Category Archives: Small Business Help

Small Business Help and Advice to keep you focused and moving forward.

Boss Meeting Review

BOSS (Business Owner Strategy Support)Deb Popplewell

Sat Nov 12, 2016 3-6pm, BP’s (Memorial Dr NE)

Review by Debra Popplewell (keener meetup attendee)

Find/Follow me at http://www.icbtoo.space/ or FB or LinkedIn or @razentree on Twitter, Instagram

I attended the latest meetup focused on Social Media Strategies hosted by Richard Allen owner of a few different businesses who started BOSS as a network support for small business entrepreneurs like himself. Richard has established a very large network on Facebook alone and continues to evolve his business of Clixsaver.com to promote other small businesses through this exposure as well as various marketing efforts.

Attending the meetup included a sampling of entrepreneurs like a financial planner, health and wellness educator, property investment facilitators, lead generation specialist, SEO specialist, lingerie/martini party hostess, custom closets, specialty imports, career consultant, and myself (a budding website builder entrepreneur). Each meeting brings different types of business owners in Calgary looking to network and gain advice from each other.

Through this BOSS meetup I learned two main streams of things:

More about what BOSS offers:

  • Free meetups to the Calgary community – promotion/network/advice sharing, camaraderie (via pub nights)
  • Sponsorship opportunities to showcase businesses on Facebook, meeting materials

More about Social Media as per these highlights below:11

Go Live (as in real-time, as much as possible and especially at first)

  • Can’t beat meeting and sharing your business with your network in person and as you articulate your business offer business cards/ postcards with social media links and follow-up online asap (next day), if so bold you could offer to show your prospective client your website, FB, etc. using their phone if you can do so unawkwardly
  • Ask prospective clients and people generally to follow you

Get Savvy

  • Make yourself easy to find
  • Hire social media expertise or learn yourself and build your online presence depending on which is most relevant to your business and your audience (business website, LinkedIn, Facebook, twitter, Instagram, snapchat, etc.)
  • Link, market, and monitor your sites

Facebook (FB) for Business 101

  • Know that FB is designed to make business owners pay to market and advertise; there are costs and limitations (e.g. mass inviting restricted to 500)
  • Features: 6 or so different types of business pages, ratings feature (like yelp.ca)
  • Target your audience and messaging (focus your content on your business and what’s relevant in your industry e.g. post trends, primarily add humour/distraction as it relates to your business
  • Cross reference your business profile with your personal profile (and remember to keep your personal posts neutral if you’re going to do that)
  • Follow your followers (acknowledge positive posts, questions, complaints ASAP); factor timing and relevance, “now generation” will forget you in minutes, replying three days later on a post too late, etc.
  • Likes vs Shares – be careful of reposts, tags, do not send if you haven’t received permission, don’t just “shout out to the wind” like mass-message “hope to see you all there!”; need to factor CASL rules around unsolicited private messages [KNOW CRTC CASL RULES]
  • Don’t over-send too frequently and especially if not significant (you will annoy, be blocked, unfollowed etc.)
  • Groups not valuable, pages are better
  • FB based on impressions (views, likes, shares, etc.) not webpage clicks as far as SEO stats go
  • FB great for storytelling your business, photos (e.g. showing “before/after” reno-work), show you and your business interacting with your clients, other community-based aspects
  • Run contests
  • Offer discounts
  • Announce and plan events (don’t use third-party software to mass invite on fb, fb will ban your site temporarily)
  • Have a business website link at the top of profile and promote FB followers to visit your website easily so hopefully with curiousity they will look and learn more about your business outside FB (where distractions are rampant)
  • FB offers immediacy that websites may not, e.g. people are frequently checking latest posts in their FB-feed (depending on how users have notifications setup)

General Digital Marketing Tips

  • CASL – Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation, know it thoroughly and take seriously!
  • USP (unique selling proposition), have one!
  • SEO – search engine optimization (google analytics, visits to your site, etc.)
  • “black hat marketing” (e.g. buying likes or using gimmicks to increase likes even if completely unrelated to your business like having a woman model herself to gain likes followers who has nothing to do with your business)
  • viralability” [how fast social media topics spread]
  • Hashtags e.g. #BOSS, #lifegoals, #[makeupanythingyouwant]– use them to attract new followers (may even be unrelated to business but exercise judgment on ROI and perceptions of doing so)

