We’re sharing James chapter below on his nine principles for successful entrepreneurship, and you can buy the full book here.
Niche Until You Can’t Niche Anymore, Then Defend That Niche
I’ve found that one of the keys to growth is truly understanding your target customer and buyer personas in exhaustive detail. This includes both demographics and psychographics, as well as a situational understanding of their current state of play.
I now call it, having a ‘micro niche’.
This is how the Sales for Startups’ niche matured:
- Helping Founders with their B2B sales
- Helping Founders of B2B tech companies build predictable revenue
- Helping Founders of 5-50 B2B tech companies build predictable revenue
- Helping Founders of Pre-Seed to Series C B2B tech companies
- Helping Technical Founders of Pre-Seed to Series A B2B tech companies
- Helping Technical Founders of Seed to Series A B2B tech companies
- Helping Technical Founders of B2B tech companies get from Seed to Series A in twelve months or less.
Over five years, we’ve seen seven iterations of our niche and who our target customer is – it takes time to learn more about your audience and adapt your messaging. Then you layer on top of that your situational understanding of the business, for example:
- Currently Founder-led sales
- Raised £1million+ of funding in the last twelve months
- Currently no full-time VP of Sales or Chief Revenue Officer
- Has paying customers right now
- Wants to hire new sales and marketing talent in the next six months
When you develop clarity around your niche, it becomes much easier to understand where to place resources in marketing, the most effective way to convert sales and how to deliver value to your clients. It is also empowering to say ‘no’ to prospects and leads that don’t match the profile of your best customers. Don’t fall into the cashflow trap of trying to compete for any deal outside your niche. I know it’s hard but it is well worth the temporary discomfort, and it will save you time, money and reputation in the long run.
But what do you do when you know there’s good business to be had outside your niche? You create a new business. We created a new online sales and marketing learning platform, Founder Revenue Academy, to serve the self-funded and Pre-Seed technical Founders of B2B tech companies outside of our niche.
Even when you are explicit with targeting, customers below and above your micro niche will be attracted to you and will want to speak with you.
Integrate Partnership Relationship Building And Activity In Your Weekly Schedule
I hear a lot of business owners state how important partners are to them but when we look at their weekly schedule, I don’t always see calls booked in their diary. You may have a fantastic network of partners, or you may not know anyone in your space; I was more of the latter when I started, but with both scenarios, this weekly discipline will help you.
I normally allocate Fridays for my day of partnership relationship building and from lunchtime onwards I hold my partner calls. When someone suggests to me that we should connect and have a call, I look at my Friday and add them in. It’s much easier to be consistent in choosing a theme around which day or block of time. It means you’re less likely to give up the time for another task, and it ensures you’ll be in the right frame of mind for that time period.
Secondly, I create a Calendly or HubSpot scheduling link just for partners (Friday only), so you can send them the link and they can select a convenient time for them.
Thirdly, with partners, you will have to speak to a fair few. Some you will naturally build relationships with, others will be a slow burn and others just aren’t a good fit. Be prepared to have a good number of conversations that won’t lead anywhere in the short-term, but with some give-and-take, you will reap the rewards in the long run.
Hire Marketing Support Early On
This is one of the biggest learns for me as a commercial founder. I didn’t invest early enough in marketing. Even when you’re starting out, you may only have a couple of thousand pounds in net profit per month but re-investing that into either part-time, full-time or freelance support will pay dividends in the long-term.
I think having another team member is what we truly crave. Founders and Co-Founders can end up isolated and siloed; we want to see progress and we enjoy social interaction and bouncing ideas off other people to improve our businesses. If your budget is tight, I’d invest in a blog writer/copywriterto produce a number of SEO-enabled and keyword-rich blogs or content. Ideally, these should be between six to eight per month and between 500-750 words per blog post. This type of investment will be less than £1,000 per month while doing wonders for organic search, website and its domain authority, and inbound lead volume.
However, it will take six to nine months from a standing start to see some real impact. For example, we went from a domain authority of eight to thirty- two in less than twelve months, and we went from receiving one lead per year to one to two inbound leads per week.
Consistency Beats Urgency, Every Time
In every company, you need to establish a baseline of results and activities to keep the business growing and thriving. Once you have a steady base, you can scale quickly and potentially take on more initiatives to grow the business. I’ve often found myself and other founders looking for the magic pill or silver bullet, choosing one tactic then another and berating the lack of success that month or quarter. When reviewing a business over six months, a year, or two to three years, you realise that continually optimising and improving what works is a recipe for success. In contrast, you don’t want to be continually chasing your tail and trying to hit home runs.
This will drain cashflow and momentum quickly. After all, how diligent can you be when you act from a desperate and reactive state compared to a proactive and controlled mode
As my mentor, Keith Cunningham once said, ‘Ordinary things consistently done produce extraordinary results.’
