Nate Vickery is a business consultant mostly engaged in providing marketing advice to startups and SMBs. He is also the editor at Bizzmark Blog.
It stands to reason that you need to have a plan for anything that you want to succeed in. Naturally, this rule applies to launching a startup too, but very frequently we witness that entrepreneurs, even some experienced ones, decide to go into business without this important document. How come that although even research studies have shown that a solid business plan has numerous benefits and that it can help business owners in many respects, including developing a new product, generating sales, identifying potential problems, or adapt to the ever-changing marketplace, people still underestimate and neglect a business planning process?
Of mice and men
One of the most common reasons why entrepreneurs avoid writing a business plan is, believe it or not because it doesn’t guarantee that they will succeed. We can’t deny this, but the fact that plans do fall through from time to time isn’t a reason to go through life without any planning whatsoever, especially when it comes to business. Moreover, if your business plan is flexible, you can easily adjust and fine-tune it to address all the unexpected circumstances along the way. According to the Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics II, a business plan significantly increases the likelihood of going into business, and there’s a good reason for this. Namely, collecting and analyzing data for a business plan means that you’ll have to spend a lot of time researching markets and creating business projections. All this will pay off in the end because you’ll learn a lot of important stuff and you’ll be well-prepared for any challenge ahead of you, including a plan that can fall through.
Coming up with a good business idea isn’t easy, but realizing it properly can be even more difficult and for that you need money. Luckily, there are investors who know how to recognize a profitable idea and fund it. There’s just one tiny detail: they have no intention of giving you a cent of their money if you can’t present them in black and white why your idea is valuable and bound to succeed. You see where this is going? No business plan, no money. Even if you want to crowdfund your startup, you still need to put your ideas, goals, projections, and budget on paper. However, bear in mind that nobody will settle for a half-baked, poorly written drivel that doesn’t relate to relevant pain points, that doesn’t offer any solutions, that is full of pie-in-the-sky arguments and bombastic promises, or that is too long and written in technical jargon. Instead of that, take advantage of a step-to-step guide to writing business plans, and impress your investors. And that is not all. Many investors will expect you to update them regularly on the progress of your startup in accordance with that plan. The easiest way of doing this is by finding key performance indicators and presenting them monthly through a KPI dashboard.
Entrepreneurs are energetic people who can’t wait to get down to business. This action-oriented attitude is exactly what it takes to make it in this field, but it can interfere with the process of starting a new business which requires a careful planning. It’s understandable that writing a business plan can be a tedious task for someone who has their mind set on more concrete actions, such as hiring employees or setting up a shop, but if you want to do everything properly and eliminate business risks at least to a certain degree, you need to deal with your executive summary, business description, development, and financial summary, before starting to design your business cards. When it comes to the length, the times have changed and you no longer need a 20-40 page document. Actually, many successful entrepreneurs say that shorter business plans are more likely to be read.
Playing by ear
A knack for business is one thing, while wild guessing is something completely different. Without a business plan, you have to rely on making assumptions, and this strategy is nothing more than a shot in the dark. This is especially risky when you’re dealing with business projections and profits, as crunching numbers is the only way to get it right. A business plan can help you make data-backed decisions, and avoid unexpected expenses or a shocking drop in profits that could be forecasted.
What’s the score?
If you have a business plan you’ll be able to track your results and see what aspects of your business process you need to work on and improve. In order to be successful, you first need to establish what success is and strive towards that goal. Also, it will be much easier to realize if the time comes to call it a day. Did you know that 50% of all new businesses fail within 5 years? The idea of going out of business can be extremely emotional and scary for many entrepreneurs, and a proper business plan can shed some light on the numbers and show them that their money is going down the drain. This can be a powerful wake-up call that will prevent an even greater financial loss.
To cut the long story short, if you want to run a successful startup, having a business plan shouldn’t be observed as an advantage or disadvantage, but as an absolute must.
The following is a guest post by ChopDawg.com, an award-winning app development company that has worked with over 180+ startups and companies from all around the globe, helping them bring their web apps, mobile apps, wearable apps and software ideas to life.