Engage your “social hubs” (people who are happenin’)batman-hates-social-media

  • Find and engage those who are well connected and frequent users of social media
  • Stroke ego’s of your clients, followers, commenters
  • Seek win-win’s, make things worthwhile and valuable for others

Twitter

  • Less focus on this, it was thought to be a dying platform or at least not as relevant to ROI

Instagram

  • ROI minimal, effort to post new, create content very time consuming
  • Depends on your business, may be great if you are featuring many photos (e.g. photography, reno’s, food, jewelry, personal care, etc)

Snapchat

  • Not discussed, similar to Instagram

Pinterest

  • Not discussed, similar to Instagram

In conclusion, Richard is BOSS and works hard to engage the group and keep the momentum of this network going. He’s knowledgeable, personable, approachable, highly networked.

BOSS meetup was BOSS so come to the next meetup and be a part of it!

Attention Anxious Aspiring Entrepreneurs: Find a Business Partner

Brace yourself. This might sting a wee bit: Not everyone should go it alone.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur, though. It just means that you might need a partner to hike the startup path with you, says Daniel Lubetzky, the founder of KIND Healthy Snacks, at the Entrepreneur 360 conference in New York City.

“I know a lot of friends who come up with amazing stuff, but they are not meant to go on that journey alone,” Lubetzky says. “They are meant to have a partner, and that partner can maybe compliment them. They are the creative force, but they need a partner to be the operational force, or something else.”

Related: Growing a Company Takes the Confidence to Know Your Limits

Lubetzky is a solo founder. He launched KIND Healthy Snacks in 2004 and since then has sold more than billion bars. The New York City-based company has more than 300 full-time employees.

But he says that he knew, fully and completely, that he was devoted to KIND, despite countless naysayers. If you don’t have that level of total and complete confidence, then perhaps you shouldn’t quit your day job just yet.

Related: The Important Reason This Founder Keeps a Jar of Teriyaki Pepper Spread in His Office

“If you have a personality where you are doubting yourself all the time and you just don’t think that is what you are meant to do,” Lubetzky says, then “maybe you shouldn’t do it.”

To hear more from Lubetzky on how to know whether you are ready to go it alone, look for a business partner or hold off for a better opportunity, watch the video above.

Related: Why the Founder of KIND Doesn’t Use the Word ‘Employee’

Let Clix Saver help your small business

For many years, Clix Saver has been providing internet related services. We have zoomed in and are focused on the best bang for your buck. Your ROI (return on investment) will be excellent when working with us.

See the rest of our website to learn more.

Clix Saver provides promotional services for your Small Business and help you build a company you can be proud of.

Monthly Marketing Subscription

The Power of WHY in Becoming an Entrepreneur

The Power of WHY in Becoming an Entrepreneur

I am an entrepreneur. What does that mean? To most people, it means the standard definition of the word, the person who “organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”

To me, it means something more. It is not only someone who decided to build something out of nothing. It’s someone who wakes up every day not knowing exactly what to expect. It’s someone who jumped off the ledge without a parachute. I often say I’m at the crossroads of being broke and being a billionaire. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, filled with heartbreak, glory, stress and immense satisfaction.

For those of you who understand what I’m saying, I’m sure you can relate. But, for everyone else, for those of you who are wondering what it’s like to be an entrepreneur, let me give you some personal insight. Let me take you out of the glorified media bubble of billion-dollar exits and pretty-colored unicorns. Let me tell you a secret, just between us: It is a damn war. I wake up every day uncertain. I am a deal away from glory and an event away from failure. One day is the best day of your life, followed by the worst day of your life. One day you are a hero and the next day you are a big fat zero.

So, now that you know the truth and we got that out of the way, let’s talk about why we do this and why we put ourselves through this gauntlet of craziness. Why would we cut ourselves, roll around in sea salt, get up and shower and do it all over again?

Related: How Coworking Helped an Education Accelerator

The number one misconception is that we do it all for the money. For those of you who are thinking about hopping in this crazy game and you want to do it just for the money then let me pose a few questions to you. If you’re thinking solely of your mansion on Star Island, your G6 and your Bugatti Veyron, how are you going to think of ways you can create value for your clients?  If you’re sitting there dreaming of market share and billion-dollar opportunities and only thinking about how much you can capitalize, how can you come up with ideas to enhance your user experience?  While you are sitting in your bedroom thinking of trips to Aspen, Mojitos in Miami and dinners on the French Riviera, clients need help, people need better experiences and industries in general need to be disrupted.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m a true capitalist, through and through. I just know that money is a measurement of creating value.  If you’re focused on only making money for yourself, then you cannot be focused on creating that value that you need to attract clients and potentially make a profit.