Your First Five Will Get Your Next Fifty Customers
Most of us think of fast growth when we start a business. We want customers, revenue and case studies. But I’ve found that having an obsession with growth at all costs usually means missing out on extremely valuable learning opportunities from your first five customers.
These five customers in your target niche, if delivered service and value, will become your biggest advocates. They will be the people doing your reference calls, case studies, webinars, and social shares. Ultimately they will help you sign many more customers in the future.
It’s hard to see this evolving when you are in survival mode in that first year but you will never regret delivering a Tesla experience to these companies, gaining valuable information, testimonials, case studies, webinars and events with these advocates. We call it the rule of five at Sales for Startups. If these first five customers had five complimentary marketing assets then you’d have twenty-five usable materials to persuade the next fifty to come onboard.
Don’t neglect those early customers; treat them like royalty, write up your findings and insights and market their stellar outcomes to the rest of the open market.
Prioritise Length Over Volume
In the world of tech startups, one of the key metrics for funding and growth is customer lifetime length and value; with low length and value, your chances of a multi-million-pound
investment are low.
From a business efficiency point of view, it takes less effort to sign more valuable customers that stay with you for longer, where you create transformational change and advocates for your brand than it does signing many more customers that churn in a short time period.
Furthermore, when you look at it from a financial perspective, cashflow regularity and business valuations are higher when you have a longer average tenure of client. On a human level, it also sends the wrong message out to your team members and market, as your customers won’t truly be referenceable and your team will have a sense of disappointment due to the lack of progress made with the clients you’ve signed.
A Goal Isn’t Achievable Without Milestones
Founders often set lofty and ambitious goals. And while there’s nothing wrong with thinking big and going after uncharted territory, problems occur when there are no intermediate goals that show achievable metrics month by month leading up to the bigger goal. Setting a big goal or a North Star for the year or the next three years, means you’ll need to break this down into quarterly and even monthly goals. By doing this, you’ll probably receive a strong dose of realism too.
Make it a rule that when you set a goal, whether quarterly, annually or even over a multi-year period, you break it down by month. Don’t just use straight-line maths either. For example, our target is £1.2 million for the year, that’s £100,000 per month, and that’s what we’ll do for the next three months in January, February and March and so on.
If business was a completely logical and linear sport, everyone would be hitting the jackpot every week.
Follow-Up And Reactivations Will Always Surprise You
Over the last ten years, I’ve been exposed to many B2B software and service companies. The behaviour that always amazes me in their business is the lack of follow-up. Follow- up can be the difference between hitting or missing your target. Despite often being the path of least resistance and the quickest route to revenue it’s still regularly ignored.
We often focus on the here and now, playing the short game, not the long one. For example, if someone doesn’t buy from us, partner with us, join us right now, we discount them for the long term! In reality, this is not a global belief that you should uphold. Often timing and personal circumstances influence most people’s daily decisions. Remember that you will always have the opportunity to revisit, reconnect, and re-meet people you’ve spoken to previously.
A worthy practice involves setting up low-touch newsletters and email sequences to keep in touch with people. Share valuable information which serves your audiences and they won’t forget you. Even if it turns out someone else mentioned your company and they thought, ‘Ah yes, I remember them. I spoke to them six months ago, probably worth dropping them a line to see if they can help.’
Invest In Your Health And Wellbeing Every Week
Founders stretch themselves beyond their mental and physical limits on a weekly basis. Whether it’s the lack of sleep, taking on a new project with a tight deadline, or over- committing to multiple endeavours, the list is endless.
You have to respect yourself first. Without you, the business will suffer. Even if you’re in an advisory role, your clients won’t gain valuable insights to take the company to the next level.
My suggestion is that you learn from a proven practitioner. I’ve invited Serena Sabala of Wholeshift Wellness, my own vitality support team, to write a chapter here for you after mine, so check that out. There’s so much conflicting advice out there. We tend to think of health as a set and forget, when it’s really not. It’s a mindset that creates a number of enhancing activities that help you flourish and turn up as the best leader and person you can be each day.
Early warning signals to keep a close eye on are our sleep, hydration, body and mind. You can track all these elements from an Oura ring or Fitbit app, as well as how many times you’ve exercised this week on your calendar, and what you’ve done to free your mind from the clutter. Use practices like stretching, breathing and meditation to keep you in extraordinary form.
Additionally, one thing I’ve learned from the Covid times is each person should schedule at least one physical activity per week that is with another human being. Mammals are pack animals and we need social interaction whether that’s a PT session, a game of tennis, a five-a-side football match, netball or a bike ride.
You need to have engagement and contact with others in-person, as they engage with you, keep you centred and will look out for you and your wellbeing. Remember, you created all of these projects, challenges and worries around you, so you need to nourish your health consistently to be able to show up each day.
You can buy the full Happy, Healthy, Wealthy Entrepreneurs book here.