10 Tips On Selling Yourself As Well As Your Startup

women-business-presentationToo many entrepreneurs I know still believe that that their great idea will carry the startup, and they may even minimize their own value, especially if they have introvert tendencies. Yet most investors agree that the “idea” is worth nothing alone, and it’s the entrepreneur execution that counts. That means that selling yourself is more important than selling your idea.

In the corporate world, experts have recognized for a long time that how people perceive you at work is vital to your career success. No matter how talented you are, it doesn’t matter unless managers can see those talents and think of you as an invaluable employee, or a game-changing manager, or the person whose name is synonymous with success.

In the entrepreneur world, your perception is equally critical, except the “managers” in this world are your investors, customers, vendors, business partners, and team members. Per a classic book by Dan Schawbel, “Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success,” you can maximize these perceptions, which apply equally well to entrepreneurs as well as professionals.

Everyone needs to realize that whether it’s in the workplace or in the startup community, business is a new world today with new rules. Whether you are a new young Gen-Y entrepreneur, or a Baby Boomer who is struggling to stay relevant, here is a quick guide to some of the changes that Schawbel sees in the workplace requiring self-promotion, that I have updated for entrepreneurs:

  1. Your startup “idea” is just the beginning. Your startup idea only scratches the surface of what is required to build a successful business. Use the idea to kick-start your relationships with co-founders, investors, customers and business partners. Your ability to promote yourself and learn from these will determine your ultimate success.
  1. You are going to need a lot of skills you don’t have right now. A recent Department of Education study shows that soft (interpersonal) skills have become more important for success than hard (technical) skills. Entrepreneurs need leadership, teamwork, listening, and coaching skills, which you can learn from advisors and networking with peers.
  1. Your reputation is the single greatest asset you have. Your CEO title might be good for your ego, but in the grand scheme of things, what matters more is how much people trust you, whom you know, who knows about you, and the aura you give off around you. What other people think you can do is more important than what you have done.
  1. Your personal life is now public. With the Internet and social networks, things you do in your personal life can affect your success in a big way. Manage your whole image, rather than ignore it. Even the smallest things, like how you behave, your online presence or lack of it, and whom you associate with can help build your brand or tear it down.
  1. You need to build a positive presence in new media. There are plenty of benefits to new media, if you maintain a positive presence. Your online social networks enable you to build your reputation, connect with people who have interests similar to yours, find educational opportunities, and put you in touch with people who can help your startup.
  1. You will need to work well with people from different generations. Because the combination of economic need and increasing life spans is keeping everyone in the workplace longer, you will need to work well with people of all different ages. Each generation communicates differently, and has a different view of the marketplace.
  1. The one with the most connections wins. We have moved from an information economy to a social one. It’s less about what you know (Google search will help you in seconds), and more about whether you can work with other people to solve problems. If you don’t get and stay connected, you’ll quickly become irrelevant to the marketplace.
  1. All it takes is one person to change your life for the better. Remember the rule of one. All you need is that one investor, that one major customer, or that one distributor to keep you ahead of competitors. It’s up to you to get that key person on board to support your business. Self-promotion in the right way can make all the difference.
  1. Hours are out, accomplishments are in. If you want to grow your business, stop thinking about how many hours you work, and aim for more milestones and traction. Success is more results, not more work. Measure your results and promote them to every constituent. Help them to realize your value.
  1. Your startup is in your hands, not your investors or even customers. Be accountable for your own business success, and take charge of your life. Look for win-win business relationships, since people won’t help you if you are not helping them. If you aren’t learning and growing, you have nothing to promote and aren’t benefitting anyone.

The challenge for all entrepreneurs is to gain visibility and show value without bragging and coming off as self-centered. Take personal credit where credit is due, but also share the successes of the team and the business milestones with everyone. Success leverages success.

Now, how do you start? I like Schawbel’s recommendation to do one thing every day, like add a new skill, or build a new relationship that will advance you. Developing this “one step forward a day” habit will keep you current, make you feel more fulfilled and confident, and increase your ability to promote yourself. Are you promoting yourself today, or demoting your startup by default?