Now that we know it’s not entirely about the bling, then one may ask, “Why do we do what we do?”  For me the answer is in the question itself. The answer to “why we do what we do, is the WHY.

The WHY helps me get through my day. The WHY gets me through the sleepless nights and the WHY motivates me to build the best products and services that I can build. If you know WHY, it helps you answer any question you may have or deal with any issue that will 100 percent happen to you.

For me, the WHY is that I want to connect different people together through entrepreneurship. I believe that different cultures throughout time have broken down political and social boundaries through working with each other to achieve common goals. I believe that collaboration is a byproduct of evolution and we will become a better world when we decide to all work together.

Related: What Star Jones Is Doing to Push Diversity in the Workplace

I know that this may seem a bit like I see the world through rose-colored glasses, but I have seen it with my own eyes. Through my work with AlleyNYC I have seen all types of people, from all different backgrounds work with each other. The political rhetoric that floods our media and forces its ugly face in our lives daily becomes irrelevant as people work in teams to build products and services. These people are working on their own version of their WHY and not listening to the noise around them.

Through my work with the U.S. State Department, I’ve witnessed completely different cultures creating amazing products that are being used globally. I’ve seen students learning creative methods that were inspired by other cultures in order to build solutions to problems they are trying to solve. While bombs were going off in the background, a group of young entrepreneurs were working on their WHY while talking to me thousands of miles away. Let’s break this down a bit: a bunch of Palestinians in Gaza building tech products talking to a Jewish guy from Long Island. (Huge S/O to GAZA Sky Geeks.)  I have witnessed the power of meaningful connections and my goal is to connect the world together through entrepreneurship.

The WHY is why I do what I do and it motivates me every day to push on. The WHY also helps me in day-to-day situations. It helps me answer client and investor questions and helps me make decisions on best practices for my business and community. Believe me, some decisions may not look like the best thing to do at the time. However, the WHY always shines through in the end. It keeps you honest, it keeps you humble and it keeps you on task.

My ultimate advice is, learn your WHY. Find passion in your WHY and feel the purpose behind your WHY. After you learn it, live it, breath it, never, ever, EVER, lose sight of the WHY. HUSTLE ON.

Related: Why Techstars Acquired Startup Weekend

Let Clix Saver help your small business

For many years, Clix Saver has been providing internet related services. We have zoomed in and are focused on the best bang for your buck. Your ROI (return on investment) will be excellent when working with us.

See the rest of our website to learn more.

Clix Saver provides promotional services for your Small Business and help you build a company you can be proud of.

 

5 Questions You Must Ask to Build a Company That Lasts

Let’s face it, most startups fail. The chances of survival are slim at best, and there are countless examples of great ideas that just didn’t make it. As a former entrepreneur and now Partner at Greylock Partners, I spend my time thinking a lot about what makes a company succeed.

You’ve got the great idea. Asking these five questions will help ensure your idea can serve as the solid foundation to build a lasting company.

Related: 6 Telltale Signs It’s Time to Become Your Own Boss

1. Do you have a great team?

There is a long-standing debate amongst many investors of what is more important – people, products or markets? I unequivocally put people first. The reason is simple: Great people build great products. Great people are great at selling the product. Remember, your team is the engine that will propel your success for the next 5 to 10 years, so make sure it’s well-built. Don’t get me wrong — a strong product and big market is vital to building an amazing company, yet the road to success is a long and winding one, and people usually make the difference.

2. Does it pass the 10x test?

In addition to people, I am always asking if your product is at least ten times better than the alternatives. It has to be 10 times better, because anything less won’t stick. Few consumers are early adopters — most prefer to stay with the tried and true.

And it’s not always about inventing a new product or category, but about being better — much better. Dropbox entered a crowded field, but their delivery of a simple “Dropbox folder” that synched across all my computers and the cloud combined with their growth plan — free storage if you invite your friends — were more than 10x better. They were magical. You don’t need to be first — just make sure you’re better in a big way.