You have the idea. You even have hired your first developer to get started with bringing your idea to life! But you hit a snag. How do you communicate your idea to a developer? After all, you want your vision translated into workable code. Now, let’s assume that you have design skills. That makes it easier since you can show them your vision in addition to explaining it. Turning your ideas into workable code is what they are supposed to do, but how can you make sure that aligns when you are a non-technical entrepreneur? You don’t speak developer.
“Oh yeah, I’ll tell the developer the things I want, and they’ll go build it.“
But it’s up to you to communicate to the developer what parts are needed. Otherwise, if I’m a developer, I’m not going to know what you want. Think about it, if you don’t know the technical ins-and-outs of what your app needs, how is a first-hire developer ever going to know?
Non-technical app entrepreneurs need to know the ins and outs of what makes their apps work. Not understanding the underlying platform where you are building your app is a big red flag for your long-term viability as the founder. And UNDERSTANDING the technology behind your doesn’t mean that you need to be a programmer, but having an intimate knowledge of the architecture behind your app will make it so that you can become much more collaborative with your developer. You can bring creativity into the coding process. You can infuse your knowledge of user experience and let’s face it… sometimes developers need a sense of direction.
You need to know why your app is built the way it is
React Native vs. Objective C, vs. Swift vs. Java. Why is your app built on one of these technologies? What are the benefits of going with React Native? You understanding the best technologies to apply to your app will make it so that you can communicate what you want to a developer. That means being able to write technical requirements. Understanding how your app operates,
Has your car ever broken down and you’ve just been flummoxed as to where to even start when fixing it? You’re alone on the open road in a desert, you have a broken car, and don’t have the slightest clue as to what is even going on. Sure, it’s established that you can’t fix cars, but you can’t even think about identifying the problem. It’s the same thing with your app. If you know how your app works, you’ll be able to identify what’s happening when it runs into problems.
Understanding how your app operates
Here’s a cheat sheet of the concepts that you’ll need to understand at a minimum as a non-technical entrepreneur.
1. What is a server?
2. What is a database?
3. SSL certificates / encryption
4. How data goes from the app to the server to the app
5. APIs! There are tons of APIs you can leverage, so understand how they can work with your app.
Steering the crew
While your technical team will be working to bring your app to life, it’s up to you to be on the hunt for new opportunities. What are the sweeping changes happening in the app industry that will impact your app? Some things I think about off the top of my head are Face ID and the iPhone X’s changing screen dimensions. Know what is going to on in the industry related to their app, and be on the hunt for the latest technologies and opportunities. Read online daily, network, follow trends relating to the industry.
But it goes beyond being a technical oracle for your team. You’re also the captain that steers the ship. You’ll be bringing on new developers too, so that means you’ll need to get good at asking questions when hiring. How do you know what makes for a good developer? Did you get lucky with the first hire? Is it imperative that you educate yourself on the basics before looking to hire a developer otherwise you have no way of knowing if what they are saying is accurate?
Talk to other non-technical cofounders or friends who are technical to establish that baseline knowledge and to learn what red flags signal that a developer is not a good fit. Find the right technical partner makes all the difference. They can help you see around corners and plan for what is coming next for your app.
In a technical world, non-technical people need to find their place
What can a robot do versus what could you do? Will your usefulness be eclipsed one day? I don’t think so if you understand how the latest technologies work. And furthermore, if you can identify what your human skills are versus what a robot could do. What are your skills that you believe that only you can do? What is the “human touch” that you add?
At Chop Dawg, we have learned how to become the go-to translator between our clients and our team. I understand what is being built for every client project so that I can speak to the client in plain-English about what is going on. This also keeps me fresh for optimizing the day-to-day. How can the gears of the company run better? How can I offer a sense of direction to the people that work for me? How can I connect the company and workers to new opportunities? That’s my daily responsibility as a non-technical founder.
The following is a guest post by Aman Advani, Co-Founder and CEO of Ministry of Supply, a performance professional clothing company.
