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Happy 5th birthday, thinkspace!

5thbdayThe thinkspace community first opened its doors 5 years ago today, on May 1st of 2008.

Since then, thinkspace has been – and continues to be – home to many startups and established businesses.

Upon starting thinkspace, Peter Chee understood that if he took a conventional path, he could expect conventional results.  But from the very beginning, thinkspace has been anything but conventional.

Shortly after thinkspace opened, the recession hit.  Peter was left with a decision to make: would he keep his rates competitive, and in doing so head out on a race to the bottom?  Peter recalls making that decision, “The race to the bottom is about cutting corners, and how far I can stretch this thing or person…”  That wasn’t the way Peter set out to do business, nor was it the way he wanted to respond to the recession.  Instead, he was inspired by Seth Godin: “Consumers are not loyal to cheap commodities, they crave the unique, the remarkable, the human.”

In the moment while other competitors were trying to stay afloat by cutting costs and offering discounts, Peter asked “How can we make thinkspace remarkable?” and responded not by cutting costs, but focusing on creating value within the thinkspace community.

Thinkspace was born during an against-the-odds era.  But thinkspace not only survived the recession, but has thrived due to the vision of value and relationships.  From the beginning, Peter stated, “I want to focus on making connections with people, because that’s where the value is…if you can actually connect with people, they will be more likely to do business with you.”

Thinkspace’s 5th birthday isn’t about celebrating Peter, but about celebrating the members that we are grateful to be in community with – each and every one of you makes this place remarkable.  Without you, thinkspace would be an empty building and an empty community.  So, here’s to you!  

To say “thank you,” each team member at thinkspace has brought in their favorite goodie and treat.  Please stop by the front desk today to say hi and indulge in some edible-gratitude.  

 

 

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How to create a CBB list and schedule a launch that actually happens.

You don’t want to put something out to the world until it’s 100% perfect.
You’ll literally put the brakes on anything that doesn’t absolutely hit your high standard.
You think delivering anything less will result in NO sales.
Every little thing MUST BE PERFECT or it’s not seeing the light of day.
You’re a little paranoid that people will laugh at you if you don’t get everything right.

Does this sound like you?

I’m all for perfection and doing your best… but you can’t noodle away at something forever.
You must get your idea out to the world.
If you’re even thinking about launching that means you’re creating this for other people.
What’s the point to all the work you’re doing, if no one’s going to benefit from it?

So – what I do when I’m nearing the due date I’ve set to complete a project… is start listing off the CBBs.  What “Could Be Better”?  I make a list of CBBs and just keep moving forward.

Here’s the secret too for all you who will still want to wait until things are perfect – there will ALWAYS be CBBs.  Even if you don’t see them now.  I can’t think of one launch I’ve worked on, finished for myself, or helped someone else plan where there wasn’t a list of CBBs for the next launch.

CBB is one of those little phrases that helps take the pressure off – so start saying it when you find something that could be a little bit better, but you don’t want it to stop you from making progress or from launching.

No webinar? CBB – I’ll do one next time when my list is bigger.
No launch videos? CBB – my audience is used to blog posts anyways.
No affiliate program? CBB – I’ll do something super bare bones this time around and set up a real program for the next time.
No membership site? CBB – I’ll make a protected page on my site where all the content will live.
My PDFs aren’t super gorgeous! CBB – The content is there, I’ll make them look neat, easy to read and they’ll be fine.

It’s catchy…
You might find yourself declaring, “That’s a CBB for sure!” to things that used to have you adjusting your entire launch schedule.

Try it!

Go through your own launch materials, your program, your copy, your sales process and start making your CBB list for the next launch.

And – if you want to learn more about what’s important and what’s NOT important to launch…I’ll be teaching a live 1-hour workshop at thinkspace THIS WEEK to show you how to plan and schedule your next launch – so those CBBs don’t weigh you down!

Launch Exhaustion: How to schedule a year of launches without exhausting yourself, your audience, or your team.

Click here for more information and to attend

 

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The Rules To Delivering, Seeing Things Through + Launching Anything


Planning a project? Developing a new program? Starting a business?

It’s easy to get caught up and overwhelmed by all the little moving parts in a launch.  Your website, the product, membership area, sales process, buttons, emails, graphics, getting the word out…it’s not surprising how many people DON’T launch.

There’s a lot that can go wrong.

Instead of pretending you’ll be able to handle all the curve balls that will be thrown at you during a launch or heck when running your business, having some guidelines to follow will go far in keeping your launch train moving forward.

Today – I’m sharing my personal launch rules–they have served me well planning projects in many different industries like film, video game development, pilates studio development and now as I grow my online business.

Don’t be surprised if some of them seem super obvious – and they are!

