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You’ll occasionally hear that everything worth doing is difficult. This isn’t true. Many things worth doing are fairly easy, such as powering TVs down when you’re done watching them or sorting trash for recycling. If we instead contend that most things worth doing are difficult, we get closer to the truth — and it’s a truth that the average entrepreneur will understand.
After all, so much of the process of starting and running a business is markedly harder than it first sounds. Every task takes on greater significance when it’s in service of a startup you’re helming, which makes it easy to understand why the average startup fails. If you can’t prove exceptional, there’s a great chance your fledgling company will fall apart.
Let’s suppose that you’re in the planning stage of launching a startup, then — not yet ready to sell a product or sign a client, but busy working on plans in anticipation of progress in the near future. What can you do with the knowledge that your likelihood of success is so low? You can give up, of course. That’s an option. Or you can wait for the perfect idea and set of circumstances, which will leave you waiting forever since that’s wholly unrealistic.
More usefully, you can prepare as best you can by doing extensive research, learning from the triumphs and mistakes behind previous business ventures and setting up a strategy that’s as close to foolproof as possible. It won’t guarantee success, but it’ll give you a much better shot.
To help you with that process, this article will cover some of the most common and frustrating growing pains that hold startups back, offering up some straightforward tips for avoiding them (or overcoming them if that isn’t achievable). Here are the problems to evade:
Hiring well but failing to trust or delegate
Moving from the solopreneur phase of business establishment should be greatly satisfying. One minute you’re handling every aspect of your career ambitions, turning your hand to every new task that infiltrates your workload, and the next you’re building a finely tailored team to take some of those responsibilities away and leave you free to focus on sales and growth.
That’s the idea, at least — but what of the reality? Well, the unfortunate truth is that startup owners have the bad habit of making smart hiring decisions but failing to properly use their new employees. They enter into the process seeing only the positives of delegation, but obsess over the negatives (uncertainty and loss of control) when the time comes to actually do it.
This inevitably leads to trouble. The employees become frustrated and struggle to operate effectively without any impetus. The employer continues to obsess over every last choice while covering salaries they aren’t allowing to generate ROI. In short, almost every aspect of the business gets worse — the one exception being the veneer of greater professionalism.
So what’s the solution here? It’s simple enough, of course: just take the plunge. There will never be a perfect time to take tasks off your plate, and there will always be slight dips in productivity stemming from the associated learning curves, but you can’t keep waiting. You need to be smart with your time now. You hired your fledgling team for a reason. If you don’t trust your instincts there, how can you trust yourself to run the business in a sensible way?
Prioritizing growth but forgetting retention
When you’re trying to rev up your new business, you have a single clear-cut focus: win new customers and/or clients. You have something to prove, after all. Your brand is unfamiliar, and you won’t get any customers if you don’t do something eye-catching, so it’s time to pull out all the stops and really dazzle people with your promotional materials and presentations.
But then you win those customers and/or clients and discover what it’s like to be a dog chasing a car. You’ve achieved your goal. What do you do now? Keep chasing, perhaps? More customers, or more clients. More business. Well, that’s a problem — but it’s a trap into which plenty of startup owners fall. Their hunger for flashy signings, meaty invoices and big social media announcements drives them to forget about the key element of retention.
Whatever your industry, your audience isn’t unlimited. Every time you make a sale, you’re eating into your pool of prospects — and every time you lose a customer or client through mediocre service or a refusal to develop your business, the task of sourcing a replacement is slightly harder. All the while, the negative press mounts, with the widespread dissatisfaction sticking to your brand’s reputation and leading the unfamiliar to question your value proposition.
So how can you dodge this problem? Again, it isn’t too complicated: focus on customer service above all else. If you’ve managed to attract some business, the value is clearly there for your target audience, so turn your attention to keeping that business going and developing loyalty. Here are a few basic suggestions for how you can do this:
- Monitor and address social media comments. You may not like social media, but it’s a factor regardless, and simply ignoring comments about your brand will erode your control over your professional destiny. What if someone’s telling everyone that you scammed them, completely misrepresenting the situation? If you’re not there to correct the record, prospects will likely think the worst. Above all, though, engaging on social media with those who like your brand is essential for cultivating that attachment. The more personality and likability you can show, the better.
- Give your customers/clients more options. In a time of flexible delivery methods, asynchronous working and rich user interfaces, people expect the freedom to customize their experiences. Make that a priority. If you sell products, let buyers choose how they receive or collect them, leaning on drop-off points as needed. If you sell subscriptions (be they physical or digital), deploy subscription management software to retain more customers by letting them decide exactly what they want and when they want it.
- Meaningfully reward those who stick by you. People often hate companies that offer essential or semi-essential services because they abuse that importance to concentrate on attracting new customers. Think of how phone companies save all their best deals for new people, knowing that existing customers are mostly locked in or set in their ways. You mustn’t do this. Instead, offer better rates and stronger deals to those who’ve stuck by you, and ensure that everyone knows it. This will encourage invaluable loyalty.
Failing to stand up for your brand
Running a nascent business is a nerve-wracking experience, and client/customer management is one of the roughest parts when you’re just starting out. It’s tempting to nod along and make lofty promises so you don’t let any opportunities slip by, admittedly. But it isn’t generally a failure to meet expectations that’s the biggest problem. Instead, it’s a failure to prevent over-delivery.
The desire to be accommodating can easily cause scope creep. At first, you have a clear remit and a set of tasks for which you’ve budgeted appropriately — but then a client mentions some kind of issue and your desire to impress them drives you to fix it for them. That favor soon turns into an implicit obligation, and your regular workload expands to encompass it.
When you’re dealing with customers, of course, you can face unfair demands. Someone can buy your products or subscriptions, find minor faults and expect you to make it up to them by giving them things for free. The implication is obvious: do what they ask, or deal with their negative comments besieging your brand.
And then there’s the matter of ensuring that you’re being paid on time and in full. When a vital client/customer is late with a payment, the thought of directly challenging them can be terrifying. What if you upset them? What if they choose to leave because of that incident? Surely it’s better to just let it slide and trust that they’ll pay in full eventually. This reasoning is hardly ridiculous, but it sets a terrible precedent that’ll doom your business if you don’t deal with it.
So how can you avoid being a pushover? You need to set clear terms from the outset and stick to the outlined consequences barring exceptional circumstances. The more completely you can detail your responsibilities and those of the client/customer before a deal is done, the less confusion there will be, and the more comfortably you’ll be able to stand your ground if someone tries to take advantage of you.
There are many more issues that tend to plague startups, naturally, but the three we’ve looked at here tend to be particularly damaging. Wasting hired talent is a catastrophic mistake, so it’s imperative that you delegate as quickly and decisively as you can. Allowing your company to hit a lofty churn rate will stress your sales process and prevent you from gaining momentum, so you need to prioritize keeping your existing customers/clients happy.
And if you don’t take a stand against customers/clients trying to exploit your generosity, you’ll see them walk all over you. Expectations will grow beyond all control, and you’ll set a precedent that will make you seem unreasonable when you eventually try to correct it. So stand up for your brand. Treat customers/clients well, but ensure that you’re making enough money from them for it to be worth it.