Start by doing what’s necessary;
then do what’s possible;
and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
The life of an entrepreneur is filled with struggle.
The balancing act of running a business, managing relationships and constantly staying motivated is one heck of a ride. One thing I’ve realized over the last few months is that while you don’t necessarily know for certain where the road will take you, those moments of struggle are the ones you look back at with the most pride and accomplishment. It’s directly linked to the fact that you have to do new things to find new results. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting new results. You need to make it a habit of challenging yourself and your team.
Studies show that habits can be formed with the combination of 30 days of consistency and a handful of will power and hustle. In business, growth often comes from the habits you develop and the processes you’ve created to achieve success. One realization that businesses need to recognize is that organizations and your ability to develop new streams of revenue won’t happen over night. As I’ve come to understand this with my first startup, it’s becoming more and more clear that consistency is what leads to an increase in revenue, signups and overall success.
It’s like the old saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The same philosophy holds true for growing your business. Trying to bite off more than you can chew will only make you choke. When me and the team at dreamr launched our business, we took on a handful of different ideas and tried to make all of them a reality. We didn’t focus on a few key efforts, we went after them all. What we’ve realized is that taking smaller, manageable bites, one at a time – writing one blog post, calling one customer, creating an event, for example – is an amazing way to make positive changes and make significant strives.
You see, when you focus on the process, you start to make strides through small steps. If you look at AirBnb, they made strides through a variety of different ways as they built what today appears to be a potential billion dollar business. They launched a cereal product, they hacked craigslist and blogged about their progress. The simple act of getting started and doing something will give you the momentum you need, and soon you’ll find yourself in a positive spiral of positive change. I’ve noticed that when I challenge myself in life and in business, exciting things happen – Here are 31 challenges that any business or entrepreneur can take to see positive growth.
1. Call a customer and talk about your product
You can gain a lot of value from actually talking to your customers. Focus groups have been used and abused for years by businesses with the marketing budget and resources to conduct them. The internet has provided small businesses and startups with an opportunity to capitalize on an equal playing field. You can talk to your customers and better understand their needs and wants through digital technology. Whether you’re using a service like Qualaroo or simply mailing on a survey to your mailing list; you can really get a better sense of your customers. That said, don’t ignore the power of a good old phone call.
A phone call is a more personal, intimate way to have a conversation with your customer. You don’t want to catch them off guard or make them uncomfortable so have them opt-in for the phone call or send them an email letting them know you’re interested in chatting with them. While many founders will find this approach beneath them, you need to recognize that an existing customer is worth more than a potential customer. Focus on those who are already singing your praises and drinking the orange juice and get an idea of what they like, dislike and want in the future.
2. Avoid Trying to Make Everything Perfect
Too often do we get caught up in the minor details of our projects and efforts. While it’s obvious that you should never settle and should strive to accomplish the best work possible; the reality is this. In the eyes of an entrepreneur things could have always done better. We look at ourselves in the mirror and constantly point out what we should have done different and how we could have been better. Recognizing this fault, we need to embrace the concept of not reaching perfection each and everytime. Embrace the idea of launching a MVP and embrace the idea of going from Lion to Mountain Lion and from IE5 to IE8.
At the end of the day, perfectionists can rule the world if they don’t get carried away. If you’re constantly looking for perfection, your passion for excellence will drive you an extra mile but potentially drive you right over the cliff. If you’re constantly striving to reach the high bars in which you have set for yourself, you might never ship. You may continue to build but never actually launch. I have a friend who has wanted to start his own life coaching business for the past four years. But he hasn’t. The reason? Simple, he’s looking for the perfect opportunity. Opportunities come to those who make them, not those who wait for them to show up.
3. Share & Sell Your Demo
When I talk to people about their business idea or the next feature they’re about to launch and they say it’s a secret, I want to put a pencil in my eye. Ok, maybe it’s not that extreme but seriously. If secrecy is your competitive advantage, you’re going to need to reconsider your secret. You need to be confident in your idea and willing to share it with those around you to gauge their interest and potentially sell them before it’s actually launched.
Furthermore, it’s important for business owners to get out there and show of their business in public forums. Whether it’s at a conference on a stage filled with people or it’s at an event solely chatting about the next wave of technology; focus on getting your story in front of people and embrace the idea of delivering your demo. For those who aren’t technology savvy but have an idea they want to bring to life; check out one of the many startups offering mockups and wireframe software.
4. Write a Blog Post
Before you start writing for your business, you first need to do quality research and find out what your audience wants and needs. What types of information are your target audience on the hunt for? Where are the content gaps on the internet that you can filly by providing quality information? How can you avoid adding noise and instead offer your readers and customers with valuable content? Once you can answer these questions and have a better understanding of the landscape, it’s time to write.
