Dallas Business Consultant Elijah ClarkDallas Business Consultant Elijah Clark

Doing a competitive analysis

In getting started with selling and promoting your business, one of the most important items that I consider is monitoring and analyzing my competition. In business marketing this is what is known as a competitive analysis.

When it comes to generating sales or leads, one of the biggest worries is, how do I get new customers, is my product good enough, is my price point good, is my resume good, do the customers know I even exist?

Fortunately, most of these questions can be answered by looking at your competition. If they’re successful, or not successful, you can simply follow or not follow their lead. There is more to it, of course. But, if you really take a look at your competitor with a fine-tooth comb, you can see where their strengths and weaknesses are and use them to your advantage.

However, this all starts with a competitor analysis, which is a strategy where you identify major competitors and research their products, sales, and marketing strategies. By doing this, you can create a business strategy that improves upon your competitor’s.

Investor pitch decks

Have a Great Investor Pitch Deck

Startups frequently prepare a “pitch deck” to present their company to prospective angel or venture capital investors. The pitch deck typically consists of 15-20 slides in a PowerPoint presentation and is intended to showcase the company’s products, technology, and team to the investors.

Raising capital from investors is difficult and time consuming. Therefore, it’s crucial that a startup absolutely nails its investor pitch deck and articulates a compelling and interesting story.

Too many startups make a number of avoidable mistakes when creating their investor pitch decks. Here is a list of general do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:

Pitch Deck Do’s

– Do convince the viewer of why the market opportunity is large.
– Do include visually interesting graphics and images.
– Do plan to have a demo of your product as part of the in-person presentation.
– Do tell a compelling, memorable, and interesting story that shows your passion for the business.
– Do show that you have more than just an idea, and that you have gotten early traction on developing the product, getting customers, or signing up partners.
– Do have a soundbite for investors to remember you by.
– Do use a consistent font size, color, and header title style throughout the slides.

Pitch Deck Don’ts

– Don’t have too many wordy slides.
– Don’t provide excessive financial details, as that can be provided in a follow-up message.
– Don’t try to cover everything in the pitch deck slides. Your in-person presentation will give you an opportunity to add and highlight key information.
– Don’t underestimate or belittle the competition (and never say “we don’t have any competition”).
– Don’t have a poor layout, bad graphics, or a low-quality “look and feel.” Think about hiring a graphic designer to give your pitch desk a more professional look.

For additional advice and a sample pitch deck, see you can purchase my pitch deck template.

Building your website

Build a Great Website for Your Company
You should devote time and effort to building a great website for your business. Prospective investors, customers, and partners are going to check out your site, and you want to impress them with a professional product. Some tips for building a great company website include:

– Check out competitor sites.
– Start by sketching out a template for your site.
– Be sure the site is search engine optimized (and thus more likely to show up early on Google search results).
– Produce high-quality original content.
– Make sure your site is optimized for mobile devices.
– Make sure the site loads quickly.
– Keep it clean and simple; visual clutter will drive visitors away.
– Make the navigation bars prominent.
– Obtain and use a memorable “.com” domain name.
– Make the site visually interesting.
– Make sure it’s easy for site visitors to contact you or buy your product.

Drive Traffic to Your Website
While entire books have been written on this topic, the key ways to drive traffic to your website are as follows:

– Pay Google, Bing, Yahoo, or other search engines to send you traffic (such as through the Google Adwords program).
– Build a great site with lots of high-quality, original content that is search engine optimized.
– Have a smart social media plan to drive traffic from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other free social media sites.
– Get links to your site from high-quality sites.

Branding your business

Come Up With a Great Name for Your Business
Selecting the right name for your startup can have a significant impact on your business success. The wrong name could result in insurmountable legal and business hurdles. Some basic tips on how to name your startup include:

– Avoid hard-to-spell names.
– Don’t pick a name that could be limiting as your business grows.
– Conduct a thorough Internet search on a proposed name.
– Get a “.com” domain name (as opposed to “.net” or another variant).
– Conduct a thorough trademark search.
– Come up with five names you like and test market the name with prospective employees, partners, investors, and potential customers.

Marketing your business

Focus on Offering Exceptional Customer Service

Companies such as Zappos and Virgin America became hugely successful because they focused on providing excellent customer service and support. You want your early customers to give referrals and sing your praises to their friends and colleagues. Thank your customers personally by email. Go the extra mile to show your appreciation.

Market Your Business Like Crazy
To succeed in business, you need to continually be attracting, building, and even educating your target market. Make sure your marketing strategy includes the following:

– Learn the fundamentals of SEO (search engine optimization) so that people searching for your products and services online might find you near the top of search results.
– Use social media to promote your business (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.).
– Engage in content marketing by writing guest articles for relevant websites.
– Issue press releases for any significant events.
– Network continually.

