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Entrepreneurship Built to Succeed

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Entrepreneurship Built to Succeed

Entrepreneurship is a big job. You are the CEO and the janitor, the marketing team and the R&D department. You’re building a team and a business and an audience and a product, all at the same time. No matter how much you plan, the future is uncertain, and no matter how much you fail or succeed, your inspiration hardly runs dry.

As much as you enjoy the adventure, no one starts a business to fail, but, unfortunately, it happens every day. How do you make sure yours is one of the success stories? From reaching your audience, to growing your business, to managing the work/life balance, we’ve partnered with some successful entrepreneurs and consultants to help you build a business that succeeds.

Reaching Your Audience: Small Business Marketing

Entrepreneurs and small business owners live and breathe marketing. Some of the first skills to master include:

  • How to attract new customers.
  • How to reach a niche market.
  • The future of audience marketing.

Here are your best practices for reaching your audience, and a look at the future of audience-targeting.

How to Attract New Customers

Whether you’re still planning your launch, or your small business is picking up momentum, the question of consistently attracting new customers is one that every entrepreneur is constantly asking. Those who have been asking long enough are discovering that the best strategy is two-fold: content and relationships.

Content Marketing

Providing high-quality, useful information that your target audience is looking for is a huge way of appreciating and adding value to them.

Katie Lance helps companies develop and execute winning social media and content marketing strategies, as Katie Lance Consulting. She has more than fifteen years of experience in marketing.

“I think attracting new clients is always an issue for anyone. It’s a little bit of a cliché, but I think that content marketing has been a huge piece of it for a lot of the clients I have worked with. It’s in really developing a strong content marketing strategy, and being there consistently-whether it’s a blog, different social media platforms, etc.—because when you’re putting out valuable content that’s not self-serving people share that. Word-of-mouth is so valuable.”- Katie Lance, CEO, Katie Lance Consulting

Content marketing is also great for SEO and establishing your brand’s reputation in the marketplace.

Relationship Marketing

Small business owners are the heart and the face of their brands, and that means that every relationship you have is a marketing opportunity.

Thaddeus Wong is an accomplished Realtor, a highly-sought advisor, and a passionate entrepreneur. He co-founded @properties, which today is the largest independently owned brokerage firm in Illinois.

“Our business is completely built on relationships and relationship marketing, and we compete with a lot of national brands that have a lot more name recognition than we do—even locally. So on our end, creating systems that actually repeat—over and over and over again—the communication value that we provide to our clients, helps us grow horizontally in our market. So if our niche market is Chicago, we’re working with as many people as we possibly can, reminding them who we are repeatedly, and encouraging them to drive more business our way.”- Thaddeus Wong, Co-Founder, @properties

Sometimes it makes sense to build relationship marketing and networking right into your business.

A Harvard Law School graduate, Matthew Tolin is General Counsel of NYC Media Group and a founding member of wireLawyer.

“There’s a lot of network theory in our model. Lawyers don’t like referring work to other lawyers that they don’t know or can’t get a quick recommendation on. We’ve built them some tools that allow them to basically see their whole network. It’s like a Match.com for lawyers, where they can see the best people to work with in different geographies or practice areas. That in itself has helped our network grow incredibly rapidly.” -Matthew Tolin, Co-Founder, wireLawyer

Whether it’s built into your business model, or just built into you as an entrepreneur, word-of-mouth is powerful and trust is an increasingly valuable commodity.

“Honestly, just provide the very best product or service. Under promise and over deliver time and again, and you will have more business then you know what to do with. Be a person who follows up, who shows up, and who does what you say you are going to do. It's amazing to me how many people don't do this.” - Katie Lance, CEO, Katie Lance Consulting

Relationships are some of your best marketing opportunities.

How to Reach a Niche Market

Very few startups and small businesses are afflicted with more money than they know how to spend. Narrowing your target audience to a specific niche is a great way to use your capital most efficiently, but once you’ve identified your specific market, how do you cut through the noise to reach them?

Get out of your comfort zone, and into theirs.

It sounds simple, but it’s very easy for small businesses to think about marketing as bringing people in, instead of as a strategy for taking the brand out.

