Ah, the startup life. The glamor, the growth, the grind.
To the uninitiated, being a startup founder might look like the pinnacle of success. However, the work itself centers much more around endless administration and dealing with legal and financial hiccups, all the while trying to develop a service or a product that will secure an upward trajectory.
Startup founders can often find themselves being hailed as messiahs and visionaries. Inwardly, however, they’re usually questioning their choices and experiencing anxiety about the futures of their employees.
Let’s take a look at seven essential tips, hacks, tricks, and facts you should bear in mind as a startup founder. They might just make tomorrow a bit easier.
Lead with Your Head
For starters, you want to have a firm plan in place. You’ve come up with this great idea for a product, you’ve decided to offer your services to a wide range of customers, you’re turning decades of experience into a company of your own. But the best ideas and the most helpful experiences won’t do you much good without a firm plan in place.
Your business plan will serve several purposes. It may help you acquire funding, or it may be the reason certain partners and employees decide to jump on board. But more importantly, it’s what will keep you sane.
A well-written business plan can serve as your blueprint. You determine where you want to get and in roughly what time, and then plan out the steps to getting there. When you are stuck, when other opportunities arise, when you’re having trouble making decisions, the business plan will guide you toward the end goal.
But Don’t Neglect Your Heart
While keeping a cool and calculated demeanor and relying on the sheer logic of your business plan is incredibly important, don’t forget to use your heart as well.
To make it in the modern world of business, your startup should be built on core values you yourself honestly believe in. Customers and clients like to see purpose. They like to see honesty and integrity and prefer to work with companies that share their own morals and values.
As the founder, it’s your job to identify these values and ensure your business adheres to them and holds them up. It may be difficult to be completely climate-negative, for example, if that is your core value. But the struggle will make you more appealing to your target market, and it will help you establish a team ethos that becomes the glue that holds you together.
Also, while we’re on the subject of the heart, don’t neglect your gut reactions to clients, proposals, and offers. We can’t always explain why we feel what we feel, but it’s worth tuning in. If a potential employee is good on paper but giving you all the wrong vibes, don’t make that hire.
Knowing when to listen to your heart in business can make the difference between success or failure. The only challenge is learning how to balance it with your logical head.
Keep Your Feet Firmly on the Ground
Somewhat unsurprisingly, early or unexpected success can impair the long-term success of a startup. Just because you’ve started off on the right foot doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing from here on out.
It’s incredibly important to celebrate your wins and victories, to reward your team for working hard, and to give yourself a pat on the back. Nonetheless, don’t get carried away. You may be letting yourself in for a bit of heartache.
If your initial launch has gone well, learn from it and try to improve further. If your product is a success, work on making it even better. Don’t rest on your laurels, and most importantly, don’t try to expand too fast or grow too quickly. Don’t let your ego get into the driving seat, no matter how good it feels at that very moment. It will come back to bite you later on.
What your core team of employees and partners has achieved can often be ascribed to sheer will, determination, and an honest belief in the brand. Were you to now double your team’s size, all of that initial energy would evaporate.
Insure Against the Worst
To ensure your business remains afloat, you need to insure yourself against the worst. You’ll want to protect not only your own assets but also the livelihoods of your first employees.
This is where business insurance comes into play. It may seem like just another money-guzzler to you; however, it can completely save your bacon. There are also different types of business insurance to look into, from Errors and Omissions Insurance to Employment Practices Liability Insurance.
Calculate how much this insurance would cost and factor that figure into your budget and initial spend. If anything were to happen and you find yourself exposed to a lawsuit or need to pay damages, your insurance will enable you to remain afloat and live to fight another day.
It will also show your potential investors that you mean business and that you have a level business head. It’s a solid signal that they would do well to place their trust in you.
But Plan for the Best
While you are insuring yourself against the worst, you also need to be planning for the best. We’ve already spoken about the importance of steady growth and the dangers that may arise from inflated egos fueled by initial success. Now let’s discuss the best way to handle success.
When outlining your business plan, include a section we like to call “best-case scenario.” Imagine everything goes as well as you could hope for. Imagine you’re an overnight success. What do you do then?
Having a clear plan in place can help you make all the right decisions when the time comes. This plan will involve the hiring of new staff, the allocation of unexpected revenues, the need for larger business premises, and every other hiccup that may arise from doing well.
Were you to find yourself incredibly successful “out of nowhere” (even though it’s never out of nowhere and always the result of a lot of hard work behind the scenes), you wouldn’t be as adept at making the best decisions. After all, you would be floating on a serotonin high.
To prevent your success from killing your buzz, write out all the steps you would ideally take if so and so were to happen. When the time comes, remember that you have all this written down.
Become a People Person
As founder, you will likely need to become the face of your startup. Of course, you can hire someone to do your PR and you can delegate to your partners. Still, you need to determine who will take on the public-facing roles in the company.
If you are naturally shy, struggle with selling your ideas to strangers, or are simply uncomfortable speaking to large crowds, don’t feel ashamed to single out someone else to take on the challenge. Focus on development if that is your forte.
Whoever you designate to shmooze potential investors, clients, and partners needs to know the business inside out. Typically, that would be a top-level person. It’s also crucial that they understand how to convert the people they’re talking to.
These interactions are also the best possible time to palpate the pulse of your target audience. You’ll get some real first-hand insight into their pain points, the solutions they’re reaching for, the marketing tactics they abhor, and a whole host of other information that can help you launch with a bang.
Surround Yourself with the Best People
Finally, unless you plan on being a one-person show (in which case you are more entrepreneur than founder), do your absolute best to make the right hires. You want to choose the right partners very early on.
It’s easy to alleviate the effect of a wrong hire in a 50-person team. In a team of two, four, or ten, everyone needs to be able not only to pull their own weight and contribute but also to get along, understand each other, and work towards the same goal.
This is where your planning and gut reactions come into play. Fill roles based on certain criteria, and start with yourself. Ask questions such as:
- What roles can you fill?
- What are your strengths, and what are you no good at whatsoever?
- What can you actually accomplish in a day?
For instance, you may be very good at sales and development and decide to take these two roles for yourself. However, if development is taking up 12 hours of your day, you still need to find someone to handle sales, even though you are very adept at it.
Your first hires need to check several boxes, so they won’t be easily sourced. There are their skills, their values, and their drive. Try to ascribe more value to determination and interest as opposed to previous experience and knowledge. A person who is driven to succeed with your startup will always be more valuable than someone who has years of experience but no drive to speak of.
The only people who can understand what it’s really like to be the founder of a startup are other founders. There’s simply no other role like it. So, do your best to read their experiences, meet as many of them as possible, and exchange tales.
Never forget what prompted you to start your own business in the first place. You’ll hold on to that trigger when things get tough (and they will). At the end of the day, there is no better motivation than your own internal driving force.