, they're not doing the job correctly. So this transfers into stress for you.
What Can You Do About This Headache?

Start a Find-My-Target-Client Revolution. This should be a serious goal. Think of sleep as overrated during this timeframe. Comb your former client files for clues (hopefully you have a CRM system. If not, I feel bad for you right now because this could mean extra hours of work for you). Call up former clients who spent a good sum of money with you. Ask them, what was your favorite takeaway from working with us? Compare old client files to see what they all had in common. Locate customers YOU enjoyed working with, outcomes YOU liked. Ask yourself, what was so different about these outcomes? Write everything down!

Create test sites or test programs. You could have an introductory product, service,or package pricing and test the feedback. Create test websites and ask for feedback. Introduce a program/product/service where you increase your pricing and add more value. Then watch the outcome. Introduce a lower pricing tier that doesn't take up much time. Then watch that outcome also.

Let Social Media Help You. Look at your followers. Start making a list of those who ask specific questions that need expert advice (skip the freebie-seekers for now). Gauge their thoughts, their interests, their social media mannerisms. Look at questions, comments or compliments that people make. You're not a psychologist, but this is when you try some business psychological analyzing. The answers will be there but no one will come out and tell you--you have to find the answers in the clues.

Plan, Plan, Plan! You will have to revamp your business plan. There is no way around getting this all down, so don't even consider an escape route. Do you know what happens when your business does not have a plan while you're trying to grow? It becomes a nightmare; particularly if you will hire consultants to help you. Everyone runs around blindfolded--there is no actual document to refer to . All of your planning and development over the years and months are stuck in your head. And everyone wants your head.Can you imagine the mayhem? I can. I prefer consulting with a small business that has some outlined goals, a record of past accomplishments, and a team that is familiar with the business purpose.

Some of this may look like a stretch. However this is one thing that I've found to be true, the underlying reasons for startup headaches, usually stem from an unrealized target client.

Cheryl Isaac is a business start-up strategist to service businesses going online. She contributes to Forbes here and blogs about Making Business Personal here.  

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