Erica Nicole is recognized as a successful serial entrepreneur, and an entrepreneurial expert. A writer and speaker, she is the CEO and Founder of YFS Magazine.

I think one caveat to consider is, “Where do my consumers play? Where are they most receptive?” Especially if you’re trying to dive deep into a niche, SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and PPC (Pay Per Click) are great ways to test out your marketing strategy, and to figure out exactly where that sweet spot is, in a more cost-effect way than some other traditional opportunities that may arise. - Erica Nicole, Founder and CEO, YFS Magazine

In addition to figuring out where your audience goes to relax, ask yourself where they go to work, to learn, etc. Meet them in “their” world as often as you can.

While earning his MBA from Harvard Business School, Patrick Petitti co-founded HourlyNerd, an online marketplace that connects companies to the business consultants for short-term projects.

I would say that most niche markets, or most customers who are part of niche markets, have some sort of community or place that they all tend to go—whether it’s online blogs or certain, very specific types of publications. Think about what your customers read, and where they go when they have questions, when they want to learn, when they want to meet up with people who are like them. Then figure out how you can leverage that to get in front of them in whatever way is best. - Patrick Petitti, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, HourlyNerd

Sometimes there are very specific ways to find and join their communities.

Part of our thesis is that the web is getting more vertical. You can go to a service like Google and use it to search for anything on the web, but the idea of a vertical like WireLawyer is it’s just lawyers. It’s just business, and the cost of entry is zero. That’s a nice, niche way to get involved with other attorneys-Matthew Tolin

Finding your target market where they are at their leisure allows you to introduce yourself and your brand as a friendly face with a common interest. Meeting them when they’re looking for information or professional networks allows you to establish yourself as a trusted expert.

How to Get Started in Social Media

The influence of social media in business is compelling, and, in general, the price tag fits nicely into a startup budget. But how do you build a social media following if you’re just getting started and no one knows who you are? These two simple steps will get you exactly where you need to be on social.

1 - Start with your network.

Connect with friends and family. They may not be your target market, but they will get you started.

Author, speaker, and advisor Paul Chaney has 18 years of experience in B2B marketing consultancy. He sits on the board of advisors for three organizations, and is the principal of Chaney Marketing Group.

First of all, unless maybe you’re cast away on a deserted island, people know you: friends, family, business colleges, vendors, etc. Start with them. They may not represent the ideal audience for your product or service initially—some will, some won’t—but you can use those people as a base from which to grow. It kind of reminds me of people starting out in direct sales—insurance or real estate. They start with the people they know—friends and family—and build from there.. - Paul Chaney, Principal, Chaney Marketing Group

Even if most of them aren’t your target audience, someone else in their networks may be.

2 - Keep doing it.

There is no shortage of social media marketing strategies for small businesses, and most of them are very insightful. As a whole, however, they can also be paralyzing. Don’t wait until you think you understand every nuance of social media before you get started. Just jump in.

I’ve become a big fan of Twitter. It’s less about going out of our way to create great content, and more about creating conversations with people who are thought-leaders. We developed relationships with people who were very active on Twitter, and we’ve grown our following to over 30,000 followers. -Matthew Tolin

The other social media error that small businesses easily succum to emphasizing “media” over “social.”

One of the most valuable opportunities inherent in social channels is the ability to develop relationships with your prospects and customers.

Especially when you’re a new business and you're getting your feet wet in social media, it’s all about that one-to-one. It’s recognizing when people comment and like and retweet. I always say, “No tweet left behind,” which I know is a little corny, but I really believe in that—especially when you’re brand new and maybe you don’t feel like anyone knows you. Make time to respond and say, “Thank you for the follow,” or, “Hey, thanks for commenting on my page.” It’s those little things that I think get lost when you get really big, but when you're first starting out that’s really huge to put that personal piece behind the brand - Katie Lance

You will almost always be able to improve your social media strategy, but in the meantime it’s also almost impossible to hopelessly fail at it. If you’re using social honestly and authentically, you’re doing it right.

The Future of Audience-Marketing

Social media, hyperlocal apps, and the internet of things are all making the day-to-day user experience more intimate and more personal. What does that mean for marketers? Audience-marketing, or audience-targeting, is becoming popular even with enterprise-level corporations, so it’s important to look ahead.

