Whether your business idea started inside the four walls of a college dorm room or in your parent’s basement, it’s important not to sell your creativity short. In many cases, a successful business idea evolves by solving an existing problem in an alternative way, rather than drastically reinventing the theoretical wheel. Consulting firm Bain & Company found that businesses that ditched the big idea for a repeatable one were five times more likely to succeed in the long term.
Don’t believe it? Childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield split the cost of an ice-cream making class at Penn State University before renovating an old parlor in Vermont, the birthplace of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. While seventeen-year-old Mike Kittredge was too broke to buy his mother a Christmas present, so he made her one – thus launching Yankee Candle Company.
Of the many characteristics that successful entrepreneurs possess, we’ve found the following four strategies have helped some of our small business customers make the jump from thinking small to making it big.
Seasoned entrepreneurs will vouch that long-lasting success isn’t born overnight. It’s important to remain level-headed and tolerant of potential road-blocks that may pop up during the onset of your business journey. Also, try not to compare your progress to competitors, as every business model has different demands. Patience is a skill you will likely exercise many times in your early small business career. While appropriate follow-up with someone is always appreciated, sometimes time is what someone needs to make an important decision, like a major investment or sponsorship.
Sell it, simply.
Our rule of thumb is that if you’re riding in an elevator with a potential investor, you should ideally be able to deliver a strong, but straightforward elevator pitch with confidence. If your grandmother can’t understand it, you may want to consider changing your delivery. Since you likely won’t know your audience’s level of understanding, it’s best not to expect that they will be able to connect the dots – do it for them.
As the saying goes, no man is an island. A strong partnership can benefit you in your business ventures, as you will be sharing the journey with someone working for the same goal. Keep in mind, partnering with the right person in business, much like in marriage, is one of the most important decisions you will make. Building a strong partnership can start with a partnership agreement, which will help act as a foundation for the mutually beneficial relationship you’re about to pursue.
Understand the market.
Particularly in the very early stages of development, it’s important to be aware of your market needs and communicate your business plans with community influencers, both big and small. This includes potential customers, focus groups, would-be-competitors, experts and business investors.
Understanding where exactly your product or service fits in the real-world will be helpful in the various development phases to come. This may mean temporarily detaching yourself from your idea, in order to soak up the most feedback without bias. This tactic can help you gain perspective and provide you clarity when receiving feedback from potential investors or customers.
Take off your ownership hat and replace it with your customer cap and ask the right questions: What is the immediate, unbiased perception of your idea? Should you change one or more features or benefits to make it more palatable to your target audience? Try this exercise with a venture capitalist vision and ask yourself, realistically, if you’d invest in the idea if it was someone else’s.
Jennifer Friedman is the Chief Marketing Officer of Small Business Legal Solutions at Wolters Kluwer, which include the CT and BizFilings brands. Jennifer has a strong track record building brand awareness, acquiring customers and growing revenue – nationally and globally – with big brands like American Express and Time Warner Cable, as well as at startups including TOA Technologies and Clear (a biometric-based identification program for airport security).
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