3. Does it pass the 10-second test?

In this era of 140 characters and disappearing photos, capturing people’s attention is ever more challenging. One of they keys to success is if you can describe what you do in a proverbial ten seconds.

Geoffrey Moore, in the classic entrepreneurship book Crossing the Chasm, suggested a framework that I’ve always used to help articulate: Who is your target customer and what’s the truly compelling reason to buy. What is your product’s key benefit, and how is it undeniably different than the competition — or why is it 10x better?

Articulating your identity in 10 seconds gives you a framework for making tons of difficult decisions such as where to invest, how to go to market and more. It also gives you a simple and powerful vehicle for explaining your focus to your customers — and investors.

Related: No Shortcuts: How One Stylist Built His Beauty Powerhouse

4. Am I building the next billion-dollar company?

Not all entrepreneurship requires venture capital (VC). There are lots of entrepreneurs around the world building interesting business without VC funding. However, if you’re going the venture-backed route, top-tier VCs are looking for those founders focused on big ideas. From the Greylock portfolio, think Workday, Palo Networks, Facebook and Linkedin.

The reason is because venture capital is driven by the 80/20 rule — actually, it’s more like 95/5. A very small number of investments are very successful and produce the vast majority of returns. If a firm has a $1 billion fund and the firm targets a return of 5 to 10 times that to its investors, then it’s tough to do with small outcomes. If a fund makes 50 investments, maybe five or fewer deliver the vast majority of results.

5. Why now?

You have a great idea — but is the world ready?

In 2000, I personally invested and was on the board of a company called Backplace — different than the Lady Gaga-backed company of today. The idea was that in the age of the cloud and a move to recurring revenue models, building a software as a service (SaaS) platform for billing would be like selling shovels to the gold diggers. The problem was that in 2000, there were not enough SaaS providers. Today, we are seeing the success of companies like Zuora as the number of companies relying on recurring revenue models has soared over the past decade. Timing matters.

By asking these five questions, you can take an idea and transform it into one so compelling and powerful, it can make a lasting impact for years to come. And never underestimate the last ingredient — luck. It’s hard to plan for it, but all of the above will prepare you to take advantage of Lady Luck when and if she appears.

Related: 4 Steps to Build Your New Business Empire

Let Clix Saver help your small business

For many years, Clix Saver has been providing internet related services for years. We have zoomed in on the best bang for your buck approach. Your ROI (return on investment) will be excellent.

See the rest of our website to learn more.

Clix Saver provides promotional services for your Small Business and help you build a company you can be proud of.

How One Stylist Built His Beauty Powerhouse

Julien Farel’s flagship salon overlooks a ritzy section of Park Avenue in New York City, where his team of 30 stylists serve local Uptown residents as well as jetsetter patrons from the adjacent Loews Regency Hotel.

Farel’s come a long way. In 1992, Julien Farel left Lyon, France for Manhattan with only $2,000 in his pocket and spoke little to no English. To build a reputation as a hair stylist, he spent years apartment-hopping in Brooklyn while handling an average of 37 clients per day.

In this short video, Farel explains what drove him as he built his reputation — and how it’s helped him keep his business thriving in a competitive market like New York City.

Related: Why There’s a Luxe Pop-Up Salon for Athletes at the US Open

Clix Saver specializes in marketing and content management for small businesses and start-ups.

For many years, Clix Saver has been providing internet related services all over the board. We have zoomed in on the best bang for your buck approach, or ROI (return on investment). See the rest of our website to learn more. We provide all the services for your start-up mentioned above.

3 Ways to Connect With Entrepreneurs Online

Forums aren’t just for gamers and new parents anymore. Over the past decade, these meetings of online minds have become the perfect opportunity for networking, connecting with others in the same community, getting help and even sharing and tweaking strategies.

Related: 12 Organizations Entrepreneurs Need to Join

Every day, more and more online forums are popping up, covering everything from the pitfalls of being a plumber to starting your own business.

In the past, entrepreneurs had to go it alone and rely on whatever advice they could get from successful people they met. With forums now available all over the web, you don’t have to wait to bump into the next Bill Gates to share ideas, ask questions and make some connections. Check out the three hottest places to meet and interact with fellow entrepreneurs on the net right now so you won’t be left out in the industry cold.

