Dear Small Business Advisor,
I lost my job during the pandemic, and I’ve decided to start a small business. How can I maximize my chances of success?
There’s a time-tested entrepreneurial saying that goes like this: It’s never a good time to launch a business and it’s always a good time to launch a business. It’s never a good time because you could always have more money, more experience, and more contacts.
It’s always a good time, because market upheaval or disruptions always create exciting new opportunities for offering new products or services.
Whatever new business you want to launch and whatever your resources, now could be the right time to take the leap.
Karin Abarbanel, the Montclair-based author of “How to Succeed on Your Own” (Henry Holt) suggests five steps you’ll want to consider:
1) Recruit your contacts: Most people have at least 250 contacts among their families, friends, and business associates. If we’ve been in the workplace for a while, many of us have even more. When one entrepreneur lost his job with a technology publication, he made a list of everyone he or his contacts knew. Ultimately, he had business cards printed and announced to 2,500 people that he was starting his own firm.
2) Spice up your story: One of the biggest assets you have as a newly minted business is a fresh personal story. Take time to make it sing and dance.
Are you turning a lifelong passion into a product or service? Do you plan to give back to your community in a meaningful way once your business takes off? Make your story personal and purposeful – and remember, “facts tell, stories sell.”
3) Build your base: Whatever your business, you need clients to survive and thrive. When you’re just starting out, you may face a common challenge: You can’t build a business without clients or customers – and getting your first ones on board can be tough since you haven’t proven yourself. One of the best ways around this is to give your service or product away in return for testimonials. Word of mouth is still king. Initially, people will trust other people’s experiences more than they’ll trust what you have to offer.
Once you’ve landed a few satisfied “clients” or “customers,” you’ll be off and running.
4) Pursue publicity, not advertising: A big mistake new businesses often make is investing precious start-up dollars in advertising. Avoid this pitfall. Ads are costly and scattershot. They rarely reach the exact customers you want to attract. Pursue publicity instead with the goal of gaining free coverage via on-line sites and print outlets. Come up with newsworthy hooks to attract the media and you’ll get priceless, cost-free exposure.
5) Take action: Launching a business comes down to taking action: engaging with the marketplace, making mistakes, fine-tuning your offering, and reaching out to the customers you want to attract. If you wait until conditions are perfect and you’re fully financed and resourced, you’ll never get out of the gate. Don’t get it perfect, just get it going. Then solicit feedback, improve your product or service, and expand your market.
After leaving a management position at a major technology publication firm, Bruce Freeman launched and successfully ran his own high-tech public relations company, Proline Communications. In addition, he is Professor of Marketing for the past 20 years in the Stillman School of Business at Seton Hall University. He is co-author of the start-up guide, “Birthing the Elephant” (Penguin Random House).
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