Marty Zwilling
Startup Professionals Musings

10 tips for landing a job in a new city

There is nothing more exciting than making the decision to relocate to a new and exciting city. The world is filled with incredible places, so why not get out there and see them? Whether it’s a long term move, or just a brief desire to live somewhere else, there are still a lot of things to consider.

Looking forward to working at a tech startup? Check out from hundreds of jobs available right now by clicking here.

One of the main things? Well, getting a job in your new city, of course. It can be a challenge to figure out the best strategy for finding a new position in a new place. Thankfully, we’re here to help, with some great tips on how exactly to go about landing a job in a new city.

Image credits: fizkes/Shutterstock

Do Your Research

A move is not as simple as packing a bag and booking a plane ticket. There is a LOT of research that will go into moving, especially when lining up a role at the same time. One major thing you need to look into is possible visa requirements. If you’re leaving the European Union for a city further afield, you will need to arrange a work visa for yourself. These require research and preparation. You should also look into stuff like cost of living, rent prices and that kind of stuff. These will all come in handy when you get to the interview stage of your job hunt. The more you know, as they say…

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It’s Not What You Know

…It’s who you know! If you are moving to a new city, think about the people you may know that live and work there (if any). Reach out to them for job leads, advice, and information about working life in the city.

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Can You Transfer?

So you’ve decided on the city of your dreams, but the idea of trying to get a new job scares you. Well, have you thought about transferring internally? This is not something that everyone has access to, but if you work for a large, International company, it might be worth chatting to your boss about. Especially if you like your job, and the company you work for.

Image credits: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Job Alerts

Do yourself a favour (while also kind of skipping a step) and sign up for as many job alerts as possible within the city of your choice. This will make your life a lot easier, as relevant jobs will just land in your inbox.

Image credits: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Networking is Key

When you touch down in your new home, make sure you start networking as soon as you can. Look into professional bodies that are within your industry, and sign up to as many events and meetups as you can. These kinds of things are a great way to meet people who may be able to offer you career opportunities, or advice. You never know who you might meet!

Image credits: joingate/Shutterstock

CV Specifics

When you start applying for roles in your new city, make sure you look into CV specifics. Different parts of the world have different standards when it comes to CVs (or resumes, as they’re called in the USA). Make sure you learn about the most common CV practices in the city you’re moving to. Think things like length, images and that kind of stuff.

Image credits: Primakov/Shutterstock

Social Media

Social media will be one of your most valuable assets as you start the job hunt in your new city. Make sure you update and perfect your LinkedIn profile, and connect with important people within your industry. Ask former colleagues and employers to write you recommendations on LinkedIn, and to endorse you for your skills. Get yourself out there!

Image credits: finwal89/Shutterstock

Location, Location, Location

When you’re thinking about making a move to a new city, you really need to consider the location in terms of getting a job, if you’re looking for a specific kind of role. What is your chosen industry like in the city of your dreams? Will there be jobs available to you? Make sure you align your city of choice with your career aspirations!

Image credits: George Rudy/Shutterstock

Think About The Interview

So you’ve done it – you’ve been called for an interview. This can be a tricky one, especially if you haven’t actually moved officially as of yet. Make sure you can get to your new city at reasonably short notice, so that you have the chance to interview. Alternatively, see if the places you are interested in working for would be willing to enable a remote job interview. Given the goings on over the last few months, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Image credits: Cozine/Shutterstock

Start Saving

Don’t assume that your new job will give you a relocation stipend to set yourself up in your new city. While many businesses offer a relocation package, many don’t – so be sure you have enough money to cover yourself until you receive your first pay cheque. Don’t be stuck.

If you are looking for a new role in an exciting city, then make sure to check out Silicon Canals Jobs now!

Best of luck on your new adventure!

