Business as usual is dead. The pace of change in the digital age has opened up new opportunities, allowing startups to disrupt industries and challenge the giants of the corporate world.
You might not have the budget to match your established rivals, but with new technology and a little creative thinking, it is now possible to earn a seat at the table and fight for a share of the consumer pie without spending a fortune.
Here are five ways startups can build a presence without breaking the bank.
Be interesting from the inside out
The story your brand tells transcends your advertising. The product itself and the way it is packaged and delivered all provide a chance to be interesting. When an element of your brand is worthy of conversation, people will not only appreciate and remember it, but often capture it and share it. The power of social sharing today means thatbeing “Instagrammable” can catapult a brand to success.
By taking the time to make your brand unique, noteworthy, surprising or otherwise engaging, you can create talking points that fuel word-of-mouth marketing and social sharing. The key is to analyze the conventions of the industry and what your competition is doing, and then make your brand distinctive. Or, as thefamous Levi’s advert from 1982 instructs: “When the world zigs, zag.”
Taking a stance on something divisive can seem like a scary strategy. Why would you want to alienate 50 percent of your potential market? But to become a breakthrough brand, it can pay to appeal to your core audience’s shared beliefs, rather than maintaining the status quo.
This can be a stunt, an ad, or an ethos that filters into every aspect of your brand. Nike’s politically charged Colin Kaepernick campaign earned the sportswear giant$163 million in free media exposure, and while the stunt was incredibly divisive, it resulted in a31 percent sales jump.
Not every brand can afford to be as bold as Nike, but the campaign shows how conversation drives results, astwo-thirds of consumers say it’s important for brands to take a public stand on social and political issues.Trying to be all things to all people will more than likely leave you meaning nothing to anyone.
Use the 80/20 principle
The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that roughly 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of causes. There is anocean of research to back this theory up, but a major point in a business context is that around 80 percent of sales will come from 20 percent of customers.
For your startup, this means being highly targeted with your advertising. Focusing on reaching the 20 percent of your audience that is most valuable can be far more cost-effective than casting a wider net.
With social media advertising in particular, it is possible to be laser-focused when it comes to targeting. Identify the 20 percent and spend your advertising budget reaching this most valuable segment. Using remarketing and lookalike audiences is another great way to maximize returns from a limited ad budget, by targeting those that have already shown an interest in your brand, and others who are most similar to your customers.
Leverage user-generated content
With92 percent of consumers saying they trust peer recommendations over ad content, it’s no surprise that user generated content now plays a key role in marketing. Influencer marketing has exploded over the past few years, but today, influencers can demand hefty sums for sponsored content, so user generated content offers a much cheaper and more authentic alternative for startups.
User generated content spreads the word about your brand through your customers’ personal social media accounts, but the content can also be repurposed for your brand’s marketing materials.
Online furniture store Wayfair lets customers show off the results of their online shopping sprees with the hashtag #WayfairAtHome. Wayfair then reposts the best images and provides a link so users can shop for the items featured in a customer’s home. It’s a clever and cost-effective way of combining customer testimonials with shopper inspiration, and is a tactic your startup could implement, as well.
In today’s fast moving world, it’s important to measure performance and always look at how campaigns can be improved to get even better results out of your budget. Split testing allows you to identify which elements of your marketing drive the best possible results. You can A/B test everything from advertising copy and email subject lines to social media targeting and ad bids.
Following this process every week or every month can help your startup generate exponentially better results over time. Whether it’s engagement percentages, click thru rates, costs per lead, or whatever you choose to focus on, being ruthlessly analytical about how you can squeeze better results out of your efforts cancompound into significantly better results long term.
As the old adage goes, “What gets measured gets done.”
In order to learn more about the entrepreneurial experience, The Office Providers conducted a survey of solopreneurs, with the intent of learning about their startup experience.
After analyzing the results of the study, we dove further into one of the questions we asked of the survey respondents to assist those just starting up:
“What would you want other entrepreneurs to know about starting or running a business?”
