Growth. It’s the one truly essential thing for success as a startup. And while not growing quickly enough to gain traction is an obvious issue, growing too quickly can be just as detrimental.
Before chasing expansion, it’s important to have a solid foundation in place that can support the ups and downs and twists and turns inherent with an expanding startup.
Having a plan is important. Having a vision is important. Having the right infrastructure in place is important. But strong foundations are more than the big-picture strategies. Strong foundations are about a mindset. A mindset of laying a foundation for growth as opposed to just growing.
Here are three simple steps you can implement today to help support and prepare for future growth.
Track Your Data
We all know the importance of having Google Analytics (or other analytics software) properly set up on your website. Tracking key metrics from the launch of a site provides invaluable insight into how people are finding and interacting with you online.
But even more valuable than online metrics is real-world, direct feedback from your customers.
Inc. recently had an article highlighting key takeaways from a Quora discussion about why startups fail. One of the more common reasons cited for startup failure was not talking to customers. Because not talking to customers results in not actually producing the right product to solve an actual problem.
So talk to your customers.
Don’t just ask vanity questions about if they liked it, will they use it. Challenge yourself. Challenge the product. Ask tough questions that will get you deeper insight.
- How do they use the product?
- What aspect of the product isn’t working for them?
- What about the product would make them recommend it to a friend, a colleague, their boss?
- What wouldn’t?
Then take that information and write it down. Put it in a spreadsheet. And disconnect from the feedback emotionally. Look at the data objectively to see what’s going on with the product. Use it in making decisions and adjustments moving forward.
Many startup founders avoid this type of data, inclined to follow their gut instead. Fight that urge. Following your gut is great. It’s gotten you this far. But following your gut 100% of the time means you’re focusing on you, not your customers. Sure, you may be the one financially supporting your venture now. But, the idea is to create a product that will eventually be supported by paying customers.
Being scalable doesn’t just mean scaling up. It also means scaling down. Many startups make the mistake of taking on staff too soon, losing their ability to quickly pivot and change direction.
Employees are expensive and increase your burn rate. The more people involved, the harder it is to get everyone in alignment if you need to make a major change. The more people you employ, the more you have to let to if times get hard which can kill morale.
If you haven’t landed on a product concept, you’re not ready to take on staff. If you don’t yet have a proven product and proven business model, you’re not ready to take on more staff.
Instead, outsource functions to fill in knowledge gaps. Bookkeeping, HR, marketing, financial planning, etc. are all necessary functions that probably don’t require daily, full-time attention at this stage of your business. Using consultants and outside firms on an as-needed basis is a great way to get needed expertise without taking on unnecessary overhead.
Consult a Marketing Expert
There is a general misconception regarding the relationship between marketing and advertising. And it’s common for startups to think, “We're not ready to market.” Really what they mean is that they aren't ready to spend money on promoting their product to large audiences.
In truth, marketing is integral to business success. As Christy Liu puts it, “Great companies have marketing intentionally built into the DNA of their products.” And it should be built into the DNA of your startup. Market research, product development, identifying a customer base and brand positioning are all functions of marketing. They are different disciplines from advertising and they should be done way before a product is ready to launch.
It’s common for many founders to seek advice from other startup founders when it comes to marketing. Don’t. Marketers are in marketing for a reason. Marketers think differently. They approach finding solutions to problems differently. And they have the one thing that most founders don’t — expertise on marketing.
Founders focus on product development. Marketers focus on who is going to use that product. Marketers are the voice of your customers. Bringing marketing on board in the early stages can help in defining who your target is, providing insights that impact product development and positioning the product in the marketplace.
Best of all, you don’t need to rush into hiring a full-time CMO or marketing director. Start by sitting down with a marketing expert. Talk to them about your product and goals to get their insight and expertise. Working with a marketing consultant or firm that is outside your core team is a great way to get objective advice.
And when you are ready, they can help determine which marketing activities can be handled internally and which would be best served by a third party.
It all comes down to intent. If your intent is to build something great with the potential of tremendous growth, you need to lay a solid foundation. If your intent is to just grow, chances are what you build is going to come down as quickly as it went up.
Do you have a mindset for laying a foundation for growth? What other steps are you taking to support your startups growth?