So many people dream of starting their own business — whether it’s a full-fledged venture or a side hustle. Being an entrepreneur has undeniable appeal for several reasons: you have the freedom to set your own schedule, to work with whomever you choose, to pursue something you are truly passionate about, and to create a lifestyle that allows you to be your true, Authentic Self more often. It’s no wonder so many people want to do it!
These visions danced in my head when I first launched my business too. I’d taken the big leap to go out on my own after finishing my MBA, and I was ready to give entrepreneurship everything I had. I launched my leadership and diversity consulting firm in a truly glamorous fashion: on my couch, in my pajamas, trying to figure out how to create an invoice template in Excel on my brand-new laptop. It was quite humbling and equal parts exciting and terrifying.
Here I am, nearly ten years later, working from an office with a full team of employees and a roster of global clients. I may still wear clothing that could be pajamas to the office (if you’ve seen my Instagram stories, you’ll know what I mean!), but I also travel around the world delivering nearly 100 speaking engagements every year, work with dozens of renowned organizations and inspiring leaders. I have the unique privilege of feeling truly connected to the work I’m doing, and I wake up each day with the knowledge that my work makes a difference.
New entrepreneurs often wonder what helps a new business to succeed. I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the ingredients that have led to my success, and I’ve noted three strategies that have been critical to making my business work. If you can implement these strategies when launching your business, you’ll be well positioned for success.
1. Start with a Truly Unique Product — One that Only You Can Deliver
Many people launching businesses want to replicate products or services that already exist in the marketplace, thinking they can do it better, for cheaper, or both. While this strategy works for some new entrepreneurs, it’s very tough to be a new entrant into an existing product or service market. You’re going to have to topple the big dogs, which is rarely easy to do.
The approach that I took when starting my business was inspired by the Blue Ocean Strategy — that is, selling an offering that nobody else could deliver. For me, this meant starting a diversity consulting firm focused on helping organizations in the Canadian legal profession to better recruit, retain, and advance women and people from diverse communities.
When I launched my business, most Canadian organizations weren’t focused on diversity programming — and the legal profession certainly wasn’t, despite being very homogeneous. I had a background as a lawyer, had worked in human resources in the legal profession for nearly a decade, had experience creating and executing diversity programming within a law firm, and had a passion for social justice. I also knew I had a gift for public speaking — especially for delivering messages about diversity in a way that was accessible — and for building relationships. There was no one else in Canada doing this type of work strictly in the legal profession and I was uniquely positioned to do it.
What’s fabulous about being very targeted about what you offer is that once you have success with your initial product or service, you can expand what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to. For example, my firm now works across sectors around the world and offers a range of diversity services.
If you’re looking to tap into your own unique business idea, take the time to do some self-inquiry. Determine your top skills, what differentiates you from others in your field, what problem you can solve, and what your passion is. Where these elements intersect, you will probably find your best idea.
2. Build Your Relationships and Your Reputation (aka Your Market)
It’s key to build strategic contacts and relationships, in addition to building your reputation and your brand, before you open your doors.
It’s not enough to know what you’re going to be selling — you need to know who you’re going to be selling it to. It’s really important to be crystal clear about who will buy from you. To assist you with selling your offering, and especially to get immediate take-up, it’s a HUGE help to sell to your pre-existing business contacts. They already know who you are, they’re more likely to say yes and be early adopters, and you can ask them for testimonials or referrals once you’ve worked with them.
When I launched my business, I’d been working in HR for a large, prestigious law firm for nearly a decade. In every facet of the job, I worked hard at building and maintaining strong relationships across the profession — with people who, it turned out, would later hire me as a consultant. Outside of the office, I attended conferences, making connections across the country and beyond, and did relevant volunteer work where I knew I would meet key people in the industry.
Of course, at the time I wasn’t doing these things because I wanted to convert these relationships into future clients — I had no idea that I would one day launch a business of my own. I was just being my Authentic Self, genuinely getting to know people, and having them get to know me. But because I was both active in my profession and sharing my Authentic Self, I was building a strong brand, which led directly to people buying my offerings later on.
My message for you is this: along the way, before you launch your business, be consistently excellent in all that you do. Do your best everywhere you go to develop your brand and reputation in all of your interactions and be authentic in how you build relationships. Plant the seeds now, and you’ll reap the benefits later.
3. Build Your Strategy and Execution Muscles — You’ll Need Both
Once you have a unique offering to sell and know who you’ll be selling to, that’s when the real work begins. In order to bring your ideas to life, you’re going to need a laser-sharp strategy and the ability (and stamina) to execute a wide range of tasks.
Strategy is about vision — the bigger picture of what you want to create and have happen with your business. It’s about identifying all of the various parts that need to come together in order to successfully launch and then run your business. It requires extensively generating ideas, considering multiple options, doing cost-benefit analyses, and making decisions about key business priorities.
Execution is about taking the decisions you’ve made and putting them into effect. It means rolling up your sleeves, getting your hands dirty, and doing the actual work. It means creating the slide deck or pitch presentation, organizing the event, building the website, creating the outreach list, following up on the emails religiously, and taking out the garbage.
Strategy and execution are equally important. Strategy without execution results in inaction.
I focused on both strategy and execution, especially early on. It was just me and my laptop for a year before I hired my first team member. This amounted to countless hours doing it alone, doing literally every aspect of the work myself. But after building the right foundation on my own, I now have a full team to help me with both strategy and execution — all of which is key to scaling my business.
The common thread in these strategies is that if you want to position yourself for success in launching your business, you have a lot of work to do! But if you know in your core that you want to be an entrepreneur, these three strategies will help you succeed.
My final message is simple: if you want to be an entrepreneur, start laying the groundwork now. And make it happen! I’m so grateful that I decided to become an entrepreneur.
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