As I wrote about on Steamfeed, there are essentially four different types of blog posts your business can write. Once you can identify what types of content work best with your audience you can really start to see a swing in terms of traffic and results. When you’re developing a blog post there are two key concepts a writer should keep in mind. They should think about; (1) how can they make this content compelling and (2) how can they make this content remarkable. Recognizing the difference and ensuring that each of these attributes are found in your posts will drive success.
Compelling Content: This is the easiest element to keep in mind. It’s the idea that the content you create and share on your blog needs to be directly linked to the needs and wants of your audience. Furthermore, the content needs to be worth reading. The title will need to be captivating and the blog post will need to have a flow that keeps the reader wanting more and more.
Remarkable Content: Now this is where a challenge comes into the frame. A piece of content that is remarkable is something that will lead to a discussion between you and the reader, media or other readers. If you deconstruct the word Remarkable, you’ll get the jist of what I’m saying. A remarkable blog post is a blog post worth making a re-mark about. You wan’t to entice readers to write a comment or take the conversation from your blog to Twitter or Facebook. That’s when the magic happens.
5. Start Public Speaking
Let me debunk a myth for anyone who thinks they will be able to spend their entire career running a business in a corner office without talking to people. There’s no way. You will be required to speak with investors, customers, colleagues, lawyers, accountants and potentially your competition. I’m not going to go as far as saying that every entrepreneur needs to be a professional speaker doing world tours to find success, but let me assure you that public speaking is a business skill that will greatly benefit you and your business.
While there are great books dedicated to perfecting the art and science of public speaking, here are a few tips that won’t require extensive reading:
Find Preparation through Practice
If you had an interview with a potential employer or high-profile customer would you prepare? Every time you present there could be an opportunity sitting right in front of you in your audience. Even if you think you’re fast on your feet and were an improv queen in high school doesn’t mean you should wing it. I try to run through every speaking engagement six times before I hit the stage.
Invest in Visual Aids
Developing a rich presentation gives you an opportunity to make a richer presentation and to make complicating points more clear. The saying goes, a picture can tell 100 words and that’s why it’s beneficial to include rich photos and diagrams in your slides.
Know Your Audience
I’ve seen this mistake happen on one too many occasions. A presenter hits the stage or a panelist hits a panel and they have no idea what the theme of the conference happens to be or who’s sitting in the audience. They make a joke or two that’s offside or tell a story that has absolutely no relevance to those who are listening.
6. Convince Friends to Share
The average person on Facebook is connected to more than 100 people. Mathematically, if you can get one person to share your website or product every day for 31 days straight you have the potential to reach over 3000 people. Sure, there might be a bit of overlap in your friends but the reality is that if the content shared is relevant enough; it will spark shares from people beyond your network. This is viral marketing at its finest.
To succeed in this challenge, you need to provide and embrace valuable content. Think long and hard about what you can offer your customers and what it is you can provide them that will be worth sharing with their networks. As an example, if you’re a business that provides software as a service that is related to analytics and online marketing you should offer an ebook or ultimate guide that your target audience would find relevant. People typically hang with people who have similar interests so one person could be the difference between having a loyal customer and not.
7. Make Friends with the Media
Yes, it’s a scary thought to some but making friends with people in the media can have a variety of different benefits. Not only does it increase the probability of you having your product written about in their column but folks in the media can carry a conversation like no other. Sure, it’s not going to provide you with a great deal of business benefits by being able to have these conversations but it’s a nice benefit. They can provide you with details around things happening in your industry that you may have missed and even what’s going to be on the news this evening.
Making friends with folks in the media is easier today than ever before. You can essentially look through a website like Mashable or AskMen and find the name before searching them on Twitter. Once you’ve found them on Twitter it’s time to build your relationship with them with a mix of retweets, comments and organic conversations. Instead of simply sharing their blog posts, shed a bit of insight around why you liked reading it. Instead of simply saying “great post” tell them in a tweet why you thought the post was actually worth reading. These simple touches will give you a better chance to build an authentic relationship and connect with someone who could eventually be writing about your business.
8. Write a Guest Blog Post
Guest blogging is a great way to increase your reach. It’s an age old tactic but one that continues to provide businesses with benefits whether it’s through SEO or brand awareness. Guest blogging allows for your business to get in front of an audience that another blogger has put time and effort into developing. For that reason, you need to respect the work and effort that blogger has put in and ensure that the content you contribute to this platform is compelling and remarkable.
The first thing you want to do is identify what kind of channel you want to blog on. Think about what blogs your target audience reads and then go out and identify an opportunity for yourself. A lot of blogs have specific guidelines written on their site about guest blogs and others simply wait for someone to come knocking on their door to give a guest blogger a chance to write. Here are a few other resources to find opportunities:
- MyBlogGuest – A free community that connects guest bloggers and blog owners under one roof. Ir’s a free service and one that can present you with opportunities to guest blog in a variety of different industries and of various popularity.