Main image credit – SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock

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Startups – Silicon Canals

Tips for Hosting a Virtual Event in the Age of Social Distancing

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the commerce industry, possibly forever. While we don’t know when businesses will be able to return to 100 percent normalcy, we do know that consumers are increasingly wary of resuming their normal habits. Consumers may still be reluctant to visit retail stores, and overall, consumer spending habits continue to change. As concerning as that is, I think this presents a unique opportunity to engage with people at home while exposing your brand to a new audience online – and you can even have fun doing it!

At ZIYA Active, our entire company was built with social interactions in mind (both in-person and online) to bring people together while sharing their passion for our activewear brand.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to evaluate how we can continue to bring people together and keep the social aspect of our brand that our customers have come to know and love.

It’s probably no surprise that we turned to social media.

While hosting events on Facebook and Instagram isn’t an original concept, it does take a little bit of planning and organization to ensure your gathering delivers value to attendees and your brand is presented in the best light.

In the “before times,” ZYIA was no stranger to hosting events and parties all over the country, and we’ve adapted our in-person event planning format to fit online platforms.

If you’re wondering how to make a virtual event work for your business, here are our best tips to help you be successful.

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Think outside of the box

When most people think of live events online, the first thought is typically mini-concerts with musicians, Q&A sessions, and virtual fitness classes. But, this format can benefit so many other professionals and industries.

To name a few examples, live events can be used to:

  • Share information and/or teach the audience
  • Host an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”)
  • Share makeup and hair care tips and tutorials
  • Host a fashion show or popup shop
  • Provide cooking or musical lessons
  • Show a “behind the scenes” look at your business
  • Go on a virtual tour
  • Host a book club or writing class
  • Debut a new product

Regardless of whether or not your business has a storefront or offers a product or service, the possibilities for hosting your own live event are endless! And, you can organize your event, promote it, and run it live all from home and using your preferred social media platform.

If you want to bring your audience together but aren’t sure where to begin, a good starting point is to poll your customers via social media and/or email marketing and ask them what they’d like to see. Doing so not only gives you buy-in from your audience, but it also ensures that your event will be well-received while providing value. Plus, it might even give you new ideas!

Related: The Power of Your Marketing Message

Planning for success

We all know that the best events are well planned, and that is especially true when you’re hosting something online.

We’ve adapted and tested these tips from our experience hosting in-person events to help you plan a successful virtual one:

  • Set a date several days out. This will give you time to plan the event and, if hosting an exclusive with limited attendees, build the guest list.
  • Share the event details. It’s ideal to promote it on the social media platform you plan to use for the occasion, but not required. You could do this via an event page on Facebook, Instagram posts and stories, and your newsletters, to name a few. However you promote it, encourage people to “register” by  filling out a short form with basic information. Capturing this data up front will provide you with insights like how many people you can expect to join you and can aid in lead generation.
  • Have an audience surrogate. This person can get things rolling by asking relevant questions and interacting with you during the event, which can help those who are streaming, but hesitant to participate, feel more comfortable. Your surrogate can also act as a brand advocate by commenting on your promotional posts, tagging friends with product recommendations, sharing event details on their own profile, or answering questions from a customer’s perspective. Usually your surrogate will have an incentive to participate, but presenters can offer additional motivations if the surrogate is especially active, like increased discounts.
  • If you’re able, offer specials, drawings and promotions during the event. These are great ways to build engagement, create excitement and keep your customers immersed long after you’ve logged off. For multi-day events, you can offer early bird specials to create urgency with final day and “last chance” offers, like free shipping or other special discounts.
  • Continue to engage with event attendees long after the event ends by sharing upcoming deals and new product drops with these individuals. Alternatively, you can also turn attendees into brand advocates by offering discounts for referrals with special promo codes.
  • To help attract more people to your event, consider having a secondary purpose. Teach a skill instead of only promoting a product, raise money for a local cause, or celebrate your brand advocate’s birthday. Having a second purpose gives your audience more reason to join you and can leave a lasting impression once the event wraps up.

