The entrepreneurial journey is a famously emotional one, a rollercoaster of excitement and disillusionment. With your blood, sweat and tears going into your business, and with a real belief that you really do have an amazing business idea, it can be especially difficult to face a world in which the sales just aren’t coming in as you had expected.
“What am I doing wrong?! Why isn’t it working?”
The trouble is that there is no magic solution. There’s no answer you can get from an expert that will solve all of your problems, no tactic that will have the sales flooding it. Maybe your business is never going to work, and maybe you’re really close to breaking through and you just need to make a few tweaks. Maybe it’s a problem at the strategy level, or maybe it’s in the execution.
Rather than giving up and scrapping the whole thing, though, you need to be asking yourself targeted questions in order to narrow down what might be the problem, or problems, that you’re faced with.
Here are some of the areas and questions you can ask yourself when troubleshooting your startup business:
1. Is it the product?
A natural first place is to start with is your product. Is the benefit clear, and does your audience understand it? Do they care? Does the product meet the market need that exists? Is the value proposition sufficiently attractive? Does the quality match the price? Are you clearly differentiated from your competitors’ products? It’s possible that a few tweaks are all it takes to turn the product into the success that you’ve been dreaming of. Worst case, you’ll have to re-think the whole proposition.
2. Is it the brand?
No we’re not just talking about the logo here, a brand is really a promise to the customer as to what they can expect from your products and services. Do you have a compelling vision or message for your business? Are you consistent in how you’re communicating what you stand for? Is there a match between your pricing and positioning (for example, you’re purporting to be a luxury player with premium pricing) and the quality and tone of voice (continuing with the same example, you’re using a mass approach that is disconnected to that aspirational pricing)? Without a strong brand, you’re just a commodity, and you’re most likely playing a losing game.
3. Is it the market?
It’s tempting to blame your business failure on the market but sometimes it really is true. Maybe you’re just too early with your idea and the market isn’t ready? (Google tried and failed to launch what was effectively an Uber service, Google Ride Finder, 2005-2009.) On the other hand, maybe you’re too late, and the market is already flooded with competitors, the barriers to entry are too high and it’s impossible for you to stand out? Are you sure that the problem you’re solving is a sufficient pain point? Is the market big enough to be a viable business? Maybe you’re trying to sell to everyone, and you don’t even have a clear market? An appealing market will be one that has a large number of potential users, ideally growing, and it’s relatively easy for you to acquire those users. Without any pre-existing demand you’re going to have start by convincing them that they want or need you in the first place.
4. Is it the business model?
Following on from the previous point, do you have a scalable way to acquire customers, bearing in mind that the cost of acquisition mustn’t exceed the lifetime value of that customer? Have you come up against unexpectedly high start-up costs that are preventing you from becoming profitable? Are the financials not working, were your projections just too optimistic? Did you assume that your product was just so amazing that it would sell itself? Many startups fail simply because they run out of money so if you’re facing cash-flow issues you’ll need deal with this sooner rather than later.
5. Is it the marketing?
Are you using the right channels to reach your customers? Are you creating relevant content? Is your message consistent and one that will resonate with your customers? Are you making effective choices or are you trying to do everything and be everything to everyone? Are you putting enough budget behind your activities, or are you spreading yourself too thin? Your marketing is often the most obvious area to explore but it’s worth reviewing the fundamentals before playing around with the marketing plan. There’s no point in increasing the budget if your branding or the product itself is off!
6. Is it you?
*Ouch*, this probably isn’t something that you’ll want to admit and hopefully it’s not the case; but it’s possible that the problem is in fact located with the founder. Are you sure that you have the skills and experience needed to make this business a success? Are you being consistent in your efforts or is your strategy all over the place? Are you fully committed, doing everything you can to get it off the ground (or are you dabbling, half-heartedly, alongside other projects)? What about the rest of the team? (When Zappos had to make lay-offs in the early days of their business, they actually found that productivity remained at the same level, as the people who left were the non-believers who weren’t delivering the biggest results.)
If you’d like help with troubleshooting your startup business together with an expert, get in touch on Clarity to book a call! Contact me on Clarity >>