Coca-Cola has a new marketing campaign where they actually put people’s names on the cans. I think that’s the beginning of hyper-personalized marketing outside the internet. It changes the look and feel of the can, which catches your interest, and whatever you think when you see that name is a personal reaction. It’s saying that Coke is for the individual. I think the future of marketing, both online and outside, is going to have everything to do with personal identity. Knowing the identity of your target market, and identifying with them, so you become a part of their lives. - Thaddeus Wong

How does a small business stand out when some of the world’s largest corporations are using audience targeting? Become a story-teller, and embrace data.

Become a Storyteller

Consumers are bombarded with ads and offers everyday. Craft your business’ unique, compelling story, and you will stand out from the competition. When you stand out, you can lead.

I think the future of marketing is really about storytelling. You really have to develop a unique voice within your industry, and it’s really what’s going to set people apart. The future of marketing is about telling a good story, and then secondarily, backing that up with really really great content marketing. And then from there, the third layer, I think, is the branding piece, the thought-leadership piece. Not only does your brand need to have a place at the table, it needs to lead conversations When you start to lead conversations in your industry, your marketing itself is kind of a supportive pillar for that. - Erica Nicole

It’s easy for entrepreneurs to neglect their own story, because you’re busy looking and moving forward, but fine-tuning the narrative about who you are, why you started your business, and how it’s gotten to where it is, will connect with your audience and amplify your voice in the market.

Embrace Data

The hyper-personalized user experience is also generating some hyper-specific user data, and the right systems can help you harness it to really narrow in on your target.

A few months ago, I started working with a big-data client whose focus is on predictive analytics. Just watching what they’re doing—the ability to pull together mountains of structured and unstructured data, analyze that data, and then be able to make predictions about future customer behavior—is really astounding. It gives them the ability to segment their audience down to micro-markets, even to an individual level. I think it’s probably the kind of thing that’s given Amazon the ability to do what it calls “anticipatory shipping.” They’re actually shipping a product before you order it. So I think it’s both. It’s the human approach, the story-telling, but also I think it has to be backed up by the use of data. - Paul Chaney

Big data is becoming increasingly available to small and medium-sized businesses, in the form of social media metrics and automated email marketing systems.

Growing Your Business

Growing an audience happens at the same time as growing your business, but it’s not the same thing. If your audience grows faster than your brand, you won’t be able to sustain growth anywhere. Three of the most important questions to ask about your growing business are:

  • Do you need a business plan?
  • Do you need funding?
  • Do you need a mentor?
  • Do you need to isolate your market?

Below are your three most important answers.

Do You Need a Business Plan?

Traditional wisdom has said entrepreneurs should have a three to five-year business plan. Some leaders are now saying a one-year business plan is all you need, and some say you don’t need one at all. Is a business plan still important, and how long-term does it need to be?

A traditional business plan might be an outdated concept in today’s market, but the basic idea will always be vital to business. You need a plan.

It’s been really trendy to say, “No business plan!” In theory that sounds great, but how can you hit a target you can’t see? Whether that business plan includes a huge analysis of 10 or 50 pages, or you put your business plan on a napkin, you need to have a plan. Planning is a way for you to have a checks and balances for your idea. Regardless of how you plan, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. However you decide to go about it, take the time to plan out your idea and figure out its feasibility before you hit the market. - Erica Nicole

Having some kind of plan doesn’t mean that you need to detail the next decade of your business, though. The truth is, the market is moving quickly and the businesses that survive are the ones that adapt.

What you really need is some kind of hypothesis about what your business is, who your customer is, and how you’re going to deliver value to that customer. And probably how you’re going to monetize it. You goal is to go out and prove that hypothesis right or wrong, and then iterate. And iterate iterate iterate. Learn and try to become better, but to try to predict what your company is going to be—nevermind five years, even two years or one year, from now. That’s a difficult thing to do. - Patrick Petitti

The changing market means that your beta is as important as your official plan.

Everyone now a days looks at product. It is cheaper to get your functioning beta together. There’s just so much content out there that people are going to spend less time looking through a 50-page business plan—even financial projections. It’s having a product and showing it to customers-Matthew Tolin

The danger of a traditional business plan in today’s market, and part of the reason people are rebelling against them, is they can become all-consuming. Make a plan, form a business hypothesis, but then get to work.