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Continue to share your passion

Though the doors to brick-and-mortar stores may be open, it’s still too soon to tell how the pandemic will change the way we interact with our customers. And, as we work to rebuild our economy, there is only so much that we can control as business owners amid so much uncertainty. But that doesn’t mean businesses have to go radio silent until this ends – and your customers don’t want you to, either!

We’ve found the best solution for the times is to meet each other in the middle. Pivoting our marketing strategy to include hosting virtual events is just one way that we are working to bring our community together and forge a new path in unchartered territory. I hope the tips outlined here spark some ideas for how you, too, can share your passion with others and continue to grow your business. I’m confident that when this passes, we’ll come back stronger than before.

The post Tips for Hosting a Virtual Event in the Age of Social Distancing appeared first on StartupNation.


3 Tips for Startups Branching into New Markets

For most startups, growth at any cost is the name of the game. While some have taken that mantra all the way to the bank, many will find that striking a happy balance between growth and stability is a wise path forward.

When looking for ways to grow, new markets are often the first places to which startups turn. Disrupting the right sector can provide some big gains for your organization, but it also comes with some hefty risks. Branching out into new markets is always an exciting prospect — one that startups need to be very careful about taking on.

There’s no set guide for taking over a new market, but there are a few guidelines every startup should follow. If you’re looking to move past your current sector into something different, remember to:

1. Choose an adjacent need.

Some opportunities are closer to your current line of business than others. Choosing a related issue lets you leverage your current infrastructure into new lines of revenue. 

In telehealth, for instance, the tools and rules are similar regardless of your niche: protect patients’ privacy, prescribe medications carefully, and ship everything securely. Those similarities have led telehealth startup Nurx to take on home STI testing after its success providing birth control online. Although the patient pools may not overlap entirely, the legwork behind the service lines is similar. 

Before moving on, however, make sure you’ve mastered your current swim lane. Branching out too early can make you a jack of all trades, master of none — which isn’t a good look, especially in a space like healthcare. 

2. Know your competitors. 

Startups are the world’s giant killers, designed to upturn and disrupt every industry they enter. If you’ve already founded a successful startup, odds are that you have specific targets in mind when it comes to dominating your corner of the market. Once you branch out into other regions, however, the story might not be so simple. 

Each industry has its own dynamics that you need to be aware of before you break in. Even industry giants like Google can suffer from this, with its Stadia game console not exactly making waves in the months since its release. Despite Google’s nearly unlimited amount of resources, it simply didn’t fully comprehend the market it was entering, instead treating it just like the digital services space in which it’s so successful.

Before you stake your claim in a new space, be sure you know whose territory you’re stepping on. Reaching out to some advisors or mentors might be of help, but the only way to know things for sure sometimes is just by taking the plunge yourself. 

3. Map a growth plan.

It may sound a bit presumptuous, but you need to know what you’re going to do once you grow. While you may currently maintain a barebones team, expansion and growth of your revenue is sustainable if it’s matched by growth in your business infrastructure. 

Popular gaming startup Zynga took the digital world by storm in 2008, when it began to see big returns from numerous online games like Farmville. Its team soon grew to nearly 500 employees, over 300 of which had to be laid off after Facebook, where many of Zynga’s games were published, slashed Zynga’s ability to charge users. Zynga’s team was huge, but it wasn’t large enough to transition to a new platform in time to keep revenue up.

As you grow in new spaces, you need to expand your team in a way that accounts for potential left turns like Zynga’s. You never know what the platforms you depend on could do to affect your revenue, so be prepared to forge ahead without them.

Breaking into a new sector can be a huge boom-or-bust moment for your business. Taking the right steps beforehand can help push the dial ever closer to the “boom” side of the scale. By carefully scouting and making a plan now, you can sit back and let the account sheet grow in the future.

