Utilising Your Expertise to Launch Your Business

Entrepreneurship provides a unique opportunity for industry veterans to put their expertise to work in new, impactful ways, utilising their vast experience to create a business that can make a real difference in their respective domains. The business survival statistics can be intimidating, with approximately half of Australian startups encountering difficulties within the first four years, and slightly more than three-quarters make it past the first year, according to 2022 ABS data. [1] Further, in the US, over 90% of startups still need to survive their first year. [2]

These figures might appear discouraging, but consider the advantage gained through the career capital, expertise, and invaluable skills you have built up as an experienced professional. Having a realistic understanding of the numbers behind your business is vital to increasing the chances of success.

Considerations When Launching a Business

Launching a business goes beyond merely having a groundbreaking idea; it requires a profound understanding of your industry, operational savvy, and business acumen to navigate the complex business landscape. These are attributes that mature professionals bring to the table. Your wealth of work-life experience, expertise and network gives you a head start on these challenges with an advantage that less experienced individuals may need to possess.

In this article, I want to share some thoughts and guidelines to help you utilise these assets effectively and, more importantly, how to avoid the pitfalls often faced by startups.

In Australia, entrepreneurial activity is high, with over 473,000 new businesses commenced in 2021-22. However, 60% of the 2.6 million operating businesses, like sole traders, are non-employing. Sole proprietorships have a 43% 4-year survival rate, far below the 70-72% for those with 5+ employees.

The top reasons Australian startups fail include no market need, running out of cash, not having the right team, being outcompeted, pricing issues, poor products, lacking a business model, poor marketing, and ignoring customers.

In the Australian business startup case, the critical success factors include:

  • solid purpose,
  • sound financial management,
  • thorough planning,
  • an online presence, and 
  • customer focus.

By working through some pragmatic questions focused on execution over theory, you can set out to build a realistic foundation and avoid becoming another statistic. Your success starts with being able to solve real customer problems.

What Problem Are You Committed to Solving?

Instead of being distracted initially with designing brand values, prioritise delivering genuine value to your customers. More than your goals are needed; you must demonstrate them through high-quality work. Identify the problems you can solve and commit to working on them to the best of your ability. Based on your career capital and experience, your offer should naturally address this problem, grounded in practicality rather than artificial values. Stay focused on tangibly serving your customers, providing concrete solutions that meet their needs. By taking a down-to-earth, customer-centric approach, you can effectively solve their problems and build lasting relationships based on trust and results.

Forget Vague Missions - Concentrate on One-Year Goals

Developing a sweeping mission statement may sound inspiring, but in practice, these tend to be vague and limit your ability to adapt. Instead of grand plans, establish specific, tangible goals you can realistically achieve within the next 12 months as you learn. Keep your options open to change direction if needed.

Let Your Brand Evolve Naturally from Quality Work

Resist the temptation to engineer an image through PR tactics artificially. Talk to real customers to understand how your work is perceived, and experiences evolve. Quality products and services will more powerfully shape your reputation than branding workshops claim.

Provide Excellent Offerings—Don't theorise "Experiences"

Obsessing over the supposed " customer journey" risks over-engineering intangibles and feeling disingenuous. Trust that excellent work will lead to positive experiences. Stay focused on tangible service/product quality above theoretical frameworks. Customer loyalty stems from consistent competence, not rebranding.

Qualitative Insights from Real Clients Are Key

While metrics offer clues, there's no substitute for openly discussing with clients what they value. Are they coming back regularly? What is it about your services that they appreciate? Listen closely to qualitative feedback versus theoretical performance indicators.

Know Your Advantages Within the Landscape

Understand competitors to identify advantages, but keep their presence distinct from you. Carve a confident space playing to your inherent strengths rather than endlessly differentiating. Competitive changes follow, not dictate, authentic efforts.

Keep an Open Mind as Plans Evolve

Unique value propositions aim to clarify focus but can also limit flexibility as customer needs and industry dynamics inevitably shift. While targeting a specific niche helps scale up initially, momentum sometimes comes from unexpected sources. Remain adaptable and alert to emerging opportunities, knowing it's better to expand offerings organically in response to market feedback than adhere religiously to pre-conceived narrow ambitions.

Then again, if you are lucky enough to have built up a rare and valuable skill, i.e. one with few competitors and a great need for your talent, the niche is worth exploiting.

Growing your customer base will often identify additional complementary services, so be ready to re-evaluate strategic scope if traction grows beyond original bounds. The most sustainable ventures understand their role is responsiveness to revealed demand, not a stubborn defence of predetermined positions. Nimble adaptability merits as much focus as selectivity.