1. EntrepreneurFix

Founded by young entrepreneur Oliver Kenyon, EntrepreneurFix is a sleek, easy-to-navigate forum that is certainly hot right now. The main board is divided into four main sections: work, play, business and general. This design gives members the ability to go exactly where they want to when they first hit the website, whether their aim is to ask a serious question about hiring staff or blow off some steam talking about their favorite car or wine.

“Work” is where the magic happens. There, members can discuss with other entrepreneurs everything from general business and marketing to legal matters and new business ideas. “Play” is exactly what it sounds like, with sub-forums for real estate, travel and even arts and entertainment. In “Business,” you can showcase your companies and products; there’s even a “Buy, Sell or Trade” sub-forum if you want to sell or exchange your products or services with other forum members — or buy from them.

A distinct advantage of EntreprenuerFix is how well it connects you with other entrepreneurs of the same mind. You can interact, exchange tips and discuss experiences with other people who are or have been on the same path as you. With all of the sub-forums and the simple, visually appealing interface, EntrepreneurFix.com is absolutely the entrepreneur forum to watch.

Related: Advice From 14 Successful Entrepreneurs for Everyone Beginning the Journey

2. Startup Nation

Started back in 2002 by experienced business owners Rich and Jeff Sloan, StartupNation is a bustling forum for those both new and old to entrepreneurship. The forum interface is neat and clean, but where Startup Nation really shines is its myriad of content. From blogs to a radio show hosted by the Sloans, this website offers a little bit of everything for current and future entrepreneurs.

In the forum section, you’ll find nine main categories. “Marketing, Sales & PR” is only divided into three subtopics, so you might need to do a little digging for certain topics. “Startup Business Basics” is cleanly subdivided into planning and selection areas, with a “Grab Bag” thread for everything else. “Money” covers business funding, while “Doing Business on the Web” touches on some Internet business topics. There are also dedicated areas for discussions on intellectual property, business management and entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur connections.

Startup Nation is a solid resource worth visiting. Since its focus is on an overall content experience, some of the forum categories, however, aren’t as divided as well as they could be for the user experience.

3. Meet Up

Scott Heiferman and Matt Meeker’s Meetup.com is a social network platform dedicated to facilitating the meeting of groups that share a common interest offline. On Meetup, you’ll find various groups dedicated to specific industries, business topics and entrepreneurship in general; and some of these meetings might just be taking place right in your very own backyard. You can easily connect with other entrepreneurs around you, providing you with an invaluable network and learning opportunity.

Meetup’s website design is very simple. You can look for groups in your area by city or start a group of your own for other people to find and join. You can also search by categories under “Career & Business,” once you’ve narrowed down the area.

While Meetup is great for connecting with other entrepreneurs in your community, it’s not solely business-focused and doesn’t offer any other content. 

An entrepreneur forum is a great way to quickly connect with other people who own their own business, and you’ll probably find some people who are even in your industry. While forum advice is not a complete substitute when it comes to legal and financial matters, you can still get valuable, accurate information. This will point you in the right direction and position you to learn from more experienced, successful people.

Meetup is great for people who want to network locally, while Startup Nation provides a supportive learning environment. Oliver Kenyon’s fast-growing EntrepreneurFix is a mix of everything that is perfect for entrepreneurs no matter what path they wish to take.

Join a forum today to tap into its many benefits at no cost to you. Nowadays, you’ve got a wealth of information at your fingertips, so all you have to do is go to the right place to find it. Please tell us about your favorite forums or other ways to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs in the comments section below.

Related: How and When to Give Advice (Hint: It’s Not as Simple as You Think)

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5 Points of Wisdom the Wright Brothers Can Offer About Leading Big Change

Some people are so passionate and dedicated to innovation, they seem destined to change the world. Clearly, Wilbur and Orville Wright, the fathers of flight, were two such world-changers.

Related: 6 Sayings of Entrepreneurs Who Will Lead Their Companies to the Top

David McCullough’s recent book, The Wright Brothers, describes how the brothers overcame setbacks, competition and naysayers — not unlike the challenges many entrepreneurs face. 

With more than a little intestinal fortitude, the Wrights fearlessly followed their vision all the way to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and history’s first successful flight of a fixed-wing aircraft. The following five lessons from the Wright brothers’ experiences provide valuable strategies for entrepreneurs looking to create change today:

1. Early experts might not be experts.

Orville and Wilbur’s earliest models were based largely on the research of the top thinkers of the time. Through their own experimentation and the repeated failures of their competitors, they realized many of these early “experts” were dead wrong.

