The toughest part, when starting a business, is right at the beginning. For most people, just getting started itself is a big step. You may be spending a lot of time trying to get your business plan just right, getting all your ducks in a row, or waiting for the stars to align perfectly before you begin. My advice – unless you have a brand reputation you’re trying to protect – go with the simplest strategy to begin with so you can get started quickly. That in itself is a huge challenge to overcome, and if you can get that far, you’re already ahead of most people.
The next stage though might be a long one. You now need to build yourself a customer base, reputation and a following. This requires a lot of discipline on your part to stay the course. A clear vision of where you want to be is the key here, as that is what will get you through the days where you don’t feel like working or start to wonder if this is all worth it. Even if you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, ensure that what small steps you do take, are leading you in the right direction.
The customers you have at this stage are the early adopters. They are the ones that set the stage for the masses who will hopefully arrive after them. Engage with them – how did they hear about your product? What do they like about it? What could you improve about it? Encourage them to leave product reviews and testimonials. Join forums that users of your product spend time on. Listen in and contribute where you can (without spamming). Early adopters love to be included in the development process, so do that and cultivate them into becoming evangelists for you.
This stage may be the hardest, since it requires a lot of effort on your part for very little immediate reward. Use this time and opportunity to continue tweaking and improving your product. Appreciate that you’re able to do so now with a small user base that is engaged in the process and therefore more patient and less demanding with you. The later masses you’re hoping for won’t be so kind.
If you’ve put in your dues and used your time wisely, then your efforts will pay off handsomely. You are now ready to market your product to the masses. But you should do so only if you’re confident that the masses will rate your product well. If not, then try to prolong the previous step until you have more confidence in your product. The last thing you need is a viral campaign of users upset with your product, or scores of negative reviews.
Even if your users are happy with your product, you have a different set of problems to manage now. Can your website handle a large user base without problems? Do you have the resources to field more support requests? Key changes that you could easily make before now affect more users, so be prepared for complaints or increases in support issues with each new update. Pay attention to comments you make on your blog or on Twitter as you are now in the spotlight. You worked hard to get this far, don’t blow it with a reckless comment that could go viral. If there are any issues whatsoever, then see what you can do to limit your growth until things have stabilized.
Being aware of these stages and what is required of you to move from one to another will go a long way towards building your business successfully. It is even more imperative to do so in our age of social media tools that put your business in the spotlight (whether you like it or not) – enhancing what you’ve done right, while also magnifying your mistakes.