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Storytelling: 5 essential tips for your startup’s success

All humans are hardwired for stories. It is in our nature to engage, educate and explain how our world works. From an early age, storytelling is central to human existence and it is common to all cultures to feed curiosity with inspiring narratives. Yet in the fast-paced world of startups, storytelling might come across as a nice-to-have rather than the backbone of an early-stage company. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Storytelling can make your startup stand out from the crowd and a strategic approach to it can convert your business goals into meaningful conversations and ultimately, successful deals. Plus, in a time of global pandemic, it is more important than ever to effectively present your brand to the world. In my opinion, these are the most important learnings for truly effective storytelling.

  1. Humanise your brand

Even though we’ve committed to a digitally-driven world, and technology has been reshaping industries faster than ever before, what humans still crave is genuine connections with others. With that in mind, it is important to remember that people will always want to engage with people, no matter the service, product or technology your startup is selling. Therefore, the context of your story must be a human, not an institutional, relationship. Customers will want to get a sense of your company as if it were a person. Your story should say who you are, and not just what you do. A good story will not only connect your startup with prospects, but it will make your customers come back for more, increasing that much wanted brand loyalty.

Top tip: Simply tell your audience how you’ve started, why you believe in what you’re doing and how you make a difference in this world.

  1. Bring your shared purpose to life

While clarifying who you are and what you stand for are crucial elements that will help you connect with your audience, the next step in your storytelling is to build a collective narrative by identifying a cause that appeals to your clients and fulfills their needs and aspirations. Your story has to answer your audience’s questions and illustrate how you and your customers are working together, even co-creating the product or service to solve a meaningful problem.

Top tip: Involving your customers in this “shared purpose” and including them in the customer journey mapping goes a long way in building authenticity and stakeholders’ buy-in.

  1. Keep your message clear, simple and repeatable

Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool in building brand recognition and, if used wisely, can definitely increase the value of your startup’s product or service. How you tell your company’s story so that it captivates the audience is probably one of the most important skills you can have as an entrepreneur. Without minimising the importance of cool websites and modern banner designs, in the end it’s your words that will sell products or services. That being said, avoid specific details or technical jargon and instead focus on your essential message! The real goal of storytelling is not to provide all technical details of your service or product, but to acknowledge that humans are communicating with their fellow humans and working towards identifying a solution to a common problem.

Top tip: The ability to write well is fundamental in telling your brand story to drive connections, so make sure you have your content marketing strategist on board. You’ll need a word wizard to craft that perfect message for your communication channels.

  1. Display and align your storytelling across all channels

Many startups actually have a powerful story to tell. However, far too many fail to create visibility and push it to the masses, either because of not using the right channel or simply because of not aligning their messaging strategy across all communication channels. Make sure you execute your campaigns across multiple platforms (online, offline, advertising, copywriting, design, website) to build a consistent brand. In this sense, it’s for instance not enough to publish a press release on your recent product update, as additionally your CEO and/ or CTO need to be on LinkedIn, fully engaged with customers, prospects or potential investors. As a matter of fact, LinkedIn is probably the best place to provide meaningful insights into your company.

Top tip: Create a messaging matrix to ensure that everyone in your team (not just the marketing department) knows the brand’s messaging and positioning perfectly. The messaging matrix is a basic chart listing key messages for each one of your target audiences.

  1. Use storytelling right from the beginning

One common mistake among startups is that they often neglect the important role of storytelling and only focus on developing a product or service until it’s market ready. Storytelling is actually the lifeline of any startup, including the early-stage ones. Therefore, even when you don’t have a final product, but only a demo, take the chance and conduct interviews, shoot videos or start a podcast to help your prospects understand and visualise your idea. They could even give you that much-needed feedback and thus, work with you on the “shared purpose” I mentioned in my second learning.

Top tip: Even when you have only one customer, they will most probably be very willing to help in sharing your company’s story, so don’t hesitate to ask for a testimonial or personal insights to write your first case study. This will build trust and faith into your company.


6 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Name for Your Dream Business

Our name is usually the first thing we tell someone about ourselves, and the first thing we ask of others in return. We wear our names on jewelry, our license plates, and on name tags at meetings and events; it’s how we tell the world who we are. It works, too: just hearing someone’s name you know can be all it takes to conjure up the person in your mind’s eye.

