Tips for being a smart start-up

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Man with lightbulb head

We asked four experts to share their best advice for startup businesses on how to get ahead and fast.

Jodie Fox, co-founder, Shoes of Prey, a website where you can design and buy your own shoes

In my start-up experience to date, the most valuable advice is practical. So here are my three best practical tips to increase conversions, build a community and stay sane.

1. Increasing conversions: work with a famous YouTube blogger to do a sponsored video on your brand. We worked with 16 year-old Blair Fowler (aka: Juicystar07) in March 2010 and the ultimate effect of her nine-minute video was a permanent tripling of our sales. To read our case study, Google our business blog 22michaels.com and Juicystar07.

2. Build a community: we built a very active Facebook community through consistently providing relevant, valuable and fast responses. We also saw an up-tick in interactions when I began to sign off my comments and posts with my name: people like to know someone. It’s not enough to interact with a faceless brand.

3. Staying sane: this is a piece of advice Mark Capps, co-founder of new online optical retail concept “Sneaking Duck” wrote recently. And, it’s something I am still working on: find a balance that means the hours you put in are effective, versus dedicating infinite hours at half pace. Try as best you can not to compromise fundamentals, including sleep, diet and exercise. Try to get to know yourself and when you do your best work. Set goals and objectives so that you can take a guilt-free break. You need a little distance from what you are doing to make better decisions and be inspired.

Vuki Vujasinovic, founder of Click PR, a one year-old startup

Any startup needs to have their position in the market clear. Whatever industry you’re operating in, you need to be able to demonstrate how you will do things different to everyone else. If you can clearly and succinctly explain this, you’ll have customers, investors, and the media knocking down your door. If you can’t, you’ll quickly find people asking: “So what?”

The Australian startup scene is really heating up, and it’s not just the local media and public that are taking notice. Global investors, especially venture capital firms from the US, are looking to Australia as the next hotbed of innovation. In a climate of global economic uncertainty, the relative stability of Australia is increasingly appealing. Combined with the fact that it’s never been easier to turn the spark of an idea into a functioning business using global outsourcing and crowdsourcing sites, it’s never been a better time for startups in Australia.

Doing something different and disrupting the status quo is what will garner the attention your startup deserves. Do this, and be able to explain it clearly, and you’re well on the way to commercial success.

Jack Graham, NSW chairman, The Executive connection (TEC)

Too often business owners believe they need to be an expert in all areas of their operation to succeed. However, it is important to remember that no business is an island, and it is unlikely any owner is facing problems which haven’t been encountered by other members of the business community.

When problems arise, it can often appear as if the sky is closing in – in some cases, very rapidly. For many, it can be tempting to revert into a ‘business shell’ and attempt to face the issue alone. However it is important business owners remember that they have countless peers who have been in similar situations and have a wealth of knowledge to be shared.

No single business owner knows everything, and those who believe they do face the real possibility of becoming irrelevant as the market shifts. The ever-changing nature of business ensures there is always more to learn. Even the most seasoned business veteran can be caught off guard by the unexpected – the emergence of a rival innovation, regulatory changes, or even a stock market crash. All business owners, whether startup or established, should seek the insight of their peers.

The advantages of an increasingly interconnected business world are no better experienced than through formalised knowledge sharing. The support and advice accessed via participation in peer-group mentoring organisations can prove invaluable for business owners of any type.

It’s no secret that business owners who are willing to learn from the experiences and insights of others will travel a much smoother road, benefiting from the security of knowing there is a community to turn to when times get tough.

In my opinion, business owners are never too young or too old to start learning from other business owners – and the lessons learnt are often the most practical that can be taught.

Mat Beeche, founder and editor of Shoe String Launch Magazine and blog.

Every day thousands of entrepreneurs put pen to paper and make a list. The elements are actually quite common. We all start off with an idea [that million dollar baby nobody else has thought of] we then plan out the launch phase, probably write a list of all the media outlets that are going to start speaking about us and then finally some huge company like Google will buy us off the back of this and we can move to the Maldives and retire.

What is wrong with that plan you ask? Well in theory, nothing. If startups didn’t think big, then we would see no innovation or change in the world. However with thousands of people competing everyday in the startup space, to be able to execute that list successfully you need to make sure you have a few key things in place.

  1. A shoestring budget – It is easy to overspend in the startup phase, it is the main reason so many startups don’t last the first five years of trading. You also should make sure that you are selling from day one. When seeking capital a VC looks at the financials. Sales and strict spending habits will work in your favour.
  2. A good team – Even a solo entrepreneur needs a good team around them. Be smart, get guidance from the best in the space you are in. A good advisory board can build you business in value.
  3. A persistent attitude – Things rarely go gangbusters straight off the bat. Set small goals and keep focused. You have to crawl before you run sometimes.

Starting a business is a crazy ride. It is also a very fulfilling experience. There is nothing wrong with taking risks, as long as you put some smarts around it and spend wisely.