Stay Consistent and Steadfast Unless Forced to Adjust

Repetition and reliability form the backbone of recognition. Aim to keep your marketing approaches the same, ensuring your ongoing familiarity. Only alter tactics when changing realities demand reassessment. Otherwise, stability allows understanding to gradually spread through the repetition of core offerings over many repeated exposures, i.e. frequency.

Consistency helps build up an awareness of your services. Through steady, committed showing up, time after time, with an unwavering dedication to your message and brand focus, gradual trust can grow. Please keep it simple and give consistency time to do its work. The dividends will surpass the temptation of chasing the latest tactical tips you've just read online. If you are in doubt, seek expert help to develop a consistent marketing strategy.

Leverage the Connections You Already Have

When starting, the most valuable marketing happens within arm's reach; rather than aiming distant shots in the dark, nurture the relationships right before you. Within your network, you can actively reignite even distant relationships to help you find opportunities for your new business. Focus energy on clients and colleagues who already know and appreciate your work. Provide outstanding service so they feel compelled to recommend you organically.

Lives interconnect more than demographics align—the colleague who collaborates well may introduce your work to a new sector, for example. Cultivate an unparalleled reputation among your immediate network, those willing to put their social capital behind your name. This authentic advocacy, built by a genuine experience together, will spread your reach far broader and deeper than any campaign could in its earliest phase.

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Steady Effort Over Time Builds Credibility

In the initial stages, excessive focus on social media strategies can result in being perceived as a try-hard by appearing too eager or overbearing in your approach. Establishing authority and trust takes sustained effort over the long haul. Be open to less glamorous tactics like enlisting experienced advisors, using affordable paid social ads (which can work), or partnering with relevant organisations for mutual exposure.

Substantial reputations develop gradually as clients and collaborators encounter your consistent abilities over not months but years. While engaging creatively, also show humility and openness to assistance from experts. Steady, reliable work will speak for itself to those you serve—so nurture credibility steadily through cooperating with peers, old-fashioned diligence, and acknowledging that the process may unfold gradually rather than overnight.

Focus on Substance, Not Empty Metrics

While social media platforms emphasise visibility, the significance of "likes" diminishes if they don't contribute to solving real problems. It is essential to understand that metrics such as follower counts, or engagement seldom translate into customers or revenue. Therefore, focus on delivering exceptional service and craftsmanship that directly and tangibly benefits real people, building a genuine reputation.

Customers emerge when you focus first on resolving their key challenges, not self-promotion reports. Quality work speaks for itself. Startups gain traction by serving clients consistently and allowing demand to propagate naturally. The substance will see you through where superficial posturing falls short.

Measure Success Through Real Customer Feedback

Reviewing strategy holds little value if detached from practical impacts. Instead, ask clients directly: How may I improve to serve your needs better? Their honest insights, not rear-view framework analysis, will define your progress. Implementation matters most, so start building.

Starting a Business Is A Learning Opportunity

The statistics indicate that many businesses experience challenges and fail within their first year. However, reframing such occurrences as opportunities for growth and learning is crucial. In many cases, we can attribute these experiences to the founders requiring more time for adequate preparation, undercapitalizing themselves, or realising their preference for a salaried position.

Taking onboard these lessons allows for a deeper understanding and sets the stage for making a more valuable contribution to future employers or endeavours. Although closing a business in its early years is not an ideal outcome, it's not a catastrophic event. Most entrepreneurs do not lose everything and can extract invaluable lessons from the experience, often positively impacting future employment.

To succeed from the start, actively embrace pragmatism. Consider and apply the advice provided in this guide concerning the core offering, financing, team building, and leveraging connections. Doing so will enhance your chances of navigating through the challenging initial phase.

Remember, theory holds no value without tangible outcomes, so shift away from excessive planning and prioritise action, immerse yourself in the learning process, and diligently execute your plans.

Your future customers are out there waiting for you to show up. Reflect on what you've learned, make adjustments, and when you're ready, jump back in. With dedication and the right mindset, you can turn statistics into customers and deliver your preferred solution. Failure is only final if you allow it to be.

Five Keys to Starting Strong

  1. Focus on solving problems, not chasing metrics
  2. Cultivate quality work over superficial branding
  3. Leverage authentic relationships over invented strategies
  4. Iterate based on feedback, not predetermined visions
  5. Improve incrementally through steady effort, not overnight revolution. With patience and diligence, strong foundations will emerge to support future growth. But for now - actions speak louder than plans. Get to work and let demand dictate the next steps.

Notes

[1] https://insidesmallbusiness.com.au/latest-news/almost-half-of-new-businesses-fail-within-their-first-four-years

[2] https://explodingtopics.com/blog/startup-failure-stats

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