It is no different for your business: the name you pick for your business will be the name that sticks in your customer’s minds. So, how do you know that you’re getting it right?

Choosing a business name can be an exciting adventure, but at the same time, it can bring forth a lot of anxiety and stress! How can you be sure that the choice you’re making now is still going to work years from now?

The truth is, you can never be entirely certain, and very few things in entrepreneurship are ever truly a sure thing. But with the right approach and some smart research, you can choose a business name that not only captures the spirit of the company you’re building now, but it can also grow alongside that business as it branches out into whatever the future holds.

I’m going to break down choosing a name for your business into six easy steps, using the following example:

Meet Katie! Katie’s been slowly growing a home business on the side, selling cookies by the dozen to friends and neighbors. Her dream is to someday open a bakery of her own, with beautiful cakes and displays overflowing with bread and sweet treats.

The problem? Katie doesn’t know what to name her business.

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Tip #1: Focus on your future and your ability to grow

What if Katie named her business something simple, like Katie’s Cookies? It makes perfect sense; her name is Katie, and right now she makes and sells cookies. It’s a solid choice! And if Katie’s future dream were to open a cookie boutique, she could stop right there and call it a day.

But, the future dream bakery Katie envisions doesn’t stop at cookies. Suppose she indeed gets a cookie business up and running, and down the road she wants to start selling cakes and bread and other treats, too. How will a potential customer know that those items are available to purchase, if the store is still named Katie’s Cookies?

Katie might save herself a little aggravation as she grows her business if she starts with a name that’s a little more inclusive from the start, like Katie’s Creations or Katie’s Kitchen, rather than a name that suggests a single specific product.

Tip #2: Make sure the name has impact and staying power

The name Katie’s Bakery isn’t bad. It does tell us who she is and what she does. But it’s not very sexy, is it?

As a business name, nothing really sets it apart or inspires interest. It only takes a word or two to inject some personality into your company’s name and its identity, so spend some time thinking it through. What about Katie’s Secret Recipes, or maybe Baked by Katie?

Envision a business name that draws the potential customer in. The name you choose is the very foundation of your new business’s brand, and you want it to stick.

Related: 5 Step Process for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Mobile App

Tip #3: Make the name easy to find in search

Lately, it’s been a huge trend among startups to leave out a vowel when naming a business. It’s worked out just fine for the likes of Shipt and Tumblr, but for the most part though, a “clever” spelling can start you off on the wrong foot as an enemy of spell-check and search engines.

Say Katie’s considering a name with a novelty spelling, like Katie’s Kreationz. If I ask my coworker, “Ooh, where’s this cupcake from?” and they tell me “Katie’s Kreationz,” what am I going to type into my search engine? Katie’s Creations.

Hearing the name spoken aloud, how am I supposed to know that a business has chosen a wacky and misspelled name? Don’t create an unnecessary barrier between your business and the customer trying to find it!

Tip #4: Brainstorm at least 10 to 20 options

Yes, 10 to 20 sounds like a lot. But once you get your list completed, it often doesn’t take a whole lot of ammo to start knocking candidates off the list. Some of your name ideas may already be taken, while others may end up troublesome when it comes to registering domain names or social media accounts.

If you only bring three ideas for a business name to the table, don’t be surprised if you walk away with zero ideas just a few minutes later. Why? Because you need something that is available as a business name, a domain name and on social media before you pull the trigger.

Tip #5: Do your research!

So… you’ve come up with a great name for your business. It says something about who you are and what you do, and you feel like it’s a name that will stick. What now?

Even if you’ve come up with the greatest business name of all time, it won’t matter if you can’t use it. Once you’ve narrowed down your list of names to the front-runners, it’s time to start digging.

There are a variety of free websites that can help you research your prospective name. The biggest one you’re looking for first is the domain name, but it doesn’t end there. For the best marketing potential, you want a name that not only has the domain available, but also usernames available on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, etc.