Running a startup is difficult, demanding work – so much so that it can cause you to completely fall apart. Here’s some advice on how to keep it together.
Picture this – you’re at the helm of a startup into which you’ve poured countless hours of work. It’s your pride and joy, and you couldn’t be happier at its success. Lately, however, you’ve noticed yourself falling behind.
You’re not working as efficiently as you used to. You’re finding yourself distracted, easily-frustrated, or simply fatigued. You’re burning out.
It’s an issue that’s terribly common amongst entrepreneurs. We’re a hardworking bunch, so much so that we’ve the tendency to forget that we have physical and emotional needs. That we aren’t robots who can simply pour every fiber of our being into our startup.
Take it from someone who’s dealt with burnout in the past – it isn’t insurmountable. There are strategies for dealing with it, and ensuring it doesn’t cause your entire life to crash and burn (and your company with it). Today, we’re going to go over three of the best.
1. Take Down Your Fatigue
Train yourself to recognize the signs that you’re on the verge of a breakdown:
-Exhaustion. Do you feel like you’re constantly running on empty? As though no matter how much sleep you get, it’s never enough? Like you’re constantly playing catch-up because you’re simply too tired to focus?
-Anxiety. Shortness of breath. Emotional paralysis. Chest pain. Dizziness. These are all signs and symptoms of a panic attack. Coupled with a sense of constant dread, this is as sure a sign of looming burnout as anything else.
-Barely Staying Afloat. Feeling overwhelmed by work that ordinarily wouldn’t be an issue for you? Feeling stressed about things that would usually slide off your back?
-Demotivated. Do you find yourself procrastinating for hours on end where before you.
By learning to recognize the warning signs that you’re beginning to fall apart, you’ll ensure you’re able to take action before you do. To that end, it’s important to understand that everyone has their own ideal routine – their own process that works best for them. Continue tweaking yours until you find one that doesn’t leave you feeling stressed at the end of the day.
To that end, always try to enjoy yourself when you’re working. Seek projects that inspire you. Work on things that allow you to stretch your legs and get creative.
The more you enjoy your work, the less likely you’ll be to burn out.
2. Pursue A Positive Work-Life Balance
Working on your business is important, sure – but it’s equally important for you to work on yourself. Think of your startup as a car, and yourself as the engine. In the same way that you need to regularly bring a vehicle to a mechanic for servicing, you need to make sure you’re taking care of your physical, psychological, and emotional needs.
Make relaxation time a priority. Schedule a bit of time each day where you can focus on anything that doesn’t involve work. Meditate, go for a run, play some games, spend time with your family.
Do something to relax – because otherwise, your business is basically a car with a dirty junker of an engine.
3. Seek Support
Human beings need support networks. We are social creatures through and through, and even the strongest man or woman will crumple if they don’t have people they can lean on every now and then. Don’t be afraid to turn to your friends, colleagues, or family members for help coping with your stress.
They’re close to you for a reason – and if they’re worth keeping in your life, they’ll be happy to support you however they can.
Don’t Burn Out
Entrepreneurial burnout is a real concern. By making yourself aware of it, you’ll be ready and able to deal with it. Keep working to change the world and build something great.
The following is a guest post by Maggie Kimberl, a Spirits Journalist, Content Manager at NowSourcing, Independent Bourbon Culture Expert, and Web Editor.
The United States is in the bottom 20% for countries with a good balance between work and life. The Netherlands is number one. Before technology took over our lives people would leave work and go home to be with their families. But now that we have the ability to check email at the dinner table many people are expected to do just that. This has led to an erosion of the lines between work and home life. It’s not always a bad thing to have that flexibility, but if you are spending all of your home time thinking about work it’s time to start fighting back.
In the short term, imbalance between your work life and your home life can lead to poor morale at work, high turnover rates, lowered productivity, and more. At home, poor balance between work and life can manifest itself as missed family time and lack of focus or engagement with family members. In the long term, poor balance between work and life can lead to anxiety and depression.