Here’s what we learned:
It’s often better to be in chains than to be free
The majority of respondents confirmed that starting and running a business was tougher than expected, particularly as they traveled through what Cameron Herold conceptualized as the “Transition Curve.”
His model maps out the emotional rollercoaster that an entrepreneur will ride during the startup process.
Many respondents informed us that the process of starting a business as a solopreneur can be a lonely one. The harmful effects of loneliness are becoming more and more recognized, as Vice recently reported that loneliness is more harmful to one’s health than smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
In fact, it has become increasingly reported that entrepreneurs can be at greater risk of certain mental health issues. In the early 2010s, Dr. Michael Freeman, clinical professor at UCSF, surveyed 242 entrepreneurs on the state of their mental health. Of that sample, 49 percent reported having some form of mental health history.
While conducting our study, we were interested to learn how entrepreneurs dealt with their well-being and, in particular, loneliness. We investigated how their methods helped them to maintain good mental health and avoid entering the “Crash and Burn” stage on the Transition Curve.
The quest for a tribe
Being a solopreneur will often necessitate extracting yourself from the conventional workforce and going it alone. This separation from a meaningful and significant community can be liberating, but it can also lead to isolation.
Many respondents stated that, while there are many benefits of remote work, working in a group or office environment was often missed.
In his book, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” entrepreneur and author, Tim Ferriss, highlighted the advantages of working in an office environment, explaining that one of the reasons that retirees can become depressed is social isolation.
To overcome this sense of social isolation, many respondents choose to work in co-working spaces. Some co-working spaces are dedicated to particular niches or industries, so you can surround yourself with people working in the same field. However, many are non-specialized and accommodate entrepreneurs from all sectors and industries.
Apart from the practical advantages, such as access to expensive business equipment, most survey respondents advised that the main advantages to using co-working space were the social environment, networking opportunities, opportunities for collaboration and the entrepreneurial spirit.
Users felt a sense of relief that while they may be going it alone in the startup world, many others were, “in the same boat as them” which helped boost morale. Some of our survey respondents noted that they met new business partners, colleagues and freelancers in co-working spaces, which had further bolstered their businesses.
Given the increasing popularity of co-working spaces, it is logical that these growing communities of like-minded individuals collectively represent a dynamic ecosystem that can reap genuine benefits for entrepreneurs.
Another interesting trend we observed is the growing importance of virtual communities. We were surprised by how many respondents had actively created virtual social networks, as well as physical ones.
Through our survey, we learned that many entrepreneurs rely on the audiobooks, podcasts, books, social media feeds and TED Talks of thought leaders and entrepreneurs such as Gary Vaynerchuk, Tony Robbins and Ray Dalio, who serve as virtual mentors.
Respondents reported finding ways of optimizing their learning processes by using their social media feeds to educate themselves, particularly when they didn’t have the time or money to study business courses. Your smart phone be used to create a highly productive virtual network—so use it to your advantage!
While we were not surprised by the responses that stated that starting up a business can be a tough and sometimes lonely road, we were heartened to learn of the awareness and the fact that respondents had found ways to create community while creating their companies.
As an entrepreneur, you are constantly having to ask for what you want. This is true whether you’re just starting out, fighting through those tough early years, or taking a more established business in a new direction. You must ask for loans and venture capital investments. You must approach people about forming partnerships. And of course, you must constantly pitch your products and services to potential customers. All of this means you hear “no” a lot. And when you’re not hearing it, you’re worrying about hearing it. That’s because rejection is the darkest and deepest of human fears.
Studies show rejection stands apart from all other emotions. Most emotions originate and live in the limbic system, but rejection activates the areas of your brain that are connected to physical pain. As an article published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” points out, unlike every other emotion, rejection mimics physical pain, which is why it hurts so much.
Too often, your dread of hearing “no” blocks you from asking for what you really want. Or maybe you do ask, but you ask in a nonassertive, insecure way that is far less likely to get a “yes.”