One of my favorite tools to use is NameVine.com, a website that will tell you if the domain name and social handles are available for your business name.

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Choosing a name for your business is an important task, but one that should bring more joy than stress. With a strategic approach and an eye to the many possibilities the future of your business may hold, you can create a name that embodies your presence today and upholds its legacy for tomorrow!

The post 6 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Name for Your Dream Business appeared first on StartupNation.


What are some of your best tips for ProductHunt launch?

I am doing one on Thursday for my startup, and would love to hear your thoughts on what worked for you. I have read their official article, and a few more on the internet, but I am curious about personal cases studies of success and what worked for you?

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

6 Tips To Market Your Idea Before Building A Solution

market-your-ideaSavvy entrepreneurs start testing their ideas on potential customers even before the concept is fully cooked. They have enough confidence in their ability to deliver that they don’t worry about someone stealing the idea to get there first, and they don’t forget to listen carefully to critical feedback. They become walking public relations machines for themselves, as well as their idea.

The alternative is to spend big money later on pivots, lost credibility with investors, and delays at rollout trying to build visibility and credibility. I’m not proposing that anyone promise things that they don’t intend to deliver, but it’s time that founders switch to start selling their product before they build it, rather than believing the old adage of “if we build it, they will come.”

I still hear too many excuses for not working early on the elevator pitch, like wanting to fly under the radar, don’t have the team together yet, or can’t afford an agency. In fact, you don’t need a third-party public relations agency at this stage. There is real value in doing the key things yourself, before your startup is even started:

  1. Demonstrate thought leadership before selling a product. Highlight the problem and your concerns in industry blogs, speaking in public forums, and making yourself visible on social media and networking opportunities. You want people to see you as an evangelist for hydrogen fuel, for example, so your later auto engine will have credibility by default.
  1. Craft and hone your elevator pitch early. Before the product is set in stone, you can test your message and continue to refine it until it connects well with investors, as well as customers. Later you may have the problem of being told by public relations firms to stay on message, even after you suspect it is not working.
  1. Visibly be a bit controversial to test the limits. This early in the game, any coverage and peer review is better than just being another unknown entrepreneur. It’s human nature that challenging the status quo gets more attention than quiet concurrence. People tend to forgive controversial views if you aren’t perceived as pushing a product.
  1. Proactively seek out thought leaders and journalists. Entrepreneurs who wait to be found are destined to spend a lot of time alone. Social media sites today, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, provide ideal forums for presenting your cause and your concept. Start actively blogging on your own site, as well as on industry forums.
  1. Make your business cards stand out in the crowd. Everyone exchanges business cards, and most are forgotten immediately or never really seen. These days, images are especially important, as well as a tag line, and your social media links. Unique and professional business cards are still well worth the investment.
  1. Follow up personally on every new connection. Key introductions in a networking meeting will be quickly lost, unless you take the next step of calling or emailing later to request a personal meeting. Use these meetings to build the relationship, more by asking questions than by pitching your concept. Requests for investment come later.

Every entrepreneur has a story, perhaps the inspiration for your idea, or the path taken to get to this point, or a key lesson learned from past mistakes. Stories are the grist reporters look for, and they make you unique and memorable. Find your personal hook – it can be more key to your entrepreneurial success than any given product or service that you are about to offer.

If you are a social entrepreneur, a natural hook is the environmental or humanity cause that you espouse. Perhaps you can amplify your position by sponsoring an event, travelling to a visible location, or donating your time and other resources.

These days, winning in the crowded startup world is all about marketing. The sooner and more effectively you utilize all the available marketing channels, the more visibility and impact you will have later when your product or service arrives. As an entrepreneur, you are the most important part of your brand, not the other way around. Capitalize on yourself early.

Marty Zwilling
Startup Professionals Musings

5 Tips for Keeping Your Business Credit Strong During Turbulent Times

No one knows how long it will take small and independent businesses to recover from the COVID crisis; at this point there is no timeline that allows for serious planning. But what is clear is that those businesses that are able to maintain good credit will find it easier to bounce back as they will have a better shot at getting lower-cost funding to help them ramp back up.

