In today’s business environment there are thousands of tools to help with every aspect of scaling a business, but with all of these options the question is: how does one start?
When taking a business from concept to market, the focus should not be on spending 100’s or 1,000’s of dollars building the systems and structure to scale.
Instead, focus time on building a minimum viable solution (MVS). With a MVS, prove that there is room in the market for your business. And do this by spending as little money as possible.
With this concept we, the founders of Next Gen Guru, have learned how to iterate fast and launch successful businesses. And we are excited to give inspired entrepreneurs the tools and know-how to do it too.
Step 1: Own the Brand
Before spending time and effort building a brand and making it recognizable, an entrepreneur needs to go out and own it. By own it, I don’t mean embody the brand, what I’m saying is one needs to own the rights to the brand. First, go to GoDaddy.com and purchase the domain name (website url). Second, make sure to secure all social media profiles like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Linkedin.
Now that these sites and profiles are locked down, the final step is to forget about them… for now. One shouldn’t waste time building out these sites until the idea is tested and product market fit is all but certain.
Step 2: Manage Your Time
For most inspired entrepreneurs, time is the most precious resource. Whether it’s splitting hours between school or a primary job, one needs to focus on actions that will drive results.
A great way to manage one’s time is by using Agile project management. Think of launching a business as one big project, convert the ‘things to do’ into tasks, gauge how important the task is (on a 1-5 scale) and note the expected time to completion. Once summarized, add each task into one of the following lists:
- Backlog: The birthplace of all of your tasks
- In Progress: Tasks that are currently being worked
- Completed: Finished tasks
- Validated: Tasks that are stress tested and proven to work
The task life cycle begins in Backlog and moves through each list until its final resting place, Validated. To implement, one can use a large whiteboard and sticky notes or a free project management software like Trello (trello.com).
Step 3: Build an Online Workplace
Isolating business email, calendar, and documents from other work will help in stay organized and stealth (if need be). For this, I recommend creating a Google Account. There are two options, if the aim is to be lean go ahead and create a free account with the following email naming convention: firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively one can buy a subscription to Google Premium and for $5 a month have an official business email like: email@example.com.
Google Accounts allows one to do much more than manage an inbox. In my opinion, the best part of Google Account is Google Apps. Google Apps is great for creating documents, spreadsheets, and slide decks in a beautiful, easy to use, way that is intended to live in the cloud. Once created, a file is stored online where you can work on it from any device, anywhere. In addition to flexibility, Google Apps allows multiple people to work on the same file at the same time. Creating a world where the user doesn’t have to be tied down to a computer and need not worry about version control or emailing files back and forth.
Step 4: Validated Learning and Customer Discovery
Unfortunately there is no hack here. To launch any successful business, an entrepreneur must invest the time in discovering who the customer is and how they want to be served.
Customer discovery comes in many flavors but the best place to start is simply hitting the pavement, finding target customers and meeting with them face to face. Interview them, get an understanding of who they are, how they see the problem and what they think of the solution. Take copious notes and look out for common themes.
Customer discovery goes hand in hand with validated learning, a term coined by Eric Ries in his book “The Lean Startup”. Ries argues that the practice of validated learning minimizes risk and maximizes the effectiveness of one’s time. Before building a full fledged website, product, or service, try creating a single page website with a call to action (CTA) to download or learn more about the offering. Promote this page and see how many people click the CTA button. If a good number of people visit the site without clicking the CTA then that’s great! It means there was no time wasted building a product or service that people won’t buy. If this is the case, don’t be frustrated, simply go back to the drawing board, iterate on the idea, and try again.
Step 5: Create a Landing Page and A/B Test
Creating a landing page can be tricky. Many of us are not great with technology and have no idea how to code a website. Luckily, there are sites that make building a website easy through a drag and drop interface. Companies like Wix (http://www.wix.com/), make creating a stunning websites fun, easy, and free. No need to pay thousands for a website designer!
Now comes the fun part, A/B testing. Simply put, A/B testing is the process of making small changes and comparing them against the current version to see which gets better results. A great example of A/B testing is testing the color of a CTA button, does an orange button perform better than a blue one – spoiler alert: it almost always does.
Have fun with A/B testing and take big changes, the impact will be surprising! But remember, always isolate your tests and never test two things at once.
Step 6: Add Teeth with a CRM
A CRM or client relationship management tool is used for creating pipelines (Sales, Customer Support, Email Marketing) and managing people through them.
Let’s use an email marketing campaign as an example. For this campaign, we will create a campaign pipeline with 4 stages: email sent, email responded, demo, closed won. We send out an email to 50 people and are able to manage and track each person through the pipeline. The clarity a CRM provides is amazing and critical when building a business.
A free CRM product that comes highly recommended is Streak (https://www.streak.com/). Streak’s CRM lives in your Gmail inbox, is free, and super easy to use.
Step 7: Create Your Social Media Marketing Strategy
For early stage businesses, social media is a very powerful tool. A strong social media marketing (SMM) strategy will drive free traffic and bolster brand awareness.
But be careful, it will become a time drain with minimal return if not managed well. I strongly recommend taking one day a week to write all post for the week and use a tool to schedule those posts, set it and forget it.
A great tool for scheduling your social media posts is Hootsuite (https://hootsuite.com/). Simply load content in the form of posts and let Hootsuite manage when it is published on your profiles. Hootsuite works with Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.
Once people start talking about the new business, it is important to get a solution to track all of the mentions. A business owner should know what people are saying. Free services like Google Alerts and Mention (https://en.mention.com/) make it easy to track terms, companies and news.
For an entrepreneur, the road to success is riddled with challenge, but through hard work and a smart strategy, success is possible.
The 7 steps are just the beginning, to learn more about how to launch a business for less, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Best of luck and happy building!
Peter Yobo & Kyle Pursell, for the #Thrive blog on www.theworkspaceglobal.com
Entrepreneurs and Creators of the The Next Gen Guru