When someone decides to embark on the journey of entrepreneurship, they may not have much knowledge about starting or managing a business, even if they possess an impressive business degree. Theoretical understanding is one thing, but practical experience is another.
Rather than getting caught up in the complexities of business plans and taxes, some aspiring entrepreneurs choose to take a leap of faith and learn as they go. This strategic approach involves saying yes to various opportunities, even if they don’t feel fully prepared for them.
The Rollercoaster of Starting a Business
Launching a business can be a messy and unpredictable process. Sonya, the award-winning founder of @LMFNETWORK faced some serious challenges when starting her own venture. In the spring of 2018, Sonya had meticulously planned a brunch event as the soft launch for her business. She had thought through every detail, from her outfit to the seating arrangements at the restaurant. She was fully prepared and excited about what was to come.
However, things didn’t go as planned. Despite having 12 confirmed RSVPs, Sonya found herself waiting alone at the restaurant. One by one, the expected guests became no-shows. After enduring a disheartening 45 minutes, the restaurant staff asked for her table back. Sonya’s first attempt at launching her business ended in tears and disappointment.
Sonya’s business idea originated from her personal struggle. As a young professional trying to make her way in the competitive tech industry of bustling London, she felt isolated and longed for a supportive community. Despite the setback of her initial failure, Sonya refused to give up. She even stretched the truth a little when she announced on the Like Minded Females LinkedIn group that seven people had attended the brunch.
Undeterred by the challenges, Sonya decided to host two more brunches. It wasn’t until the third attempt that someone finally showed up. That one person’s presence broke the ice and infused Sonya with renewed hope. In the subsequent weeks and months, the Like Minded Females (LMF) community began to grow rapidly, both online and offline. Companies started approaching Sonya for assistance in building similar career-oriented communities. She even received invitations to share her inspiring story with the public.
Through Sonya’s resilience and the increasing demand for her expertise in community-building, the LMF LinkedIn group eventually evolved into a fully-fledged limited company. Sonya’s journey into entrepreneurship wasn’t meticulously planned, but rather a series of fundamental steps she took to create, test, and launch her business.
Now, before we delve into those steps, take a moment to reflect on your own motivations. How are you doing? Are there any crucial elements or resources missing from your life? What do you envision for yourself in the next year? Remember, you don’t need to have all the details figured out just yet. Your vision and determination are enough to embark on the exciting journey of entrepreneurship. So, welcome!
A simple four-step approach to building a successful business
Having a clear vision for your business is crucial, but it doesn’t have to be perfect from the start. Starting a business is never easy, and the traditional belief that you need a detailed business plan before you begin can be discouraging. Sonya believes that those days are over. Complex business plans can actually prevent people from taking the first step, and sticking too rigidly to a plan can hinder innovation and creative problem-solving.
It’s important to understand that there’s no such thing as a perfect plan or a perfect time to start your business. However, you can follow a simple four-step process to refine your idea and increase your chances of success.
The first step is to identify the problem you want to solve. Ask yourself what problem you are addressing, who is affected by it, and why it bothers you. Take some time to reflect on these questions and gain a clear understanding of the problem at hand.
Step two involves brainstorming potential solutions. One effective technique for this is mind mapping. Set a time limit, like 25 minutes, and quickly jot down all possible ideas, no matter how unrealistic or silly they may seem. Quantity is more important than quality at this stage. Once the time is up, review your list and choose the two or three best ideas to move forward with.
Step three is about creating a quick-and-dirty business plan. Instead of lengthy and boring plans that no one will read, you can use a free online tool called Lean Canvas. It provides a simple one-page template where you can outline the essential elements of your business. This includes your unique value proposition, which is the primary reason why customers should choose you over your competitors.
After fleshing out your plan, you can proceed to step four: evaluating the viability of your solution. Does it need further refinement or should you scrap it altogether? It’s best to take a break and come back to your plan with fresh eyes to gain a new perspective. Sometimes, things become clearer when we give our minds some rest.
By reaching this point, you’ve already accomplished a lot. Whether you feel exhausted or exhilarated, give yourself credit for coming this far.
In addition to having a clear business idea, it’s important to understand your target audience. This is where customer personas come in. A customer persona is a representation of the type of person who needs the solution you’re offering. To create a persona, start with a blank page and place a photo of a typical customer you envision at the center. Then, jot down details about their socioeconomic status, educational background, challenges, social media habits, and motivations.
Keep in mind that your ideal customer profile can change over time. Sonya initially thought her customer base would be twenty-something women like herself, but she later realized that her solution resonated with a broader audience. Similarly, your target audience may evolve as you gain more insights. However, for now, it’s important to have a target audience in mind.
Remember, having a clear vision for your business is essential, even if it’s not perfect. Embrace the iterative nature of entrepreneurship and be open to adapting your plans along the way.
Why you need to build a strong social media presence?
In today’s world, having a strong presence on social media is crucial for any business. However, it can be challenging to establish and maintain that presence. Let’s take a look at Sonya’s experience with the LMF Network’s Instagram channel to understand how she turned things around.
When Sonya initially launched the Instagram channel in 2019, she struggled with it so much that the account got blocked. But she didn’t give up. In 2020, she relaunched the account with a fresh approach, and this time, it was a success. So, what did she do differently?
Sonya applied three important lessons for the second account. First, she made sure that the account had a clear brand narrative. This narrative conveyed to the audience that her business was authentic and trustworthy. Second, she effectively communicated how her business could solve the problems faced by her customers. And third, she set clear metrics of success, such as high engagement on her posts, to gauge whether she was effectively serving her audience. You can learn from Sonya’s mistakes and keep these lessons in mind when building your business’s social media presence.