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Here are five tips for keeping your credit strong during these turbulent times:

Know who reports where

Though checking your credit reports may not be at the top of your list at any given point in time, it’s essential that you do so now so you can see which lenders report to which credit reporting agencies—both on business credit and your personal credit.

For example, some small business credit cards report to both business and personal credit bureaus each month, while others only report to the personal credit bureaus if you default.

  • Check your full personal credit reports from all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) at AnnualCreditReport.com, the government-mandated free credit report website. It’s now providing free weekly reports.
  • You don’t get free scores at AnnualCreditReport.com, so make sure you check your scores elsewhere. Here are more than 138 places to get your credit scores for free.
  • Dun & Bradstreet and Experian offer limited free credit reports. You can check and monitor your business credit with D&B, Experian and Equifax at Nav.com.

When you check your reports, look to see which lenders and vendors report payments on a regular basis. You want to prioritize these bills since late payments may have an immediate negative impact on your credit.

Which brings us to the next step…

Related: What Lenders Want to Know About Your Business Right Now

Protect what matters most

Payment history is the single most important factor in any credit scoring system—business or personal. Paying your bills on time helps protect your credit scores, so do what you can to at least make the minimum payment on time each month. Keep in mind that late payments can generally be reported for up to seven years on personal credit, but there is no limit on how long they may be reported on business credit and each bureau’s policy varies.

Debt levels generally comprise the second most important factor in most credit scoring models. It’s also a factor that can change fairly quickly, though, so if you normally pay your balances in full each month and now can’t, just do what you can. You can always be more aggressive about paying down balances when conditions improve.

Keep accounts active

Creditors are starting to cut credit lines or closing accounts which could, in turn, affect your credit utilization— the ratio between your credit limits and balances. You’re most at risk of losing accounts you haven’t been using. Consider using credit cards and lines of credit for items you would purchase anyway, then pay them off in full. This helps keep the account active, which in turn may mean the creditor is less likely to close the account for inactivity.

Just remember to pay these accounts on time. It’s easy to lose track of bills you aren’t used to paying on a regular basis.

Renegotiate terms

Given that payment history is a priority, try to renegotiate terms if you are having trouble paying on time. Vendors that normally offer net-30 terms may be willing to stretch them to net-45 or even net-60, for example. Some business and consumer lenders are offering deferment or forbearance which allows you to temporarily skip payments that will be added to the term of the loan. (Keep in mind that on most business loans, interest will continue to accrue).

However, if you have certain SBA-guaranteed loans, the SBA will automatically pay six months of principal, interest and any associated fees that borrowers owe for all current 7(a), 504, and Microloans in regular servicing status as well as new 7(a), 504, and Microloans disbursed prior to September 27, 2020. Learn more at SBA.gov.

If you do negotiate new terms, get it in writing and make sure you understand how those new payments may affect your credit. Will you be reported as late or on time if you stick to the new payment schedule? Obviously the latter is what you’re aiming for.

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Watch for fraud

Crooks are cashing in on coronavirus, putting consumers and businesses at higher risk of fraud. The Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and other agencies are warning about a variety of scams including agencies pretending to offer access to COVID-19 relief programs such as small business loans or stimulus payments.

Identity theft is always a serious concern, and now more than ever. To protect both your business and personal credit:

  1. Consider placing a fraud alert or credit freeze on your personal credit reports for free. A fraud alert will alert creditors to investigate further if someone applies for credit under your name. A freeze will lock down your credit file so new creditors can’t check your credit unless you “thaw” or unlock it.
  2. You can’t freeze business credit, or even place a fraud alert, so monitoring your commercial credit reports is critical. If you notice any suspicious activity such as new accounts you don’t recognize, you’ll want to investigate immediately to prevent additional fraudulent activity.

While your business navigates these turbulent times, carve out a little time to check, manage and protect your credit. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.

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