Teaching budding entrepreneurs about finance, marketing and business plans etc. is commonplace. But how many courses allow their content to be infiltrated by a fundamental issue virtually all start-ups face? I’m talking about the shock of deafening silence…
What deafening silence?
Let me explain…
If you’re a parent, you’ll know nothing properly prepares you for the first days, weeks and months in the new job. No amount of reading or discussion with more experienced folk gets you close to the real-time frame of mind. Parenting is an untouchable brave new world that you just have to ‘do’ in order to comprehend and appreciate the exhaustion and emotional roller-coaster you ride.
As Andrew Jensen writes, starting a new business is full of emotion too. But instead of attending to an infant, the entrepreneur’s gaze must fix on revenue, since this is what keeps the fragile venture alive.
Making money means making connections. Reaching out through the various channels of social media is a part of every entrepreneur’s role. Many startups over-achieve here and enjoy ballooning numbers on Facebook, Linkedin and/or Twitter etc. However, these connections typically contribute diddly squat to paying bills.
So with a pressing revenue goal, entrepreneurs feel naturally compelled to exit their comfort zone and get closer to the action; so they post themselves at networking events, exhibitions and conferences. Calls are made, emails dispatched and something called a ‘letter’ may even be written. Business survival creates the need to track down prospects and customers.
But for most startups, the common response to such determined effort is a painful, deafening silence. And it doesn’t take long for the deafening silence to affect performance, morale and worse.
Why the deafening silence?
When entrepreneurs seek meaningful responses and/or actual decisions from people, they are often ignored – not once but repeatedly. This situation is worse than a straight ‘no I am not interested’ because the business owner wastes further, fruitless time making no progress at all.
Whilst there are undoubtedly more, I think there are two key reasons for this situation:
1/ Thanks to globalisation and the growth of the digital economy, we work in a fast-moving, busy world where buyers are increasingly time poor. The need for speed, the recent recession and resultant budget cuts mean people with decision-making capacity are being stretched more than ever and typically have less time to pay attention to periphery detail.
2/ The abundance of social media channels (and the prospect of immediate connection with buyers), means there have never been so many routes to market. The upshot: business owners have naturally increased the quantity of contact but at the same time have diluted the quality of their efforts to find prospects/customers.
Creating traction with prospects takes time, patience, skill and perseverance. In the early years especially, it’s tough. So here’s my 7-point action for any startup wanting to prepare effectively for the sound deafening silence:
1/ Through research, ensure there is a market for your product/service and people do want to buy.
2/ More than ever, you need to be resilient and focus quality prospecting work on key markets. Avoid scatter-gun approaches. It’s all too easy to lose heart (and thus focus) when people consistently don’t respond to emails, don’t return calls or lose interest in a second meeting, despite a promising first encounter.
3/ Be pessimistic about what your prospecting can achieve. If your forecasts are realistic/optimistic the chances are your results will disappoint you, at least at the start.
4/ Quality is more important than quantity. This necessarily means spending time learning about customers before approaching them so that messages and meetings are tailored appropriately. And if a meeting arises, it’s important to go at the customer’s pace. Force your own agenda and you risk losing it all.
5/ Be involved in a start-up course or program that gets real about the deafening silence situation and identifies the amount of work you will need to do to achieve the forecast revenues. Ideally, your course or program will also provide training to help you prospect with confidence (and thus increase your influencing skills) so that more people are prepared to listen and more importantly, respond positively.
6/ Learn how to write/speak effectively and persuasively. Read this HHGE post to learn more. And read Robert Cialdini to understand how people are influenced. Your job is to raise the importance of what you offer prospective buyers so they prioritise you in their busy schedule. This necessarily means learning how to communicate effectively and succinctly.
7/ Once you can afford it, employ someone to sell your products/services. Entrepreneurs sometimes struggle to sell their own products/services because they can’t detach themselves emotionally from what is being offered to prospective customers and how they respond.
Trainers and educationalists have a responsibility to budding entrepreneurs to acknowledge the deafening silence status quo and help them to develop appropriate skills and attitudes before starting for real. Like parenting, the realities of surviving start-up can land as a bombshell and many people never fully recover.
Key Learning Points: Buyers are busy people and are increasingly cautious about making time as well as financial commitments to unfamiliar suppliers. As such, new business owners must develop a highly resilient mindset that prepares them properly for what lies ahead. Enthusiasm and a good product are critical attributes; but without a long-term, hard-work ethic that is thought through, success can prove elusive.