Over the last few years, having dipped my feet in various startup ecosystems, I have formulated a mental file of successful companies and the strategies they employed to form iconic brands. These companies are diverse in regards to the industries they dominated and the products and/or services they developed. However, I have found that there are certain underlying strategies each business used to reach success and that those are fairly similar and replicable. If you have the luxury of building a business that you can forever keep, that can pay your bills, and that you can reap benefits from, it is my hope that you perceive this article as a guide for you in building and expanding your business. For me, this article will serve as my blueprint for success that I will constantly iterate and return to if I feel like I have lost focus of what I really need to be doing in order to fulfill my vision.
This blueprint is made up of ten steps (not in order), however, the overarching narrative I want to push out is that even if you focus on accomplishing each of these ten steps to the best of your ability, you will not necessarily become successful immediately. It takes time to see results, and that is why you should work 24/7, 7, 365 towards focusing on hustling and being patient.
Step 1: Whether it is in visual, written or audio form, put out content that has value and that people want. Analyze what people want through market research that you contracted out to a third-party organization or you conducted yourself. In Toronto for example, market research can be done cheaply by organizations like MaRS which provide free market research to youth startups linked to certain University of Toronto incubators and accelerators.
Step 2: Assuming you’ve developed your product or service, get off the couch and start putting your product out there. This can be done in a variety of traditional ways including making sales calls, knocking on doors, and targeting influencers that can review and promote your product or service.
Step 3: Network. Network. Network. Do not underestimate the ROI of attending conferences, and competitions where you can meet people in real life. Get to know what they are passionate about, and do not try to ask for the contact information of every person you come across. Go into a social event knowing the type of people you want to include in your network and once you find one person that fits your criteria, start to know who they associate with. Chances are their friends or colleagues also fit your criteria.
Step 4: This goes without saying, but in our modern digital ecosystem, you need to build a social community and constantly engage with them. Giving back to your community can manifest itself in various forms from writing books and teaching courses to providing advice in the form of inspirational graphics or motivational films. It is strategic to provide value to your target audience for weeks and months before you ask them to buy your product or subscribe to your service. Jab, jab, jab and then deliver your right hook. The key to engaging with your community is in being authentic. That is precisely why Snapchat is a powerful tool for celebrities and influencers to use. It allows their fans to look behind the curtain and understand who the person they idolize or follow truly is. This is also why blogs both in written and visual form are popular. In regards to live engagements, when forming your calendar of events, do not undervalue engagements that might have a smaller number of people attending. Gary Vaynerchuk, the CEO of VaynerMedia and VaynerRSE, to this date, credits his fame to speaking at schools, video chatting with three to four followers daily, and attending smaller festivals where his target audience, “young people”, were present.
Step 5: The last step transitions smoothly into this step which is that you need to market on platforms where your audience is and you need to choose platforms that natively enable you the best chance of reaching them. Search engine marketing and optimization are not archaic but are arguably less important than the variety of social media platforms that have risen and given anyone the opportunity to promote their vision effectively. Communicate with people by storytelling socially and by advertising using native ad platforms. Respect each social media platform for what it is supposed to. For example, Instagram is where you should post high-quality visuals, while Twitter is where you should write catchy and noticeable phrases that inspire and motivate people. If you want to reach out to older audiences, maybe you will consider using LinkedIn and the announcements you can make on it. If you want to reach younger audiences, maybe you consider creating a Snapchat filter and deploying it in specific areas that are populated with your target audience. Even if you use traditional marketing techniques, like building a local business club and inviting twenty people to talk about business over brunch, this can be more effective than simply hoping people find your Facebook page and like it. Society has an attention graph and it is in your best interest to judge when it is changing and where the next big thing that will capture your target audience’s attention is. With that in mind, always continue to curate, monitor, and iterate your content and to create content that both provides utility in information and entertainment in escapism.
Step 6: Build an organization, whether by yourself or with a partner, and while building your company website, business cards, social media pages, remember to focus on your personal brand as well. Consider building your personal brand using the five hottest social media platforms right now; Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram. The primary reason you want to build your personal brand is because in today’s world investors and consumers do not metaphorically only care about the horse, but they equally if not more care about who the jockey is. By building your online footprint, you can also redirect traffic you get to your organization’s presence and other parts of the brand.
Step 7: After strategizing the core issue you want to fix, build products and services people need. Develop demos and prototypes that can attract talent to your organization and that can also form the basis of an investment and pitch deck you deliver and present to potential investors. Always be open to gathering and implementing feedback you receive from the numerous times you tested your product and/or service. That is what the development stage is all about: test and learn. In the process of developing your product and/or service, find sponsors and mentors that can provide their expertise in various stages of development.
Step 8: Do not use your early revenue on yourself. There are too many founders and executives that are taking money out of their business early on. You might have bills to pay or a family to support, and if that is the case I get it. Too many people though are taking money out to buy a new car or buy another house. When your business is in an early stage, you need to either reinvest the money you make from it back into the business by refining your product and/or service, or by investing it in other companies. Many iconic entrepreneurs like Richard Branson became prolific investors after their initial ventures took off, and they started angel funds to invest in other opportunities that they could support, partner with, and even sometimes, merge with.
Step 9: Learn to love losing. The adventure of building a business is exhilarating, exhausting, and exciting. However, even if you work 14 hours a day, your product might be terrible and you might lose. However, losing and mistakes, despite our education system largely stigmatizing it, should be embraced and should be used to fuel your engine. Keep your vision in mind always, and throughout the way, make note of points where you made a mistake and had to face the music big time. Once you make that note, try to see if there are ways you can troubleshoot that problem and make it so that the next time that obstacle comes up you can surpass it with ease.
Step 10: Become self-aware. If there was a superpower in the form of a drug or injection I could give people, it is the “superpower” of self-awareness. Too many people lie to themselves and live in an ivory tower where they are ignorant of their failures. Do not underestimate your weaknesses and do not overestimate your strengths. The big question you should ask yourself before building a business, is why are you starting it? If it’s for money or to put something on your resume, that’s fine, but know that and use it as motivation to continue working. For me, I see every venture I curate as one step forward in building my legacy as a person that for lack of a better phrase, helped others. For me, I love the grind of building a business and I do it more for the process of going through and navigating past obstacles than the end result of enjoying the rewards that come from it. For me, there will never be a game over and though I do not expect everyone to share my view on business, I do hope you share my focus on becoming self-aware.
If you skimmed through this article or want a condensed form of what was previously stated in-depth, this is what you need to do to become successful in starting a venture. Pick an idea. Communicate the vision both through your company and your personal brand. Get customer validation. Leverage traction to gather resources for execution. That, in essence, is how you start to turn an idea into a business.