So what do you do if you feel like your life is out of balance? Start looking for ways to make it work better. Oftentimes things like flexible schedules and the opportunity to work at home can really help to restore that balance. Restricting the hours when you are available for work can also help.
Title: Tech Led Development Project Manager, Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation
Juliet has a passion for propagating win/win outcomes and fostering economic diversity and is a founding member of the entrepreneur think tank which launched FairBikes bike share – winners of Startup Weekend Fairbanks in 2013. As a founder of the Innovate Alaska (2.0) effort to diversify Alaska’s economic base, and the Year of Innovation cycle, Juliet collaborates with partners across the state to grow Alaska’s entrepreneur ecosystem, help increase exports and encourage import substitution businesses, and grow the next generation of Alaska entrepreneurs.
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The following is a guest post by ChopDawg.com, an award-winning app development company that has worked with over 180+ startups and companies from all around the globe, helping them bring their web apps, mobile apps, wearable apps and software ideas to life.
One of the most fascinating mobile trends we’ve been following for the last couple of years at Chop Dawg has been dynamic pricing.
If this term doesn’t ring a bell to you, you might be familiar with it when it comes to purchasing a ticket through an airline. Depending on how far in advance, and your browsing history with a specific airline, they will give you a certain price. The closer you to get a date, the more desperate you might be for finding an airline, the more expensive tickets all of the sudden become. At the same time, if they notice you’re a first time customer and you’re planning eight months out, you might pay for a ticket at a fraction of the cost a seat normally costs. Dynamic pricing allows airlines to maximize their profit margins, and increase their likelihood of closing a customer, making another transaction.
Sports franchises and theme parks are the latest to pick up on this business model. Philadelphia 76ers, and yes, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, are two examples of this in effect… and now, mobile apps too.
Starting with mobile gaming via in-app purchases for game play, app developers such as us can determine where a user is in the game, previous purchasing history, location, and even if it seems they are about to quit the game, in order to determine the best pricing possible to close a sale.
Dynamic pricing, though as controversial as it might be from the consumer perspective, is here to stay, and is only going to get more popular thanks to modern technology.
For that exact reason, this is why your company may want to consider implementing the same in your mobile apps.
Outside of the traditional game mobile app, most of the products we build at Chop Dawg traditionally bill via a subscription model, or the classic eCommerce model. The concept of purchasing an app on the app store, though still relevant, has decreased dramatically in the last few years. That isn’t where the money is anymore (and for a select few, the money was never there, to begin with).
Dynamic pricing, for the entrepreneurs, executives, and companies reading this present the following opportunities to increase revenue:
1) Ability to modify pricing by region. If you’re offering your app in a town, city, or country with less purchasing power, you can adapt to this to help generate more revenue (even if it is less than some bigger markets)
2) Ability to modify pricing based upon demand. If you offer something heavily requested, you’re able to raise your pricing to maximize on potential revenue gains
3) Ability to use data on your app to determine when in a customer lifecycle they may want to make a transaction, and offer at the price point that best fits that part of the customer purchasing lifecycle
4) Ability to use customer lifetime purchasing history, to provide pricing relative to their previous transactions
5) Ability to lower pricing if based upon data, user is following trends where former users seem to cease using your product or quit
Dynamic pricing can work to retain customers longer, provide better pricing points, general more revenue altogether, and perhaps most importantly for a lot of you reading this, increase profit margins.
Of course, you have to play devil’s advocate to dynamic pricing from a consumer perspective, which is critical. The issue that dynamic pricing has brought up in recent times have been users feeling they can’t get the best deal, feeling like they’re being gouged, and that they are simply being taken advantage of.
Consumers, more than ever, are Googling for discount codes, and what others have paid. No one wants to feel they’re being cheated out on or paying more than they should be. You, as the business, must find that fair and right balance.
What I am trying to say here is just because it makes the most sense on paper, still doesn’t mean it makes sense in business terms. Every business model is different. You need to gauge by the app you’re running if this is something relevant to your user base, and if the potential loss of your audience is worth the investment. It isn’t for everyone.
