The first year of a startup school shouldn’t be seen as make or break.
So many startups just look at the prize in the distance, and begin the wacky races like sprint to the finish.
Just look at Dick Dastardly.
Always plying for the shortcut, but never winning the race. Maybe had he spent more time becoming a better driver, and less of the cheap tricks, he might have won a race. Your startup journey should be viewed in a similar fashion.
Take the proper route, and take it slow.
Year one is playtime.
The first year of your startup is the best, and possibly only time, to really just learn the skills needed to make your business a lasting success.
You need to build solid foundations on which to grow on. These are the 3 skill sets you must learn in the first year of your startup, to increase your chances of winning that race to the grand prize of success.
1. Learning self promotion (and finding work).
Unfortunately, the race to the prize of success features more than one contestant, and it is hella’ competitive. Step forward the first essential skill that should use your first year to develop.
The ability to big yourself up, and talk your business.
This does take work, and lots of practise.
Promoting yourself, and your startup, requires many tactics; promotional items such as business cards and flyers, using social media avenues, networking, building a website, relying on some positive word of mouth, and a healthy dose of fortune.
Use your first year to find out what works for you. Take time to work on your branding, and find what ones gain you the best audience and engagement.
With social media, sign up to your accounts and learn how they work. Make sure the photography is of high standard and start to work out which hashtags, times of day and styles of post are bringing in the positive feedback.
Attend local networking events (however painful) and talk yourself up. You might only be the new kids on the block, but you are full of exciting ideas, potential and commitment.
If you have already have some kind of portfolio, do not be scared to show it off. Any chance meeting with any chance person could lead to a new project, investment or promotion.
In summary; be loud, and be proud.
2. Nailing client relations.
Congratulations. You have mastered the basics of self promotion, and have gained a few clients.
Now you have to deal with them.
Positive client relations is essential to a business, and something you will have to get good at, right from the start line.
In my experiences, clients appreciate you being honest, and upfront. If you try and be deceiving in anyway it always comes back to bite you. Never mess clients about, because once you stain your reputation, it is hard to get that shit off.
They also want to form a personal bond, and actually get on with you. Who would have thought?
If you will be meeting clientele face to face, you will have to become a people person, or add a member to your team who excels at this, or get good at practising your ‘customer face’.
Forming personal bonds with potential customers and clients will help separate your startup from faceless ‘big’ companies. This in turn, will get you more work.
Always remember when in person you are representing your business, and you could be speaking to a potential client, or someone who can send others your way.
If you will be dealing with clients over emails / phone, the same rules apply.
Further, try not to be robotic, and form some kind of personal connection. A lot of this comes from your tone. No automated message responses, no ‘send to all’ emails.
Address each client personally. Remain professional — no abbreviated words, ‘lols’ etc, and try not to leave too many kisses at the end of your messages…
You yourself are an extension of your brand and company, so act accordingly.
In summary; be honest, and be personal.
3. Become adaptable (to everything!)
There is no skill more important to a founder, or a startup company, than being adaptable.
It is simply essential.
You will constantly find yourself in new waters that are very deep. The trick is to stay afloat until you learn to swim.
In year 1, you must learn to adapt. Step out of your comfort zone, and take on new roles. Somebody has to manage finance. Marketing. Projects. Never done it before?
Now is the time to give it a shot. You can always look for help, but you must get your own understanding of all the processes involved.
“Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win” — Max McKeown
You will also have to learn to lead, especially in the case of founders. So why not start now when your business is in its early stages?
Learn to take the initiative, and adapt to the challenges running a business brings. Everyday will bring something new. A Dick Dastardly trap awaits around every corner. Take it head on, and learn to get past them.
In summary; be ready, and be willing.
The startup journey is a marathon, not a sprint.
It really is a wacky race, full of stiff competition and perilous situations at every stage.
Forget the finish line, and focus on starting well.
Self promotion, client relations, and becoming adaptable are the foundations for a successful race. Be honest, be personal, be loud, be proud and most of all, be ready and willing.