When venturing into new terrain, it’s OK to look to the “experts” for ideas. But it’s important to test and validate information in changing conditions rather than assuming that it is fact. Build upon the work of those before you, but use your own ideas to make yourself the new expert in your field.

2. Nothing replaces rolling up your sleeves.

Wilbur Wright once said, “You [can] sit on a fence and watch the birds, but if you really wish to learn [to fly], you must mount a machine and [learn] by actual trial.” It was that hands-on approach that set this duo apart from their competitors. While others sponsored innovation, the Wright brothers personally tried and tested hundreds of flight conditions, materials and prototypes to get a firsthand feel for their machines.

They became experts through trial and error, knowing firsthand what worked, and why. Be close enough to your work to learn something from each experiment, prototype and failure. This also sets you up as a continuous learner — an essential habit for innovation. Paul Allen of Microsoft has often noted the lessons he and Bill Gates learned from their first piece of technology, Traf-O-Data. Allen noted, “I have made my share of business mistakes, but Traf-O-Data remains my favorite mistake because it confirmed to me that every failure contains the seeds of your next success.”

Related: 12 Ways to Find Inspiration

3. Combine self-reliance with smart advisors.

The Wright brothers became experts on early flight, yet they knew their limitations. They had advisors to help with gaining sponsorship and funding, finding the best location for testing and even the construction of the first flying machine.

Pick your mentors, advisors and team members with strategic intent. Recognize that it’s not about whom you enjoy talking with the most, but the value a person can bring to your work. Effective leaders encourage these multiple perspectives through collaboration, team input and new ideas (and relying less on hierarchical structuring).

4. Be persistent while constantly adapting.

The Wright brothers had plenty of reasons to quit. Their pursuits survived mockery from critics, thousands of revisions, hundreds of test flights and broken bones. But the brothers — determined to succeed — constantly reassessed their progress based on their results.

Setbacks will happen. But rather than focusing on your failures, learn from them, adjust your methods and regroup tomorrow. Implementing an incremental approach can help guide this process and limit negative effects from sweeping decisions. By creating a succession of short-term plans, your team can evolve as the situation becomes clearer.

5. Don’t be threatened by the competition.

The Wright brothers knew other teams were trying to achieve the same goal. They didn’t concern themselves with their competition unless they believed they could learn from their work. By immersing themselves so completely in their own plans and ideas, they developed a unique expertise that created an advantage over all of the others.

Focus on what you can influence and control. Learn from your competition when that’s relevant, but don’t gauge your success on everyone else’s progress.

The Wright brothers’ lessons on work ethic, perseverance and constant experimentation are as relevant today as they were in the early 1900s. Their example can continue to shape the minds of dreamers, creators and leaders, much as they did more than a hundred years ago.

Related: 10 Optimistic and Inspiring Quotes

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Take 4 Steps Back to Move Your Small Business Forward

Startups are small but mighty — that’s no secret. They fight for their marketplace positions by being scrappier and nimbler than their behemoth corporate counterparts. But that doesn’t mean they’re impervious to the need for support.

Related: A Surprising and Unlikely Place to Look for Product Ideas

Until 2008, there were about 100,000 more new startups than business failures every year, but that ratio has nearly reversed itself in the last seven years. This steep decline in entrepreneurship makes it clear that startups require support — but in fact that support can also come from within.

While securing backing from the government (or even from large franchisors) may seem good solutions, one of the best ways to help your small business thrive is to go back to the basics. By building a strong foundation, you can make internal problem-solving a cornerstone of your business model.

Take these four simple steps to breathe life into your company:

1. Start with the problem, not your product.

Write down the problem you are trying to solve. For example: “Traveling business people don’t like how long it takes to get through airport security.”

Notice I didn’t say to write down your idea. As an angel investor and tech startup founder, I find people constantly spamming my LinkedIn account, looking to pitch their next “billion-dollar idea.” The hard truth, though, is that “great ideas” are worthless. Big problems that need to be solved, on the other hand, can be worth billions.

So, avoid thinking small — a mindset many wannabe founders fall into. Successful entrepreneurs aren’t in it just for the money; they want to make the world a better place. That kind of drive leads to growth.

