I’ve helped build more than one hundred brands over the last fifteen years. I can boil all of that experience down into one tip for starting a successful business…
Only play games you can win.
Don’t compete against a market leader in their favorite game. They’ll crush you. Tilt the odds in your favor.
I’m not saying you should avoid competition. Actually, quite the opposite. Seek juicy markets, but give yourself an unfair advantage.
Every market has holes if you search hard enough. Find a problem that isn’t currently being solved by the market leaders. Become very good at solving that problem and make it clear in every piece of communication.
That’s the quick and dirty version of how to launch a successful business. What follows is the step-by-step guide you can use to build a company.
Step 1: Identify A Problem
If you’re a subscriber to my blog or email, you’re probably thinking that I beat this point to death. You’re right. I obsess on the concept of problem branding because I feel it’s the single most important lesson an entrepreneur can learn to improve their odds of success.
Start by finding a problem worth solving. You’ll never struggle for revenue if your company solves a significant problem. Don’t worry if there’s a ton of competition in the niche you’re considering. Your goal at this stage is to find a market with a substantial amount of people willing to pay for the solution.
In fact, it’s a good idea to look for markets with competition. Other companies being there means there’s money to be made. Embrace competition rather than running toward empty niches. If it’s empty, it’s probably because there’s not enough money there to support a company.
Still not sold on finding big problems where competition is fierce? I’ve got a few examples that prove my point. Making money, losing weight, and getting dates are three problems with ridiculous amounts of competition, but they’re also lucrative because money, weight loss, and sex are at the top of most people’s priority lists.
People in these niches enthusiastically cough up their money for a solution. You just can’t go after the entire market at once. Hunt for the spot where you can stand out and offer something unique.
Step 2: Find Holes In The Market
This is where we go from identifying a broad problem to focusing on a smaller group of people with a more specific version of the problem. We need to evaluate the current market leaders and identify who they’re neglecting. One of your advantages as an upstart company is the ability to cater your product to a specific person. Market leaders can’t do this effectively because they have to appeal to the masses to continue scaling.
Your goal is to be ‘the’ solution for a precise group of people rather than ‘an’ option for everyone in the broader market. For example, let’s pretend we sell a weight loss program. We wouldn’t come out saying we help everyone lose weight. There’s too much competition to get a foothold in the overall weight loss market. A better route is to build a product that helps a tightly defined group within the weight loss market (women over 50 who have gone through menopause for example). Once we’ve dominated that corner of the market we can move on to the next hole to exploit.
Study your competition to find these holes, but don’t fall for the copycat trap. You’re studying them to find opportunities to differentiate, not copy. Copying a market leader’s strategic approach is a death sentence. Remember, we’re only playing games where we have an unfair advantage.
Step 3: Clarify Your Message
Narrowing your focus makes marketing, sales, and delivering on your promises much easier. You have an opportunity to say (and deliver) exactly what your tribe needs. Remember, you’re ‘the’ solution for them, not ‘an’ option for everyone which translates into a compelling message.
At first, nobody knows who you are. Those perfect customers don’t know you’re ‘the’ solution unless you consistently tell them across every touchpoint. Saying the same thing with the same language on all communication channels will help your brand become synonymous with the solution to the problem you solve.
Don’t leave people questioning the value you’re going to add to their lives. They shouldn’t have to guess at what you do when they land on your website or stumble across your marketing. Develop a script and one-liner to serve as your brand’s bible. This step will have everyone in your company preaching the same thing with the same language across every possible touchpoint.
Step 4: Know Where You’ll Get Customers
People can’t buy from you if they don’t know you exist. You don’t need to come out of the gate with a perfect marketing plan, but you do need to know where your customers are. This is a ridiculously simple fact that many new businesses ignore. Don’t start a business without knowing where you’re going to get customers.
For most businesses, this will be a social media platform or Google, but it could also be a tradeshow, direct mail, or a farmer’s market. There’s no one right answer. You just need to have an answer.
Focus on the one channel where your customers are. We use LinkedIn for Special Sauce while we use Instagram for many of our clients. The only requirement is knowing where your customers are so you can connect with them.
Lockdown accounts on all the major social platforms, but focus your efforts on the one channel that will yield the most results. It’s far better to be consistently remarkable on one channel than mediocre on three. This focus will help you create compelling content that puts your brand on the map with the people you want to buy.
Increase Your Odds of Success
I’m convinced that if more entrepreneurs followed these steps we’d have a dramatically lower failure rate for new companies.
- Identify a big problem people are willing to pay to fix.
- Find the people the current market leaders are neglecting.
- Clarify your message so it sings to these people.
- Know where you’ll get customers.
Following these steps doesn’t mean you’ll become the next Elon Musk, but they are a solid path to a profitable business. And who knows, you may just be the next billionaire entrepreneur. If that happens, don’t forget us little people that helped you on the way to the top.
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