Startup businesses must focus in order to succeed. From an early point in my self-employment journey I regularly used these 4 questions to help my venture stay on track.
- Where have I come from?
- Where am I now?
- Where do I want to go?
- How do I get there?
The question structure isn’t rocket science and makes regular appearances in good strategic planning books. The questions appealed to me because they are simple and link to everyday life. For the journeying hitchhiker these four questions are easy to translate. For example: I’ve come from Bristol; I’m at junction 2 of the M42; I want to go to Coventry; I’m going to hitch at least one more lift to get there today.
If you consider the 4 points for own business (or business idea) you shouldn’t find it too difficult to answer the first two questions. Be brief (one side of A4 max), stick to key facts and focus on issues to do with: yourself, finance, customers, resources (including staff if you have them), sales and of course your own product/service.
Answering the third question however is more demanding. But importantly, the thinking process will help illustrate and define how your startup business must focus. If you can write down in no more than 5 minutes precisely where your business is going and remain very confident about the answer, then you have focus.
However, if the question about where you are going ties you in knots, elicits different responses or leaves you without an answer, then the direction of your business is in need of attention.
No direction? Danger…
Market and competitor research helps define clear target markets for startup businesses to focus. However, any new venture that’s unable to define its customer base (insufficient research) has little or no direction; as a consequence anybody is seen as a potential customer. And then this happens: Sales and marketing activity is based on guesswork and uninformed, general promotional messages are written in the hope someone might buy.
This unscientific yet frighteningly common approach is not only highly inefficient, it also drives businesses to the wall.
And it’s easy to see the parallel with hitchhiking. The hitcher who accepts a lift with any passing vehicle, without first checking where the driver is going (research), ends up in trouble. Without focused direction there is little chance of reaching the destination on time if at all.
Being focused on a clear direction also helps to ensure that business strategies and processes are kept ‘simple’ and ‘consistent’.
Asda Walmart for example, has a very simple and consistent message of ‘lowest price’ and this mantra is known right throughout the organisation – and it means thousands of people who work there know always to focus on low cost and efficiency.
Finally, once you know where you are going, you have to work out how you are going to reach your goal. There may be many route options although practical stuff like your budget and time-scales will limit choice. But like the hitchhiker who is standing by the road for the very first time, you must not be daunted by the prospect of making decisions and thus mistakes – it’s inevitable. So decide how you are going to reach your goal and then go. You are at least guaranteed to learn much on the way.
Key Learning Points: Startup businesses must focus. Knowing the markets you want to serve will define the direction of your business. Use the 4 point plan to keep sales and marketing work clear and consistent.