Perfect Your Elevator Pitch
An “elevator” pitch is intended to be a concise, compelling introduction to your business. You should be able to slightly modify your elevator pitch depending on whether you are pitching to prospective investors, customers, employees, or partners. A few tips for developing and delivering a great elevator pitch include:

– Start out strong.
– Be positive and enthusiastic in your delivery.
– Remember that practice makes perfect.
– Keep it to 60 seconds in length.
– Avoid using industry jargon.
– Convey why your business is unique.
– Pitch the problem you are solving.
– And, Invite participation or interruption by the listener—this shows they are interested and engaged.

The right product to offer

Make Sure Someone Hasn’t Already Invented Your Great New Idea

Here are the key things to do if you have a great new invention idea:

– Do a Google search on the keywords associated with your invention.
– Do a search online of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at uspto.gov.
– If nothing comes up and you want to get a patent for your idea, hire a patent lawyer.

But keep refining the concept of the invention, as version 1 of your idea probably can be improved and enhanced through version 2 and version 3.

Focus on Building a Great Product—But Don’t Take Forever to Launch

When starting out, your product or service has to be at least good if not great. It must be differentiated in some meaningful and important way from the offerings of your competition‎. Everything else follows from this key principle. Don’t drag your feet on getting your product out to market, since early customer feedback is one of the best ways to help improve your product. Of course, you want a “minimum viable product” (MVP) to begin with, but even that product should be good and differentiated from the competition. Having a “beta” test product works for many startups as they work the bugs out from user reactions.

Understanding customers

It’s crucial to understand your customer base from the outset. To do this, you can gather demographic information to better understand opportunities and limitations for gaining customers to start or grow your business. This could include population data on age, wealth, family, interests, or anything else that’s relevant for your business.

Then answer these questions to get a good sense of your market.

– Demand: Is there a desire for your product or service?
– Market size: How many people would be interested in your offering?
– Market saturation: How many similar options are already available?
– Pricing: What do potential customers pay for these alternatives?

You’ll also want to keep up with the latest small business trends. It’s important to gain a sense of the specific market share that will impact your profits.

You can do market research using existing sources, or you can do the research yourself and go direct to consumers.

Financial success of starting a business

A successful business could earn you lots of money. Arianna Huffington, the founder of HuffingtonPost, has an estimated net worth of $100 million. Richard Branson, the entrepreneur behind Virgin, had a net worth of $4.3 billion. Then there’s Bill Gates, who started Microsoft. He’s sitting at a nice $115 billion.

Money is a big reason that many people start businesses. The International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal study I mentioned earlier points out that, across the 29 countries examined, an average of 23% of entrepreneurs are in it (at least in part) to increase their wealth. The main takeaway is that lots of people start businesses because they want to make money.

Of course, money isn’t everything, so wealth isn’t the only motivation that these entrepreneurs have. It’s just one reason among many. Even if you do care a lot about money, it’s true that most people, even most successful entrepreneurs, will not reach the stratospheric wealth of Huffington, Branson, and Gates. But respectable amounts of money do matter, and might even make you happier.

It’s said that money doesn’t buy happiness, but that old adage doesn’t quite jibe with modern research. Some scholars say that after a certain amount of income, more money doesn’t make you happier. But even they conceded that up until that point, more money does help.

But, no matter how much you care about money, it isn’t the only reason to think about starting a business.

Financial risks of starting a business

One of the biggest fears people have before starting their own business is financial risk. Out of those who hope to start businesses, 35 percent said they’re worried about inconsistent income, and 27 percent are worried about earning less money. Seventy-two percent expect to earn more money than they did when traditionally employed. They’re in for a rude awakening. According to research data, only 55 percent actually did earn more money by becoming an entrepreneur. You have to keep your financial expectations in check when starting a new business. Not only is there a very real possibility that it may not be lucrative, but you’ll probably lose money, especially in the beginning.

Only about half of small businesses, 45-51 percent according to the Small Business Association, survive the first five years. For entrepreneurs who do make it, only half reported experiencing more career certainty. The data shows that median small-business revenue declined more than 13 percent over the past two years. This certainly points to a general lack of stability for new businesses.

Amidst all this uncertainty, you have to think carefully about money before you start a business. Budgeting and saving more can help, but you also may have to rely on outside support systems like your spouse or alternative sources of income like ride sharing or delivery services.

New business equals new stress

It may seem intuitive that when you’re not answering to a boss, you’ll have more control over day-to-day activities and less stress. Research shows that’s not the case though. According to a study, 64 percent of workers expected to be less stressed after starting their own business. However, only 55 percent actually ended up that way.

Building a business from the ground up is a lot of work. You’re likely going to be more invested in its success than you would working for someone else. You also might not have as much time for your personal life as you’d like. Most entrepreneurs I meet say they’re almost always on the clock, because there’s so often something to do. Many founders never had experience managing their own hours, much less those of others in prior jobs, so they struggle to do it as they run a company for the first time.

You also run into problems far from your field of expertise that you never had to consider while working for someone else. In fact, 44 percent of self-employed people said they performed a much wider variety of tasks on a daily basis than they did working for someone else. You can expect that you may need to become CEO, Marketing expert, Finance manager, HR, and a Graphic Designer extraordinaire just to start and operate your business.

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