2. Talk to 100 people in your target demographic (without pitching to them).

Set up meetings with potential and existing customers to solve problems for smaller groups of people rather than a whole demographic. Narrow your target by getting solid feedback from the 20 percent of consumers who’ll purchase 80 percent of your product. Strategically targeting that particular niche will help you to dominate it.

Focus on one key goal: listening. Your focus shouldn’t be on pitching; it should be on keeping a sharp ear out for pain points and asking, “Why?”

Related: The Real Reason Companies Are Looking for Your Product Ideas

3. Look for pain-point patterns, and be intentional about addressing them.

Look for repeated patterns in your customers’ behaviors to identify what you’re doing wrong.

When we launched at SXSW, we saw 1,500 people sign up in just five days, which blew my mind. But, soon, customers were leaving more quickly than we could acquire them. So, we invested heavily in UX, listened to why people were leaving and rebuilt our app — thereby cutting churn in half.

4. Validate that customers are on board.

According to 42 percent of founders writing post-mortem accounts of their business failures, the top reason startups fail is that their products aren’t actually needed in the marketplace. No matter how well you think you know your customers, it’s important to understand whether they actually want what you’re selling. To ascertain the answer, create a one-page website that defines, in uncomplicated terms, what problem you’re solving, and for whom. Include a call to action asking customers to provide their email addresses, to receive “early access.”

Create an ad on Google AdWords to drive traffic to the site. Until you have at least 50 email addresses, from the first 1,000 unique views of your website, I recommend that you keep talking to more customers to determine changes you’ll need to make to your product.

Every entrepreneur hopes that his or her idea will be revolutionary, game-changing and subsequently profitable. My company, SocialCentiv, was no exception. We launched it on a so-called “brilliant idea” that ended up costing us $2.5 million.

The result was a product no one wanted. We had to admit we were wrong, and then educate ourselves. Through a lot of trial and error — and eight rebuilds of our core product — we eventually managed to interest people in SocialCentiv.

The truth is, “easy” businesses do not exist; and 25 percent of startups fail before reaching their first anniversaries. So, instead of focusing on shortcuts or external support sources, zero in on the difficult yet straightforward task of making something people actually want.

Running a business is hard work, but if you’re willing to invest from the inside out, the payoff can be well worth the grind.

Related: You Have A Great Idea For A Product, So Now What?

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Sell earlier than you think you should.

It’s hard to sell a product before it exists. It’s also hard to perfect an offering without steady cash flow. So where exactly is an entrepreneur to begin? We’ve polled leading entrepreneurs on the art of the first sale, and here’s what we learned on how, when, and where to focus efforts.

Sell earlier than you think you should.

Eric Ries sums it up in his lean startup strategy by recommending entrepreneurs to get in front of prospects on day one. Hit up prospects at every opportunity, and gauge their reaction to your concept long before a prototype exists. Assemble a wait list, build excitement, and don’t waste time creating until you know that it will sell. Research also indicates that it’s easier to get people to commit to an idea when they are involved in its creation, so pull your most desirable prospects into the concept development phase and establish relationships that will be needed to sustain your business later on.

Shut up and listen.

It’s hard to open up to criticism, particularly in the early stages of a startup when passion is at its peak. Hearts and souls are poured into product development and refinement, but every market has its pain points and this is some of the most valuable information an entrepreneur can extract from a prospect. The better you understand the problem, the more likely you are to nail the solution.

Know (and own) your value.

It’s tempting to sell at any price as entrepreneurs scramble in the early days to establish a following, but resist the urge and hold true to your sustainable price. Be bold in your ask, and comfortable in the dollar value you’ve aligned with your product. If you don’t believe in it, neither will your prospects. It’s also common for prospects to work you down on price when they know your company is young and eager for business, so be prepared to justify your pricing and validate your offering.

Related: Mary Barra Has Time to Respond. So Should You.

Sell to the biggest players first.

Founders often tackle the low-hanging fruit first, failing to recognize that one big name can bring in hundreds, if not thousands, of sales to follow. Focus efforts on strategic buyers, who are likely also the people who will enable your business to sustain operations over the long haul. Set a goal of one big, smart win, and use that as the bait to attract the others.

Establish credibility.

Being a first buyer is scary, because there is no proven track record to reference. In the absence of a product to show, ease the fear of buyers’ remorse by selling your team. They are the people who are ultimately accountable to customers, and if you can highlight their accomplishments alongside a winning concept, you just might build confidence in the hearts of skeptics. If your team is green, bring in advisors or board members with stellar reputations to vouch for your business.