Do you need funding?

Once you have a plan and a sample, you’re going to try to secure some investors and some startup capital. But how much do you really need before you start focusing on your work? Or what if you don’t get a great response from investors?

Every business needs capital, of course, but don’t let a small bank account distract you from your passion for long. There is a lot you can do on a lean budget.

I think a lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners wait until they have everything in place. Some of the best entrepreneurs and small businesses and startups that I’ve seen just dive in. People say they have blinders on, but sometimes you just dive in. I had an about.me as a landing page for six to eight months as I was working on my website and everything. Sometimes you have to jump in before you have everything ready and have all your ducks in a row. There are a lot of great resources that will allow us to do things we couldn’t do in the past. - Katie Lance

So much of your small business is in tech—from social media to your website and your internal operations—and tech is constantly getting faster and cheaper.

If we’d started our companies five/ten years ago, we’d have to have a room full of servers and employees who knew how to do things to those servers. There are things like Amazon web services now. You have GoDaddy. When we started our company, we just made a GoDaddy landing page. It wasn’t the most beautiful looking website in the world, but it was enough to get people to post projects and we could manipulate it a little bit. The technology now a days is so much cheaper, it’s better quality, and you don’t need all the overhead you used to need to get off the ground. - Patrick Petitti

Funding is ideal, and as your business continues to grow, you will gather more of it for each new stage of growth, but there is a lot you can do to get started with less funding than you might think.

Do You Need Mentors?

If you’re in the right environment—a college town or major city, usually—there are lots of options for business mentorship, from associations to accelerators. But sometimes your physical location, or your particular business niche, don’t include very many opportunities. Whatever your setting, business mentors are worth seeking out, you may just need a tailored approach.

How to Take Advantage of Mentorship Opportunities

If they’re available, remember that mentorship, like any relationship, is a two-way street.

Look at local networking events where you can first provide value. Before you connect with a mentor, look at how you can provide value for him/her. It’s definitely a mutually beneficial relationship. When you approach it from that standpoint, you’re more likely to get people who are interested in backing your dream and your vision, because they understand the reciprocity involved in the mentee/mentor relationship. - Erica Nicole

Why should a busy, successful entrepreneur sign up to mentor you? If you can’t define what value you will add to his/her career, you’re not going to get a lot of help.

How to Make Up For a Lack of Mentorship Opportunities

If the networking events and small business communities are not readily available, you are not without help.

For me it’s been drawing up on the wisdom and advice of people I’ve worked with in the past. There are a number of good organizations, but sometimes you can just build a network of trusted advisors around yourself that you can turn to from time to time as need be. - Paul Chaney

Look through your own network for relationships you already have with successful people. If there’s no one in your direct network that you can turn to, what about your friends’ networks? It’s okay to ask a friend for an introduction to someone they know who might be a good resource. Just because a successful entrepreneur has never mentored someone before doesn’t mean he can’t, or that he’s not interested.

Do You Need to Isolate Your Market?

You need to have a target audience in mind, so you can develop a quality product and spend your marketing time and money efficiently, but don’t get so targeted that you’re operating in a vacuum.

Always keep your eyes open.

When we first started our company, we originally thought that what we were really going to be delivering was value to SMB clients. We built a really unique, totally MVP-type platform that we tried to get SMBs to go toward. What we found, that was very surprising, was that even though the platform was very good, we started to get major enterprises showing up. I think that just spoke to us to the fact that it’s really important not to think that you know who your customer is going to be, and exactly what you need to build, and what your business should look like.We could have spent a ton of time over-investing and creating something that would have been perfect for small businesses, but because we didn’t, and because we just wanted to test it out, we learned that this is something that’s interesting to a totally different type of customer than we had ever thought. That enabled us to put our resources into investigating what we needed to build to get to both SMBs and major enterprises.- Patrick Petitti

Then why have a target audience at all? You need to know where you’re starting, and as your business grows, you need to have a priority.

Throughout the process you're going to find yourself pivoting. What’s key is to understand that during those pivots you might have already developed a primary and a secondary market. I think the challenge most small businesses face is that when you find you have one or two market segments, or even three or four, how do you prioritize those? Really, it’s about finding the best way, the most cost-effective way, to hit that primary audience well, and then roll it out against other segments. - Erica Nicole

Develop a plan and identify your target, but after that, stay flexible.

