Where to spend most of your time, energy, and resources in the first year of business
So, you finally took the plunge and started a business, but now you are wondering what to focus on in the first year.
In lots of ways, starting a business is the easy part. Running and growing your business is where the challenge truly lies.
With so much to do and so little time (and maybe resources) to do it, how do you know what to focus on? How do you determine which activities will bring the biggest gains?
While this is a valid question or concern, the truth is you can’t guarantee anything. However, it is possible to narrow your focus down to a few important things. Because at the end of the day, some activities are more important than others, and some will have a bigger impact than others.
The first year of business can be brutal, especially if you are new to entrepreneurship. That’s why it’s so important to have clarity and to know how to prioritize.
So, with all that out of the way, let’s look at five important things you should be doing in your first year of business.
This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy anything using my links, I may receive a small commission.
1. MARKETING AND CREATING BRAND AWARENESS
Hands down the most important task for any business owner is marketing.
As a new business owner, your number one task is to find a way to let potential customers know that you exist. You won’t have a business for very long if you can’t attract or keep customers.
Forget everything you have heard about growing a business, if it doesn’t start with sales and marketing. They are your number one priority.
Unfortunately, marketing is hard. While some people are natural marketers, most people are not. Many business owners struggle with marketing because they feel it is slimy or they haven’t quite found the right strategy. So, they move this activity to the bottom of their list and hope they get lucky. But, few ever do.
Marketing requires lots of time, effort, and in some cases, lots of resources/money. This can make things even more difficult for new business owners, but it is something that has to be done.
So, now that you know marketing should be your main focus, the next question is how do you market your business? Well, the answer to that question will depend on your kind of business and your customers.
You will need to work out the kind of marketing strategies your potential customers respond to, and what strategies produce the biggest return on investment. To some extent, your strategy would also depend on what you are comfortable with.
Marketing is one of those activities you can spend a lot of time and money on with little or no result, so you have to be very careful here. Take some time to create a marketing plan and please, have a marketing budget, especially if you are working with limited finances.
To get you started with your marketing plan, here are the most common marketing strategies. Pick one or two that make sense for your business, and go from there.
- Content marketing
- Social media marketing
- Email marketing
- Direct mail
- Word of mouth/referrals
- SEO (search engine optimization)
- Affiliate Marketing (getting other people or business owners to sell your products for a commission)
While the list above doesn’t represent every single marketing strategy out there, I dare say that these are some of the most popular.
Now, a word of warning.
Don’t try to do everything on this list at the same time. You will end up overwhelmed, and your marketing is likely to be ineffective. Start with one or two strategies, master them before moving on to something else. And, remember to be patient.
Results can be slow, but as long as you are making some progress, then you are likely heading in the right direction.
2. MONEY MANAGEMENT IS CRUCIAL IN THE FIRST YEAR OF BUSINESS
Okay, money management is always crucial, but in the first year of business when you are still trying to find your footing, it is imperative that you keep a close eye and tight lid on your finances.
If you are a first-time business owner, there’s a tendency to waste a lot of money in the early stages of your business. The reason is that you haven’t quite figured out your business strategy or everything you need to succeed, so you might end up spending money on things that add no value to your business.
As a new business owner, you will face lots of temptations and there will be lots of opportunities to spend money. Whether it is buying tools, the software you don’t need right now, courses (especially for online entrepreneurs), inventory, paying for expensive coaching or consultation, there’s no shortage of things to spend/waste money on.
It’s very important to be prudent and to learn how to make smart financial decisions in the early stages of your business. Of course, you have to make smart financial decisions throughout the life of a business, but in my experience, the early stages are where a lot of waste or mismanagement happens.
So, how do you manage your business finances?
I will give you a few tips. If you want to do a good job managing your business finances, there are some key things you should become proficient at. This applies whether or not you pay someone else to manage your finances.
Here are some of the key things you need for good money management.
- A business budget. You should be able to create, manage, and balance a business budget. You can use a budget planner for this purpose.
- How to manage cash flow. This is important if you don’t want to run out of money.
- Manage expenses and debts (if any). You should be able to keep your expenses and debts low (or as low as possible).
- Find a good price structure and how to become profitable. From day one, one of your main goals should be to turn a profit. And, you can’t turn a profit if you don’t know how to price your products or services.
- Understand your tax obligations. Know your tax rate, how much you need to withhold, and when and how to file your taxes.
- Business funding. Be clear about your main sources of business funding, so you don’t run out of capital at a crucial stage of your business.
3. PROVIDING EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE
Whether you own a service or product-based business, providing excellent customer service should be one of your top priorities.
For new business owners just trying to build their customer or client base, providing excellent customer service is a great strategy to utilize.
When customers are happy with your service, they tend to become loyal followers, and they tell others about their experience with your business. The same is true if you provide poor or shoddy customer service.
As a new business owner, repeat business or referrals can make a difference in the early stage of business when you are still trying to get your name out there. Some customers prefer to do business with well-known or established businesses, so if a customer decides to take a chance with you, you should reward them with good customer service.
