It’s time for New Year’s resolutions: hit the gym, eat better and call your mother more. If you’re an entrepreneur, it can be an opportunity to refocus your efforts on strategies that will add value to your organization. Here are some suggestions:
1. Practice your elevator pitch: At your next cocktail party, when someone asks what you do, have an answer prepared. Don’t reel off your value proposition; instead, tell a story with a “hook,” an entry line that grabs the listener’s attention. Don’t talk for more than 20 seconds.
2. Talk to more customers: Tech entrepreneurs are notorious for spending months punching out elegant code only to find that no one wants their product. According to The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development, it’s best to get out of the office and talk to at least three prospective customers about their problems and the value they might find in your solution.
3. Find people who are smarter than you: According to Guy Kawasaki, “’A’ people hire ‘A’ people and ‘B’ people hire ‘C’ people.” If you want your startup to succeed, you have to be honest with yourself: you don’t know it all and you can’t do it on your own. Hire people who are better than you at certain things and surround yourself with diverse advisors you trust – and take their advice when they give it.
4. Target your press releases: Every day I get around 10-12 press releases touting the benefits of some new cloud-computing something-or-other (seriously, most of them sound like they were generated here). I delete most of them after only reading the subject line. The takeaway? Forget mass press releases. Target your communication to a select group of journalists, bloggers and thought leaders interested in your field for a cheaper, more effective way of spreading your message.
5. Measure what counts: In Eric Ries’ new book, The Lean Startup, he warns entrepreneurs against listening too closely to “vanity metrics”: total visitors to your website, media mentions, and so on. Instead, go as granular as possible with your data. What are your conversion rates from web traffic? Which dimensions of your product do people value and which could they do without?
6. Embrace new experiences: Steven Johnson’s book Where New Ideas Come From and Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect show clearly that disruptive ideas come from people with eclectic interests or from those who take an idea from one field and apply it to another. In 2012, add to your daily reading a blog you wouldn’t normally read (thegolfblog.com, collisiondetection.net, drummingblog.com). Look for patterns, business models and inspiration that you could apply to your field.
7. Cut your business plan in half: No one gets the executive summary anyway. The purpose of a business plan is to show investors that you have the patience and collaboration skills to work with your team to collectively identify goals and assumptions. Twenty pages should be plenty.
8. Manage your time: Studies show that people who work sensible hours and make time for their families and hobbies are more successful, creative and less stressed. All-nighters and 80-hour work weeks are fine for crunch periods, but in general you should seek to work smarter, not longer hours. Try checking your email only twice a day and planning your day in chunks so you can stay focused in short bursts.
9. Polish your bootstraps: Getting investment is tough. But if you have a product that has succeeded in an early market and you have managed your cash flow carefully from those early sales, investors will see that you have a smart, frugal team with a market-tested product. Many businesses are not suited for VC or angel investing at all and rely entirely on bootstrapping (building a business from the company’s own funds and revenue from customers). Learn the ropes here.
10. Focus on making meaning: Hardened venture capitalists realize that entrepreneurs who set out only to make money often make lousy investment opportunities. Successful entrepreneurs are instead focused on “making meaning,” on changing the world for the better or improving an existing product for its own sake. In 2012, find your own meaning.
Have any other tips for entrepreneurs? Add your thoughts in the comments section!
Blog reposted from MaRS DD.
Joseph Wilson is currently an education advisor at MaRS. He also writes on issues of technology and culture for NOW Magazine, the Globe and Mail, Spacing and Yonge Street.
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