Few things in life beat the excitement of starting a new business or launching a new product. Creating a startup is thrilling. Sure, there’s risk—but risk can be exciting. There’s also challenge and creativity—figuring out how to build something from nothing, finding money, solving problems. But what happens when the startup is started? You built it, now what?
Everyone talks about the ideal of “hockey stick” growth for a startup—a flat bottom of sales quickly skyrocketing upward. What about when you’re still at the bottom of the hockey stick—I’ll call them the “blade years”—when your sales are basically flat, growing ever-so-slowly? How do you deal with those years?
I’m facing those questions myself right now.
For the last three years, I’ve been building a new product: BizGear. BizGear is a cloud-based business financial planning tool that crunches the numbers for entrepreneurs planning their businesses—from marketing budget, to staff budget, to overhead, to sales, to profit (or loss), and so much more.
I’ve poured nearly three years of my life—and a heck of a lot of my own cash—into BizGear, all while still running my publishing company.
First, my team and I spent months hammering out the details of the application, the functionality, the design, the bells and whistles. We searched for developers, hired developers, fired developers, finally settled on a stellar team. We worked long days and spent many sleepless nights. We built the product. We tested. We tweaked.
And now BizGear is ready. Our work is done, right? Wrong.
Launching a startup—whether a new business or a new product—is like climbing a mountain. You climb and climb and climb, anticipating that when you get to the top, there’ll be a beautiful vista and valley. Instead, after an arduous climb, you’re facing an even higher, more daunting, mountain: getting customers. The hard work of selling has begun.
No one tells you this, but here’s the truth: after you launch is the hardest stage of your startup.
Once your product or startup is launched, here are nine things to answer the question—“now what?”
- Stop tinkering. Yes, your product or startup could be improved. But you need money coming in. Concentrate on that.
- Recognize a let-down is normal. It helped—a lot—when our BizGear product manager told us that there’s always a let-down/depression period after launch. We weren’t alone.
- Give out “samples.” Few paying customers want to be ‘early adopters.’ Give your product or service away to get some customers, testimonials, feedback, experience.
- Experiment with pricing. You probably didn’t get it right at first. Go high. Go low.
- Build your lists. Collect contacts of prospects, influencers, referral sources right from the start, even before you have anything to sell. Once you’re close to launch, start marketing, letting them know you’re ready.
- Expect disappointment. Your former cheerleaders may not become buyers. When we had our prototype, we had many potential big customers who said BizGear was the greatest thing since sliced bread. But once we were ready? They didn’t have budget or had switched jobs or their companies had purchasing freezes. Hang in there.
- Go out and make sales.
- Go out and make sales.
- Go out and make sales. Once you’ve gotten beyond launch, your main job is to get money in from paying customers. Get out there and do it.
If you’re planning a startup, have recently launched your small business, or are working on a new product or service, I wish I could tell you that once you open your doors, you’ll cruise along, sitting back, watching the cash roll in. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. At least not yet.
After you launch, you’ll spend a lot of time figuring out your pricing, knocking on customers’ doors, trying out different marketing approaches, finagling your financing (and probably looking for more), possibly laying off staff, and finding some way—you hope—to keep yourself optimistic, energized, and motivated.
Try not to get discouraged. You’re not alone. We entrepreneurs are an optimistic bunch, so dig deep and find that reserve of optimism I know you have. That hockey stick growth is just around the corner.
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2018
This article originally ran in USA Today on October 24, 2018