Now, this does not mean you shouldn’t set boundaries or put up with unnecessary nastiness or bad behavior. Even if you are desperate for sales or client work, you still have to draw the line somewhere. But, always try to do the best that you can.
So, what does excellent customer service look like? It looks like the list below or anything that makes your customers feel good about doing business with you.
- Great customer service starts with offering a fair price for your products or services. Always offfer your customers a good price. Cutomers don’t like to feel cheated or ripped off.
- Accurate marketing or advertising message. It is always better to underpromise and overdeliver than to do the opposite. Always deliver on your promise , and try to exceed expectations.
- Don’t make claims about your products or services you can’t back up.
- Be courteous and kind to your customers.
- Have clear policies and make sure they are visible on your website or store. Some of the most important policies you should have include return, refund, and shipping and delivery policies.
- Ensure your customers know how to contact you. If possible, provide more than one contact information. For example, phone and email or two email addresses. Also, include how long it takes to respond to customer queries or feedback.
- Respond to customer complaints quickly. Your customers want to know that you value their time. Responding in a timely manner is one of the best ways to do that.
- Whenever you can, personalize your service. Make your customers feel special.
- Reward loyalty. Rewarding loyal customers is excellent customer service. You can offer discounts or free products if it makes sense for your business. This can de done at some particular times of the year like Black Friday, Cyber Mondays, birthdays or whenever it makes sense for your business.
As you can see, providing excellent customer service is pretty simple. The long and short of it is to treat customers the way you’d want to be treated.
4. USE THE FIRST YEAR OF BUSINESS TO FIND THE RIGHT STRATEGIES
As your business grows, your strategies should evolve to meet the needs of your business. You don’t want to keep using business strategies that are ineffective or outdated. However, the only way to know what works or doesn’t work is to test things out.
The first year of business is the best time to work on your business strategy. This is when you learn how to strategize and make decisions that will help you succeed. It’s not an easy thing to do, but if you can nail it, it is very rewarding.
A while ago, I came across a poll for business owners. One of the questions on the poll was why some business owners didn’t meet their goals for the year. A surprising number of respondents chose the “didn’t use the right strategy” option. Now, I know that poll doesn’t represent all business owners, but apparently, this is an issue a good number of entrepreneurs face.
But, the good thing is that this is a problem that can be remedied.
So, while you won’t have all the answers, you can learn how to strategize or figure out the most effective strategies for your business.
Here are some important strategies you should try to nail down.
- Marketing and sales strategy (acquiring and retaining customers, building trust, converting leads into customers).
- Growth strategy.
- Product creation or product development strategy. If you offer a service, a strategy for creating or offering additional services.
- A strategy for standing out from the competion (aka your competitive advantage).
- A strategy or process for dealing with setbacks or resolving problems.
- Financial strategy (how to fund your business, your pricing structure, how to make your business profitable, how to reduce expenses).
I am probably forgetting a few things but you get the idea.
If you can nail down your strategies for the areas listed above, you will be setting up your business for success. So, don’t skip this process if you want long-term growth and profitability.
5. FOCUS ON LEARNING AND IMPROVING
One of the most important skills a business owner can have is the ability to learn and improve.
To succeed in business, you have to be able to learn, grasp, and analyze concepts. Without this ability or skill, you will struggle to make much progress at the start of your business.
The ability to learn starts with a desire to learn. Successful entrepreneurs are curious people. They are always looking to add to their store of knowledge. That’s how they keep improving and making some necessary changes to their business.
The first year of business will have lots of ups and downs and will present you with lots of opportunities for growth. If your goal is to move your business forward, it’s crucial that you are willing to learn and improve.
You have to be willing to learn new skills or new subjects that are essential for business growth, and the first step to learning is to identify what you need to learn (or the skills you lack).
Once you know what is missing, the next step is to create a learning or personal growth plan. The reason you need a plan is that you don’t want to waste a lot of time or money on resources you don’t need right now. Additionally, you will end up getting overwhelmed if you try to take in too much at a time.
And, we all know that being overwhelmed often leads to analysis paralysis or failure to act.
To avoid this problem, you must streamline your learning goals and the number of topics or skills you are trying to learn at any given time. It’s better to pick one topic, learn everything you can about it, implement what you learn, before moving on to the next topic. This is a better way to learn.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how much knowledge you acquire if you don’t use it. So, the correct order for learning is to pick a topic, find your learning resources, learn everything you can about it, implement, then move on to the next thing.
If you do this consistently, you will notice a lot of improvement in your business. And, you will be able to strategize effectively and make good decisions for your business.
Final thoughts on what to focus on in your first year of business
The early stage of a business is a pretty exciting time. Yes, it can be stressful or overwhelming, but it can also be fun.
In this post, I have given you five important things to focus on. I believe if you focus on them, you will see some progress and some wins.
As a new business owner, you need some small wins to keep you motivated. Knowing you are on the right track will keep you focused and energized. So, work on the things that will yield the best results and push everything else aside for the moment.
Nail down your business strategy, especially your marketing and finance strategies. Provide excellent customer service, and keep learning and improving.
Are you a new entrepreneur? What challenges do you currently face?