After spending time with hundreds of entrepreneurs and startups in Hong Kong during the last 14 months, I am beginning to see a clear pattern. Most of them are struggling to survive; many quit and either jump to another idea or go back to a ‘job’ and very few are actually successful: i.e. happy with the results and consistently growing. Some of the obvious reasons for most startup failures are:
- Lack of a great product or idea – something that really solves a problem
- Lack of passion – ‘is that what you really want to do with your life?’
- Lack of skills or resources – selling, marketing, product development, finance, recruiting, training, leadership…
- Lack of focus – doing too many things at the same time
But there are at least four not-so-obvious mistakes that most startups and entrepreneurs make, which have the most significant impact on their success. So if you want to kill your startup, or fail at your next big project, do one or more of the following:
1. Stick to the dream
You have dreams to build a successful business, make lots of money, travel the world, retire early, make a difference and create something that changes lives… We all do. And that’s where all achievements begin, but only if you progress to the next step and covert your dreams into goals. A dream is a general wish, but a goal is a specific target with a clear deadline. The first question I ask when I am helping a startup is: ‘What’s your financial goal for this year?’ And hardly anyone can give me a straight answer; for example, ‘I want to earn $50,000 in profits by the end of 2014’, or ‘I want to start making monthly profits of $30,000 a month by October 2014’. Who do you think has a better chance of success? The guy with just a dream of ‘I want to travel the world one day’, or the guy with a goal of ‘I am going to take two weeks off in Nepal in April 2015’? It’s the same with business. So, either just stick to the dreams, or move to the next step and convert your dreams for the business into goals that are specific and time-bound.
2. No need to plan
Create a great product or service; show it to lots of people, stay focused, be passionate, don’t give up and be flexible… That’s all good, but not practical without a detailed plan. Proper planning is only possible when you have goals. If you only have a dream of getting healthier and fitter, you can’t make a plan. But once you set a goal; for example, ‘I want to lose 6kg in six weeks’, then you can move on the next step and plan for the diet and exercise required to lose a kilo per week. It’s the same with your startup. You need to have a precise financial goal, backed up with a plan. For example, if your goal is to make $50,000 profit a month, your plan will include:
- Monthly expenses?
- Revenue goal? (profit plus expenses)
- Number of clients needed?
- Number of proposals to be sent?
- Number of presentations to be given?
- Number of people to meet?
Then, of course, you need a sales and marketing plan to figure out how to reach that many people every month; a solid concept of how to present your product/service to them, how to convert at least 30% of them into clients and how to price etc. This is important regardless of the type of product or service that you are offering.
3. Make marketing the priority
Yes, marketing is essential. But many entrepreneurs spend so much time, energy and money on creating the best websites, great social media, amazing presentations and proposals,, that they don’t have any time left for selling. Successful startups know that they need to reach out to prospective clients instead of waiting to be found; that phone calls are better than emails and that personal meetings are far more effective than phone calls. Marketing alone won’t help you achieve your goals. You must ‘sell’ your products/services actively. And you must do it yourself ; with lots of passion. Organizing database and sending newsletters is not selling. Calling up potential clients, setting up meetings, presenting your products, services and proposals face-to-face is selling. If that’s outside your comfort zone, then get some customized sales training,. Get help in developing an effective sales script and do some role-playing to build confidence before facing real clients. If your goal is just to survive or die, then stick to marketing alone.
4. Do everything yourself
As an entrepreneur, you have to do everything yourself: selling, marketing, accounting, product development… right? Wrong. Even if you had all those skills, there’s only so much time in a day/week. So you are sure to compromise on one or more of the areas and find yourself stressed, drained or guilty. OK, so what’s the answer? Non-paid interns. There are lots of students in Hong Kong who would love to get some work experience whilst studying. Established corporates won’t hire them because of their lack of experience and the effort it takes to train them. You should. Start with university students in your own family or friends’ network; check out university websites for internship programs and advertise on student forums. There are also special summer internship programs that bring hundreds of students or graduates to Hong Kong every year to work without pay. One of the most important skills you need to develop as a startup is time management. I’ve been following the “4-D Principle” for years; to work less and get more done and to focus on what really matters.
- Drop it. It’s not important, so don’t do it all. E.g. picking up a friend from the airport.
- Delay it. It’s important, but it’s not urgent; so do it later. E.g. doing emails once or twice a day, checking web traffic once a week or checking accounting statements once a month.
- Delegate it. It’s important and urgent, but you don’t have to do it yourself. So delegate. E.g. admin, marketing, accounting, social media, car wash…
- Do it. It’s important, urgent and you must do it yourself. So do it. E.g. networking, selling, product development, reading, learning, exercise, relationships…
Doing the above will help you follow your plans and achieve your goals, but trying to do everything yourself will seriously hurt your startup. So what’s it going to be? Barely surviving, or really going after your dream through goal-setting, planning and effective time management?
About the author: Mush Panjwani has been a successful sales trainer and motivational speaker for over 28 years. Mush has worked with corporates, entrepreneurs, managers and sales teams in 17 countries across Asia Pacific. Mush is also the author of “Dhinchak Life” and the founder of “Dinchack” – a company that provides corporate training, business consulting to entrepreneurs and startups and personal coaching to professionals. Find out more at www.dinchack.com