They’re wrong. Size doesn’t matter.

Entrepreneurs often go to great lengths to mask the fact that they’re working alone or alongside small teams. Being small can be an asset, so highlight to your prospects that, as the CEO, you are far more committed to customer satisfaction than a sales rep at a larger competitor, and also better able to customize an offering based on the unique needs of your audience.

Regardless of team size, it’s ultimately the job of the founder to drive initial sales. As the concept creator and visionary leader, the founder is the ideal candidate to sell a vision while the product is being developed, and to prove to both the market and the internal team that the concept is a viable solution that supports long-term growth.

Related: How to Optimize Your Site for Every Stage of the Buying Cycle

How I Tripled My Salary in Less Than One Year After Getting Fired

When I graduated with a B.A. in English in 2010, I had big dreams . . . and absolutely nothing on my resume. I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t have a single published clip to call my own. As you can imagine, the next few years weren’t very fun. Since 2010, I’ve:

  • been unemployed three times, for a total of 13 months.

  • failed to hold a “full-time job” longer than a year.

  • quit three jobs, been let go once and gotten myself fired once.

Related: How to Make It as a Freelance Entrepreneur

While most of my friends were gainfully employed, I was living with my parents and desperately chasing after freelance gigs. So when I did finally manage to land a great job, I couldn’t believe my luck. It seemed too good to be true. And it was. I was gently let go six months later because I was an awful employee.

Then I did five things that completely transformed my life. Within two months, I was working 50-plus-hour weeks for my own clients and making six figures — more than twice my previous salary. Today, less than a year later, I’m making more than three times that original salary.

Guess what? I didn’t have to move mountains to make that happen. I just had to learn a few new habits. Here are five of the most important things I adopted right after getting fired:

1. I learned how to do sales.

Most people aren’t business minded, and I was no exception. Instead of sitting down and taking the time to learn how to sell my services — and how to better sell my client’s services — I figured I could get by on my credentials and brilliance alone. Nope.

Business author Daniel Pink argues that, in today’s hyper-connected society, we’re all salespeople. In other words, you’re selling yourself short if you don’t learn how to sell.

2. I spent an hour each day on new business.

After looking through my “sent” folder, I discovered that the emails I’d written that got the highest response rates were also the shortest and most concise. So, I wrote up an email template and customized it for every job application by addressing the poster’s specific pain and my gain.

My system worked like a charm. Now, for every five jobs I apply to, I get one or two responses. And I consistently apply to new jobs every day. I even use that same template for LinkedIn inmail.

Related: 5 Essentials for Freelancers to Work Smarter Instead of Harder

3. I set my own hourly rates.

Let’s say you work at a consultancy, and your salary is $50,000 per year, or about $25 per hour. Assuming a 5 percent “pay raise” each year, your salary would be $63,814 per year after five years, or about $32 per hour. Not bad, but nothing to write home about, either.

Now, imagine that you quit that job and joined “Freelance Nation.” In your first year of business, you decide to charge $50 per hour, just to see if you can get clients at that rate. You do. The next year, you charge $60 per hour. By the end of your fifth year of freelancing, you’re charging $100 per hour and making well over six figures.

If you really believe you can offer premium services, why shouldn’t you charge premium rates?

4. I rejected bad clients.

When you work for a company, there is no such thing as a bad client — unless the sales director says so. But as we all know, bad clients are very real.

For B2B businesses, every bad client is another nail in the coffin. When you only have 10 to 20 clients, you really can’t afford to spend 80 percent of your time watching over a few bad eggs that add up to only 20 percent of your revenue. In other words, make sure you only work with good clients willing to pay your rates.

5. I decided to do something I love — that also pays.

People are always arguing about whether you should do something you love or something that pays the bills. But does this have to be a choice? I hope not.

If you really believe that “no one likes their job,” you’re subscribing to one of the most self-destructive beliefs in the world. Your “job” is what you’ll be doing eight-plus hours a day, five or six days a week, until you retire. So, why choose between passion and profit? Do something you love and something that pays the bills. The two do cross paths.

Still, it’s up to you to find the intersection. There’s no Google Maps for that.

Related: How to Deal With 4 Types of Impossible Clients

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