Natural leaders may gravitate toward entrepreneurship, savoring the opportunity to build their own company and control their own destiny. For those with a good product or service to sell and sound leadership abilities, an entrepreneurial venture might be the perfect career path. But it’s a challenging mission, a path that takes extraordinary commitment and clear vision.
We started our company, Turning Technologies, with a simple idea and built it from the ground up to become the world’s largest audience response technology firm. We were able to grow and prosper during an historically severe economic downturn. Our story may hold lessons that would be valuable for aspiring entrepreneurs, and it can be told in two chapters: building and growth.
Building a Successful Company
To get a new company off the ground, the first thing a would-be entrepreneur needs is a product or service concept that will have broad marketplace appeal. The Hollywood depiction of entrepreneurship usually involves an epiphany from an inventor--a company founder who thinks of a brand-new, billion-dollar concept that changes the world. But in real life, most successful entrepreneurs simply analyze the market and identify an opportunity to do something better or streamline an existing process.
That’s how we got our start at Turning Technologies: We noticed that people who gave PowerPoint presentations had a difficult time engaging audiences and collecting real-time data. So we invented our flagship product, TurningPoint, a software that integrates with PowerPoint and allows presenters to embed questions in their presentations. Audiences can answer using a keypad or smartphone. The product took off because it solved an existing problem, giving presenters a way to instantly gather relevant data and engage their audiences.
Our next step was to tell our story effectively.
You could have the greatest product in the world, but if your target customers don’t immediately understand how it will improve their lives, it will be a tough sell. You need to create a narrative about your product or service that customers will understand and relate to their situation.
We’ve found that the tried-and-true strategy of identifying customer pain points and then of discussing how our product would resolve these problems works best. We had to show how our product would enable us to engage audiences and also collect real-time data. We went directly to the people who are engaged in making presentations every day-- corporate trainers, educators, sales professionals, trade association speakers, and the like--and showed them a way to make their presentations more interactive, informative, and fun. That made selling our product relatively simple.
Another critical success factor in any company’s building phase is commitment. It sounds like common sense, but it’s important for aspiring entrepreneurs to know up front that launching and growing a successful company takes an incredible amount of dedication. You’ll be unlikely to make it if you go into the task thinking that you’ll give it a few months and see what happens.
Even for \companies that are later heralded as “overnight successes,” it generally takes a few years to turn a profit. When I was starting my company, I made the commitment to work long hours for no pay for the first few years. I went all in--there was no “Plan B.” Of course, this took a lot of planning and saving on the front-end to make my total commitment strategy possible. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, make sure you’ve done the up-front preparations, and ensure that you have the level of commitment that building a successful company takes.
Leading for Growth
Once you’ve successfully launched your company, you’ll need a long-term growth strategy. Every enterprise is different, but there are basic principles you can follow to improve your company’s chances of evolving and expanding over the long haul. One of the most valuable strategies to make that happen is a long-term commitment to learning about your industry.
No matter what business you’re in, your market and the needs of your customers will change over time. If you commit to spending an hour a day reading about your industry, taking a look at online research and evaluating business trends and competitors, you’ll be better positioned to spot new opportunities and challenges as they arise. If your business involves technology, keep up with technical advances and be on the lookout for new products that may affect your customer base.
Another critical growth factor for just about any company is being responsive to customer needs. Take every opportunity to listen to your customers. Find out how your product or service is working for them, what features they like the best and which aspects they think could use some improvement. Tradeshows offer a great opportunity to connect with customers, as do online surveys and social media interactions.
Employees are another excellent conduit for customer information. The employees who are on the front lines will know best what customers are experiencing, the challenges they face, the new business requirements that are emerging in their industries and competitive products that are entering the marketplace.
In addition to being an excellent repository of customer information, your employees can also be a primary growth driver for your business in their own right. A dedicated, motivated staff will result in happier customers, and satisfied customers help your company grow. For these reasons, building a positive, productive workplace culture is critically important.
One way to position your company for rapid growth is to give your employees incentives to make it happen. Link rewards to results and give employees a sense of ownership in the company (through incentives like profit sharing programs, for example) to ensure that they’ll be focused on making sales, expanding relationships with existing customers and ensuring client satisfaction.
The Bottom Line
Every business is different, and each marketplace has its own unique considerations, but there are basic principles all entrepreneurs can apply when launching and growing a new company. When contemplating a startup, the first step is to identify a need for a new product or service, and then find a way to tell customers your story in a compelling way. Ensure that you’re adequately prepared financially and personally for the commitment launching a new company requires.
Once you have your enterprise off the ground, remember that growing a company requires constant innovation. Commit to ongoing learning, reading up on new developments in your industry to identify opportunities and emerging challenges. Listen to your customers to find out what their needs are and how you can help them succeed. And give your employees a stake in your company’s success so that they’ll treat it like their own and help your business growth and thrive. By following these steps, you can successfully launch a new business – and keep it growing long into the future.