Lisa Robbin Young

4 must-have tools to help your start-up stand out

Operating a business of your own, paying overhead, salaries (including paying yourself!), taxes, etc. can be stressful. When you're new in business, you've got to make every penny count. The number one goal of any business in startup is to get out of Early Struggle before you run out of resources.

That means finding enough buyers for your offers at a price that keeps you profitable and sustainable. Sound easy, but it rarely is. Here are 4 tools that give your fledgling business the ability to stay afloat. Some may be more obvious than others, but they're all a solid investment in your start-up creative venture.

Market research helps your business target the right audience

When you consider starting up your business, you should know who your best buyers are. This means you should start with some research, find customer trends and overall marketing strategies. When you understand what your audience responds to best, you can focus on the marketing techniques that work instead of throwing spaghetti on the wall. Your market research is vital, as it’s the cornerstone of your business. A tool like Google Trends can give you an idea of what your potential buyers are searching for online. Here in the states, you may even be able to deduct your market research expenses as part of your start-up costs before you even launch the business. Check with your tax professional for specifics.

Start-up capital prolongs the life of your business

Well, it will if you're diligent about your spending. Gone are the days when you can plow your start-up investment in fancy Aeron chairs or expensive office decor. Money is like a runway. The more you have, the longer you can go before lift off. Every penny (as much as feasible) needs to be focused on getting out of Early Struggle before you run out of cash. You may not have a lot of cash starting out, if you're like most creatives I've met, and it may not make sense for you to seek out things like consumer products venture capital or angel investors. Still, securing sufficient funding for your business - even if it's a small business loan - can give your business better odds to be successful. 

An online presence isn't optional anymore

Unless you're running some super-secret, clandestine operation that you don't want anyone to know about, you pretty much need some kind of online presence. As younger generations gain more buying power, online transacting will keep rising. There are several great website builders that don't cost a thing. My first website was DIY all the way. It wasn't until I'd been online for over a decade before I hired someone to design a site for me. You don't need anything flashy when you're starting out. Plus, there are thousands of website plugins to give the best user experience on this platform. You can also create social media pages to get the word out that your company is open for business. 

Include digital in your marketing budget

While a website may be free, you'll need to invest in marketing in order to reach new markets. Whether that's posting on social media or investing in advertising, there is a hard cost and a time cost that you need to budget into your marketing plan. Here are two examples:

Search Engine Optimization

SEO is the process of increasing the quality and quantity of website traffic using organic search results from Google. It's a "long game" marketing tactic, so don't expect instant results. You're setting up the text on your website to include specific keywords and phrases that your target audience might be looking for when they search online. Over time, Google and other search engines will start finding your content and, because you've used the targeted key words, you'll be seen as "relevant", which helps your website to rank higher in the search listings. There was a time when I ranked number one for the term "coolest girl on the planet", but that was long before the 2017 pop song that now ranks in the top spot.

That said, ranking highly in the search engines isn't just about SEO. Other aspects of your website, like responsiveness and whether it’s mobile-friendly or not can also play a role in how Google ranks your site. 

Paid Ads

Advertising is a more "instant" way to drive traffic to your online presence. Much like Facebook ads, Google ads, or other online pay-per-action advertising, you bid against competitors for the top ad placements. You can start for relatively little money and only pay when someone clicks (or whatever action it is you want them to take). This can be a quicker way to attract a new audience than waiting for SEO to kick in. However, you still need a budget that includes time to test your ads because very few ads are winners right out of the gate.

Your startup needs every advantage you can get

Whether you're bootstrapping everything with more time than money, or you've got a budget to help speed things along, you're going to need every advantage you can possibly get to give your business as much "runway" as possible. Stay focused, keep doing the work to get out of Early Struggle, and you'll be one of the start-up success stories!

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