Here is the big thing to understand, this exists. A lot of entrepreneurs who reach out to Chop Dawg, and business executives alike, aren’t thinking about dynamic pricing yet. They are set in the traditional, pay $X.XX a month, or save a little by a year… or purchasing a product for $X.XX. These are models you can implement day one. Realize that the time and investment costs when it comes to programming will be more, as customized algorithms and data will be needed, created, and planned; but for many of you reading this, it could be something to heavily consider.
Is dynamic pricing right for your business? Is it good for your consumers? Start asking yourself these questions today before, in a few years from now, you’re the one with the antiquated business model.
The following is a guest post by Valli Vishnubhotla, an SEO professional working at AWM Network. Valli writes for Market Inspector and Greenmatch, B2B digital marketplaces in Europe.
Why is influencer marketing the new trend in the digital marketing world?
Various brands have been using influencers to advocate for their products to their target audience. This technique has given them high returns and value for money.
In this smartphone age, people are quick to look up online and on social media, before making a purchase decision. What information are they looking for? They probably want an assurance that they’re choosing the right product or service for themselves.
Influencers play a major role in the buying funnel of consumers. When you see an authoritative person or your favourite celebrity advocating for a particular brand, you automatically tend to develop an affinity towards that brand.
Marketers have begun to realise the importance of this form of marketing, and are increasing their influencer marketing budgets every year. According to a survey, 39% of marketers will increase their budgets for influencer marketing in 2018. Influencer marketing is predicted to grow from 32% penetration to 47% by the year 2020.
Though this still seems to be a new technique for many marketers, it is growing at a significant rate, and is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Take a look at this infographic by Market Inspector, and understand how you can use influencer marketing in your business.
The following is a guest post by Tim Mullahy, General Manager at Liberty Center One, a new breed of data center located in Royal Oak, MI.
Thanks to the cloud, we can now write apps that are available anywhere – but they need to stay available. Here’s how you can ensure that yours do.
These days, availability is the holy grail of app development. Thanks to the consumerization of IT, the expectations of the average worker – and of the average customer – have undergone a seismic shift. They won’t tolerate anything less than excellence when it comes to performance.
They demand a top-notch user experience. They expect to be capable of using an app on whatever device they desire. And most importantly, they require that app be accessible no matter where they are and when they’re using it.
The cloud allows your development team to account for all of those demands – but only if you implement it effectively. You need to be prepared for the demands and challenges of developing a cloud-based app, and you need to be absolutely certain that your business has access to the infrastructure necessary to support that app. Perhaps most importantly, you need to design the app to leverage the cloud’s unique nature, while also navigating the various threats to availability and stability.
Simply put, developing a SaaS application that’s failure proof goes beyond an extensive bug, QA, and stress testing (your team should be doing all that as a minimum, anyway). It requires a slightly different approach to app development, maintenance, and management. Let’s talk about that.
Host Everything on High-Availability Infrastructure – And Monitor It
All infrastructure fails eventually – even the cloud is not immune to this law. The trick is to ensure that yours can fail gracefully. That you can roll over performance demands from one instance to another without causing any interruption for your end users.
That’s easy enough if you’re developing a simple word processor app. However, the more components your app incorporates, the lower its overall availability becomes (more on that in a moment). You need to ensure that anything you cannot replicate is failure-proofed with redundant, high-availability infrastructure.
That includes component directories, processes, non-duplicated database elements, and anything else you deem critical to your app’s functionality.
Mind you, it’s not enough to simply push your app out and leave it to fend for itself. You need to constantly monitor application performance and usage patterns. Set automated alerts and implement automatic cloud bursting to ensure that your app doesn’t come grinding to a halt during periods of especially intensive use.
Keep Your Component Count As Low As Possible
There’s an old adage that I always like to refer to whenever I’m building an app – Keep It Simple, Stupid. While you should never sacrifice usability and quality of life for your end users, you also shouldn’t incorporate anything unnecessary. For example, does your corporate email app really need a ton of rich animations?
To some extent, you can mitigate this issue by developing applications modularly – that way, each element of your app can contain multiple components, and you’ll need to worry less about keeping each individual component operational.