- GuestBlogIt – This resource is striving to become the ultimate channel for guest blogging and they’re doing a great job. With GuestBlogIt you have the ability to submit your content or find content for your blog for free.
Do Your Homework
A lot of bloggers put in time to write their posts but don’t put in time to research where they’re posting. They don’t consider whether or not there have already been similar blog posts written as the one they’ve drafted. Additionally, they often don’t research the tone and manner in which the author creates content. It’s important to see how long the authors posts are and how they are typically formated. Doing your research gives you an opportunity to get the most out of your guest posts.
Write an Effective Pitch
If you’re reaching out to a website to write a guest blog, don’t make silly mistakes. Ensure that there aren’t typos throughout your initial email and ensure you’re not writing a pitch to an author who already expressed that they don’t take guest blogs. There are a wide variety of tactics that one can implement when reaching out to blog owners but here are four effective guest blogging templates that you could use on your own.
9. Study your Progress. Ignore Vanity Metrics.
This is a concept I first read about in the Lean Startup by Eric Ries and then stumbled across again when reading the blog of Tim Ferriss. The concept that Eric pushes for Entrepreneurs to think about is quite simple. Essentially, he’s stating that the only metric that entrepreneurs should invest energy in studying are those that help them make decisions. Yet, the challenge is the fact that Google Analytics provides you with information like visits, time spent on site and pageviews but nothing truly substantial. These types of metrics are what Eric calls; Vanity Metrics. They make you feel good, but they don’t offer clear guidance for what to do next.
My challenge to you is simple. Ignore the page views. Ignore the number of likes on Facebook. Focus on the metrics that matter and the metrics that will help you make decisions that can improve your bottom line or that you can learn from. Measure the number of signups you’ve had over the last few weeks and think about what activities and initiatives you’ve executed that could have had an impact. Measure the amount of revenue you’ve generated this month in comparison to last and determine if one day of the week is better for sales than another. The metrics you studied should assist in answering questions like: How does my startup gain or lose revenue? How does it gain or lose customers? Once you have answers to these questions, you’re one step ahead then you were when you simply saw a spike in traffic.
The right software can provide you with these details but so could some serious hacking and playing with Google Analytics. The data you would find from Mixpanel or Kissmetrics would be substantial for almost any startup but if you really want good data, remember my first challenge. Talk to a customer and ask them to show you how they use your product or what they actually like about. Yes, this means talking on the phone but that one phone call could provide you with the information you need to make decisions that can revolutionize your business.
10. Sell Something. Anything.
Sales in startups and in business in general can be a struggle and sometimes it seems as if there is no end in sight. Days of abandoned carts, missed opportunities and high bounce rates can put a wrench in any businesses plans. You attend networking events and feel as if you’re shaking hands with people who will never buy from you and go to endless rounds of meetings with investors that end with sayings like, “we have to think about” or “it’s just not the right fit for our portfolio”. It’s a challenge right? It can make you feel deflated and second guess the entire idea of entrepreneurship. So how do you get your groove back?
Sell something. Sell anything. Whether it’s your product or something you found in your basement and listed on Etsy; sell something! It’s an easy way to get out of a slump and get motivated to feel good about yourself and what you’re doing. At the end of the day, in business, there aren’t many forms of satisfaction than closing a deal so push yourself to close one within the next 31 days. Whether it’s a small one or something that could completely change your business; sell something.
As you push yourself and your team through these challenges remember, it’s a process. It takes time and it happens one step after another. You may not make a sale on day one but it’s something to work on and continue to chase. When it comes to your blog posts, they may start off ugly but overtime they will start to look more like gold. These challenges will make you feel uncomfortable but they will unlock new potential for you and your business. Don’t settle for the status quo when you know your business has what it takes to grow into something more. Despite the struggles you’ll face along the way, never give up on your goal and vision.
If I could challenge you to do one more thing it would be to think beyond the challenges above. What can you do to take your business to the next level that no one else is willing to? What can you do that will turn heads and make people think you’re crazy? How can you set yourself apart from the competition and everyone in your industry? What will you do, to be different. My challenge for you is this: Take risks that someone with “experience” wouldn’t be willing to take and educate yourself on opportunities that many might ignore. Be young. Be Curious.
Want more insights on content marketing? I’m writing a book titled Level Up: A Guide to Content Marketing where I’ll be sharing insights like these about emotion and diving deeper into a handful of tips and tricks that will help take your content marketing efforts to the next level. Sign up today for updates regarding launch and other developments.