A recent article at Yahoo Finance, “Ten Mistakes that Start-Up Entrepreneurs Make,” is a must-read for inventors, entrepreneurs and small business owners. Mistake Number 3, in particular, rings a bell with this marketing guy:
“3. Spending too much time on product development, not enough on sales”
Most inventors and entrepreneurs – from the newest medical device, to 3-D imaging software, to a designer cupcake and cookie business – are stretched just too thin. Under-resourced, under staffed and under-funded, the typical start-up is forced to prioritize and sacrifice … and areas often neglected are marketing and sales. Here are 7 things every start-up and small business should be doing to assure that the customers will be there, $$$ in hand, when you open for business:
1. Early, EARLY, EARLY in the life of your start-up, figure out who your likely customers will be. Who has the passion – and the $$$ – to buy a product or service like your? Where are you likely to find them? And even more important, where are they mostly likely to go – on the street or on the internet – to discover a product like yours?
2. Understand what your potential customers love and what they hate about products or services like yours. Then, emphasize the things the like, provide a solution to the things they hate, and don’t waste your time and resources on things they don’t care about
3. Test your concept – early and often. Ideas that seem obvious on paper or in your discussions around the company coffee pot are often far less than obvious to outsiders – investors, supplier or distribution partners, and potential customers. Entrepreneurs often fear that a competitor will ‘steal’ their idea, but for most start-ups, the much bigger danger is sinking all your hard work and $$$ into a venture that customers don’t care about.
4. Nothing can jump-start your start-up better than an early success, so Focus, FOCUS, FOCUS! I know, that dazzling set of opportunities that you envision is seductive, but the temptation to pursue them all is an invitation to doing none of them well enough. Pick a particular offering (or closely related family of offerings), a customer segment you know well, and a well defined distribution scheme. Then, invest all your effort in making it work. The credibility, confidence, publicity, and knowledge – not to mention cash flow – you gain from your first success will make it that much easier to pick off the next and the next and the next opportunity.
5. Remove any hurdles that make it inconvenient for your customers to do business with you. Take a look at your own business through the eyes of a customer: Is it easy to find and get into your store – on the street or on the internet? Does your website and your storefront signage clearly and succinctly explain your business? How can I learn more about you, your product, your business? Do you offer a convenient assortment of payment options and customer-conscious return and refund policies?
Remember – What you think about your business is ultimately a lot less important than what your customers think and feel about it.
6. Share your success. You deserve to be amply rewarded for pushing your idea to fulfillment, but don’t forget the ones who helped get your there. It’s the right thing to do – and it’s darned good business. The more closely that your partners’ success is linked to yours, the harder your employees, your suppliers and your distribution partners will work for yours.
7. Get to know, understand and appreciate your customers. Organize your business so that it’s a positive, rewarding and hassle-free experience every time your customer touches you – beginning with their first phone call, email or their first step inside your store.