Incorporate Selective Redundancy
Last but certainly not least, it’s important to determine which components of your application are most critical – which elements can it not function without? More importantly, what are your primary points of failure?
Your biggest challenge here – as you likely know – is managing transaction states through a failover. To achieve this, you might need to incorporate application-level state synchronization through a technique like multiphase commit. You might also consider bringing in a database logging process for session activities, especially if you’re creating an app that requires communication.
Guard Against Failure
Availability is the king of app development – and especially if you’re developing an SaaS app, everything you do needs to promote that availability. The advice laid out here provides you with a starting point. The rest, however, is up to you.
The following is a guest post by Tiffany Rowe. Tiffany is a Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility, where she assists clients in contributing resourceful content throughout the web.
Undoubtedly, you have some serious resolutions for your startup in the coming year. You want to grow bigger, make moves with greater agility, and prove that your startup is going to survive. One way you can do all three is with corporate events, which attract much-needed attention to your (as-yet) little venture.
However, events can and do go wrong. If you want your 2018 events to be serious successes, you need to make the following resolutions about your corporate event planning strategy.
Develop Event Goals
You aren’t going to the trouble and expense of organizing an event for no reason whatsoever – but you might also not know exactly what your goals are, either. Like any project completed by your startup – like any New Year’s resolution – your event goals should be realistic and detailed for them to have a positive impact on your business. You can use the SMART method for developing objectives for your event:
Know Your Audience
By now, you should know your startup’s audience; you should know who is most able and willing to buy your goods or services and how to market to them. This year, you should focus on knowing your event audience — and believe it or not, the two groups aren’t necessarily the same.
Typically, every corporate event has a different audience. Often, your audience is your startup’s employees; sometimes your audience is potential investors; and rarely, your audience is your consumers. Any time you plan an event, your first step should be researching the needs and wants of your event’s audience.
Watch the Trends
From event marketing tactics to the décor in the space, every aspect of events is subject to trends. Undoubtedly, some attendees will expect your events to be on-trend in specific areas – which requires you to know your audience, but as importantly, it requires you to be aware of important trends and execute them impeccably. For example, if your guests expect unique stages for your product launch party, you must hire a company with experience in custom fabrication. You can follow blogs related to your industry as well as the event planning industry to stay hip on the trends relevant to your startup.
Rely on Technology
Corporate events tend to have dozens of moving parts, which makes it difficult to build a brilliant event with pen and paper. Instead, you should learn how to use planning software and implement other advanced technology that are useful before and during events. When it comes to event management tools, you have several options to choose from; here are a few useful programs to consider:
Trello — a comprehensive project management tool useful for more than just event planning
Whova — a mobile-friendly, affordable tool that can scale for small or large events
Cvent — probably the most well-known event management tool, excellent for large events
Anytime you organize a corporate event, you need to keep timing in mind for several reasons. First, your event should coincide with maximum interest in your event, so attendees remain eager and publicity is high. Secondly, you should be cognizant of scheduling far from other important events, including industry conferences or the holidays, which might cause attendance at your event to be low. If your timing is good, you have a much better opportunity to accomplish your goals for the event.
Have an Event Team
If you are organizing anything bigger than an office birthday party, you should seriously consider using a third-party event team. Not only are they usually inherently up-to-date on trends and familiar with event-planning tools, but it is literally their job to set event goals and work diligently toward achieving them. That means you can throw your event ideas to your event team and continue to focus your efforts on improving your business in other ways.
Go Bigger and Bolder
Events are supposed to bring awareness to your startup, celebrate your achievements, and prove your importance, but if your events are run-of-the-mill, your startup likely won’t be remembered. Using trends, technology, event teams, and other tools, you should strive to make 2018 your year of big and bold.
Know Your Limits
However, you should also be committed to knowing your event planning limits. If your startup is new, small, and relatively unstable, you probably shouldn’t pour all your effort into organizing a massive event. While you plan, you must consider your event budget and timescale, which should guide you toward an appropriately big and bold event for your business.