While structured business plans may not be necessary in today’s world, having a clear plan for your social media content can be helpful. Sonya dedicates three hours every Sunday to create a weekly plan. She maps out the theme for each daily post, decides on the format (text graphic, photo, etc.), creates the posts, and schedules them to be automatically posted. By doing this, she only needs to spend a few minutes each day responding to comments and queries during the week.
In addition to cultivating your business’s presence on social media, it’s also important to think about building your personal brand. In today’s world, people connect with other people, so establishing yourself as a leader is crucial. Sonya’s strong presence on LinkedIn directly contributed to her success. Through her LinkedIn profile, she was invited to give TEDx talks, received 85 percent of her business opportunities, and was even approached by a brand for a campaign.
To build your own LinkedIn profile, consider three elements. First, define your vision statement, which represents your big-picture, dream goal. Second, craft your mission statement, which includes smaller, manageable goals that help you achieve your vision. Lastly, create your principle statements, which are the main topics or hashtags that you want people to associate with you, such as #leadership.
Remember, growing engagement on LinkedIn takes time and effort. Focus on providing consistent value, staying true to your principles, and actively engaging with other people’s content. While it may sound simple, these actions can have a significant impact.
Building a strong support network for your business
Expanding your network can directly benefit your financial worth. Having a strong network of people around you is crucial for business success. Believe it or not, a significant portion of job opportunities, up to 70 percent, are not publicly advertised. Instead, they are filled through personal connections and professional networks, accounting for about 80 percent of all positions.
The individuals you choose to surround yourself with can greatly influence your mindset and the opportunities that come your way. It’s important to have a close circle of people who support your goals and help you grow. Take a moment to think about the five people you spend the most time with. Are they the right individuals to support you in achieving your goals and opening doors for you?
Let’s consider Sonya as an example. When she embarked on her entrepreneurial journey, she was uncertain about where to begin. Luckily, she had already established a strong support network consisting of people who could offer her advice, guidance, and help with networking.
Regardless of the strength of your current network, it’s always beneficial to strive for an even stronger one. But how can you achieve that?
If networking doesn’t come naturally to you, the first step is to shift your mindset from negative to positive. Instead of worrying about uncomfortable situations, think about what you have to gain from them.
Just like with social media, having clear goals can enhance your networking efforts. When you enter a conversation, knowing your objectives enables you to present your requests effectively and follow up on them later.
The internet is a powerful tool for expanding your network. Take advantage of social media platforms by searching for and following hashtags related to your ideas, goals, or vision. Connect with inspiring entrepreneurs and reach out to them directly or engage with their posts through comments.
Once you start building connections, schedule regular catch-up calls with your top ten connections. Make it a monthly habit and ask them how you can support them. Additionally, consider using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to organize and manage the emails you receive. This will help you convert conversations into valuable customers.
Remember, the quality of your network can have a significant impact on your financial success, so invest time and effort in nurturing and expanding it.
Managing imposter syndrome and prioritizing mental health in the workplace
It’s important to take care of your mental health and overcome imposter syndrome, a common feeling of not deserving recognition or success. Remember when you were in elementary school and received gold stars for doing well? As an adult, you may struggle to accept praise or achievements. This is called imposter syndrome, and it affects up to 70% of people at some point in their lives.
To manage imposter syndrome, start by becoming self-aware. Understand how it manifests in you and what situations trigger it. Are you a perfectionist who sets unrealistically high goals? Or do you avoid asking for help because you fear being exposed as a fraud? Recognizing your imposter tendencies is the first step.
Once you’re aware of your imposter syndrome, you can take action. Sonya suggests using the three S’s: skills, success story, and So what? First, acknowledge your skills and strengths. Make a mental note of all the things you’re good at. Then, think of a specific success story for each skill. Remember a time when you used that skill successfully. Finally, consider the impact of your actions. Reflect on how your success story made a difference.
If you find this exercise helpful, use it whenever you start feeling like an imposter and doubting yourself. By focusing on your skills, success stories, and their impact, you can boost your confidence and combat imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is not the only mental health issue in the workplace. Many people experience burnout, fatigue, guilt, and exhaustion. It’s important to have open conversations about mental health to let people know they’re not alone. Additionally, consider how your company’s work culture affects your well-being. Some workplaces expect long hours and discourage flexible working. Instead, aim for healthier norms. Sonya implements practices like pausing work-related conversations during meals, keeping phone calls short, and supporting flexible working as long as deadlines are met.
As a founder or entrepreneur, you are the driving force behind your business. Taking care of your mental health is crucial for the success of your venture. Implementing healthy working norms will not only benefit you but also create a supportive and productive work environment.
Starting and running a successful business doesn’t require you to be a genius entrepreneur or come from a privileged background. It’s actually quite simple. All you need is a good understanding of the basics and the willingness to seize opportunities, even if you feel slightly unprepared. By creating a “good enough” business plan, leveraging social media, establishing an online presence, and prioritizing your mental well-being, you’ll be on the path to entrepreneurial success.
Before we wrap up, here’s a valuable rule to remember: the 3-2-1 rule. This rule is designed to help you expand your network. Here’s how it works: each month, initiate three conversations with three new people. You can ask your existing network for introductions if needed. Then, connect with two out of the three individuals on social media, actively exchanging business details. Finally, schedule one long introduction call or a coffee date with one of these new connections. Follow this 3-2-1 rule for six months, and you’ll witness the growth of your network and the strengthening of your community.
Inspired by a book “Unprepared to Entrepreneur”; Sonya Barlow