I see a lot of entrepreneurs coming in and trying to shift a market to dictate who their clients are going to be, as opposed to riding the market and understanding it—its size and its depth and its velocity and how you can best be positioned in the market to take advantage of low-hanging fruit. Don’t think that you know who your clients are out of the gate, you might miss out on the biggest opportunity ever by being so hyper-focused on just one solution, when really what you’re trying to do is grow. You might not know exactly the greatest opportunity that you’re going to be presented. - Thaddeus Wong

It’s a balance between planning and adapting, but if your focus is growth and delivering value, you’ll hit the mark.

Managing the Work/Life Balance

You have a lot on your plate, a lot of vision, and—at least in the beginning—a lot of energy for your business. But you also have friends and family, and there is an old saying about too much work and no play. So where’s the balance?

It’s important to unplug sometimes, even if you don’t feel like you need to. Build the habit into your routine from the beginning.

There are many ways to unplug, but you have to do it for your emotional, physical, and mental health. If you don't unplug you become this automaton. For me, a signal that I need to unplug is that I’m going from email to Facebook to Twitter to email, and I suddenly realize I'm in this zone where I’m not doing anything productive. Even if you just take ten or fifteen minutes to take a walk or talk to a friend, take a break, walk away from it, and come back. You’ll be much more productive in the long haul. - Paul Chaney

Long-term productivity is a serious consideration. If you burn out too soon, or set an unsustainable pace, your brand will suffer eventually.

It’s important to remember that the startup journey is not a sprint, its a marathon. You want to build endurance, and you build endurance by being sure you can leverage and prioritize your time. That means being productive as best you can, and following through on that throughout the days and months. - Erica Nicole

How do you train for the startup marathon? Setting boundaries and hiring the right people are two really valuable policies, but it’s about your brand and your life, so in the end do what works best for you.

Everybody is different and everyone has different potential and ability. As long as you're completely comfortable with what you’re doing and how you're doing it, and you stop comparing yourself to other people and what they’re doing, you’ll have way better results- Thaddeus Wong

Setting Boundaries

If you’re not sure how to start unplugging, sit down and outline some boundaries.

I have learned you have to schedule vacation and family time, and don't feel guilty about it. I have two little boys - a three and six year old. I always remind myself that one of the reasons I started my own company was quality of life. I work really, really hard, but I’ve also learned in the last year and a half to set those boundaries—What time is my first phone call going to be in the morning, and what time is the last one going to be? There are hours in the day that are family time, and setting those expectations with my clients has been huge. - Katie Lance

Different times of day are more or less productive for different people. Identify when you work best, and schedule downtime for the times that are hardest for you to concentrate.

A you’ll spend your whole morning being reactive if you start checking email right away. You have to force time. Whether it’s thought time or project time, I build it into my calendar. -Matthew Tolin

Change your boundaries as they need to change. If it turns out that you don’t work well in the morning, reschedule yourself. If a 20 minute break isn’t enough for you to really disconnect, make it longer. Your boundaries should work for you.

Hire the Right People

As you’re building a team, you should be looking for people who are not only capable, but trustworthy.

Make sure that you hire people and that you find people you can trust. Because if you feel like you don’t have anyone you can lean on, or trust to take over and run with the business when you’re tapped out, you’re going to be constantly stressing and constantly checking your phone. The most important thing that I can do for my company is hire people that everyone can trust, and that we can rely upon to take significant responsibility. - Patrick Petitti
A lot of it is gut instinct. I like to hire based on if that person is a good fit for the culture. Personality and being able to get along in the culture is huge.- Katie Lance

Even if you feel like you have the zeal and the enthusiasm to work 80 hours each week now, you won’t always. The goal is to build a business that outgrows and outlasts you, so start building that ethic in from the very foundation.

Built to Succeed

Your startup or small business is your passion, your identity, and your legacy. Setting a solid foundation—from marketing, to your business organization, to your role and your workload—will enable you to build an inspiring success story.

Other Resources to Help You Grow Business

Meet the Panelists