One thing’s for sure: If you can’t learn how to regulate the disruptive emotions that come with rejection (or in many cases, just the anticipation of it), you’ll cripple your new venture or prevent it from being all that it could be.
The good news is you can overcome the fear of rejection. You can ask for what you want in a way that makes it far more likely you’ll hear “yes.”
Over the years, I’ve discovered, refined and taught a wealth of strategies and tactics that allow salespeople (and that’s what entrepreneurs really are) to put their neocortex, aka rational brain, in control and rise above the blind panic that sabotages their success.
Every entrepreneur can benefit from the following tips. They’ll help you manage your fear, regain your composure, control your instincts and choose rational responses that make people want to give you what you’re asking for.
First things first: Get physically fit
This is not optional.It takes a lot of energy to regulate and manage the constant onslaught of disruptive emotions entrepreneurs must face. Physical fitness and emotional fitness are connected. That’s why you must exercise regularly, eat well and get enough sleep. Taking care of your health will improve your self-esteem and foster creative thinking, mental clarity, confidence and optimism. All of this helps you build the discipline to maintain self-control.
Let’s say you’re getting ready to ask for a critical loan you need to expand into a new industry. If you’re like many entrepreneurs, you may start fabricating negative outcomes in your head. The internal narrative you write for yourself shapes your behavior in a destructive way and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thus, when you do ask for the loan, you end up asking in a hesitant way that leads to a rejection.
On the other hand, when you purposely focus on the positive, you will behave accordingly. As this article in “Sport Psychology Today” points out, when you visualize success, you teach your mind to act in a way that is congruent with actualizing that success.2 So, imagine what you will say. Visualize yourself succeeding. Repeat the process until you’ve trained your mind to manage the disruptive emotions that derail you.
Stop replaying rejections in your head
We’ve all been rejected. It’s part of being an entrepreneur (and human), and it’s natural to feel pain when it happens. But we don’t have to keep replaying that interaction, and feeling that pain, over and over again. When you start listening to your internal conversations, you can change them to reflect the image of who you want to be, how you want to act, and how you want to feel. This, in turn, will help you feel more confident and relaxed—a demeanor that’s more likely to lead to “yes.”
Stand up straight
Your mom was right: it gives you confidence. When you’re expecting rejection, you slump your shoulders, lower your chin, look down at your shoes. This makes you look less confident, so you seem less appealing and easier to reject. So stand up straight even if you feel like sinking into the floor. Studies on human behavior have proven time and again that we can change how we feel by adjusting our physical posture.
When a disruptive emotion hits, buy a minute with a “ledge”
This is a phrase that gives your rational brain a quarter of a second to take control when an objection throws you off balance. Let’s say a potential customer has implied that you’re exaggerating (or outright lying about) your company’s abilities. Rather than being crushed by the wave of pain you feel, pull out the ledge you’ve prepared in advance.
For example: “Interesting—could you walk me through your concern?” It will prevent you from stumbling through a nonsensical answer; coming off as defensive, weak or unknowledgeable; or damaging the relationship with an argument.
Put yourself in a rejection “war zone” as often as possible
This is how the military trains soldiers. They must endure endless drills and mock combat situations. This training conditions them to control their emotions and become immune to fear in battle. You, too, can condition yourself to gain obstacle immunity. Instead of avoiding uncomfortable situations, seek them out. Force yourself to make 20 phone calls a day to prospects, or speak in public at least twice a month, or attend every trade show within a100-mile radius. By facing your fears, you learn to disrupt and neutralize the anxiety that comes right before the obstacle. Soon, it becomes routine.
The great thing about entrepreneurship is that you get to write your own ticket. Your business can be whatever shape and size you want it to take. All you have to do is share your vision with others and convince them to join you on the journey. Don’t let rejection fears control and limit you. When you learn to ask assertively, boldly and optimistically for what you want, you’ll find incredible power. You and your venture deserve nothing less.
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