  1. Be clear what you are offering and be able to say it out loud to real people in your real life. If you can’t – then keep trying…

  2. Know who your audience is. There’s no real trick to this and you don’t have to do the work yourself.  My first time launching helped me clarify who would actually buy from me.  Moral of that story is put yourself in front of as many different audiences as you can – and your audience will find you!

  3. Get help – managing your project, doing the work, spreading the word… get help in every area, aspect and phase of your launch – so you don’t have to keep it all in your own head! Support is that key ingredient that really does matter more than you know!

  4. Stick to a schedule and be realistic when setting your schedule.  If you’ve only got a few people to “help” out…give yourself longer.  Be honest, realistic, and don’t

  5. Deliver what you promised and when you promise.  Don’t say you’re going to do a video series and then crap out after the 2nd one.  Don’t say your program will be delivered upon purchase if it opens in 2 weeks.  Just be clear what you’re offering and when and if it changes, make sure people know about it in ADVANCE.

  6. Don’t switch software or any systems mid-launch. ‘NUFF SAID.

  7. Make sure your team is going to see through the launch. This goes along with getting help. Make sure your help gives you a commitment to helping you through the entire life of the launch.

  8. Have back up plans. Think of things that could break down, go wrong, or not work well, and be ready to change direction at a moment’s notice.  Be okay with putting plan b in motion if needed.

  9. Be ready to (and OK with) CHANGE anything that’s not working for ANY reason.

  10. Do it often and don’t be afraid to LAUNCH WITHOUT SELLING A THING. Launching isn’t just about making moola. It’s a process you should learn early so that you can pull off your bigger ticket launches in the future.  So – launch often and launch free things too!

If you want to know more about planning a launch so that you have time to pull all those launch pieces together without totally exhausting yourself…you’ve got 2 options today:

Option 1

I’ll be teaching a live 1-hour workshop at thinkspace to show you how to do this on April 24th:

Launch Exhaustion: How to schedule a year of launches without exhausting yourself, your audience, or your team.

Click here for more information and to attend

Option 2

Fearless Launching is now enrolling for it’s 3rd round!

Check out this completely digital online training program now to learn how to launch, get support, and understand why launching before you’re ready is so important!

 

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Conversations That Sell

A guest-post from Anne Samoilov

Today’s post comes to Thinkspace courtesy of Anne Samoilov and is republished by permission.  Anne has been helping solopreneurs become more productive, create and launch their life’s work. She teaches about topics including online launching, product launch, small business growth, productivity, self-management, motivation, business planning + goal setting. Anne’s background also includes 10 years experience as producer for animation, visual effects, and game development. We’re excited to have Anne here on the Thinkspace blog – as well as a featured speaker in a series of brown bag workshops.

conversations-that-sell

Is it possible something you said 4, 5, or 6 months ago affected your recent launch sales?

Does it really matter what you say to people about your launch? Will it make the difference between sales and dead air?

Is there a known, working method of reaching out, touching, connecting, getting to know your customers before you open the doors, starting conversations that actually lead to sales?

And don’t you want the RIGHT people to take your offer?

There’s nothing worse than making an offer and getting the wrong audience on board… though it does tell you something about what you’re offering… but I digress.

Talking about your upcoming launch, sharing the behind the scenes, taking people along for the ride – it’s crucial to your launch bottom line – but the process is riddled with mistakes people make when they’re first starting.

It’s not as simple as posting 5 times a day on social media (and hoping for the best). If you track your tweets – you know most people don’t click on those posts.

You can’t just run an ad on Facebook – and again, think that everyone will be magically drawn to it.

And – you can’t hope those guest posts – ok that ONE guest post you did – a year ago, will help you grow your audience.

Unless, you understand what it takes to get the right people’s attention NOW.

I learned that to get the conversation started meant focusing on (BRACE YOURSELF THIS MIGHT SOUND SELFISH) the what I wanted back.

Yes – the exchange of ideas – opinions – feelings – experiences… that’s what I wanted.

Once I determined what I wanted back – I changed my approach to communicating forever.

And I’m going to share the secret with you in a very special,  in-person workshop on March 20th here at thinkspace.

Conversations That Sell: How to tell the world about your launch + reach more of the right people.

  1. The easy launch conversation starter that equaled sales within 24 hours – most people don’t realize that this simple strategy is so powerful – and it even surprised me.
  2. My top 3 “no brainer” methods to prepare your audience for a launch.
  3. The one no cost “everyday” business tool that saved me hours in time and money.
  4. How my “Launch Leak Strategy” allows you to “tease” your launch and create excitement before you even launch!

And then – I’m going to share my proven “before, during and after” launch communication plan that will take all the guess work out for you!

Anne will be presenting at an upcoming thinkspace event – March 20th, Fearless Launching: Conversations That Sell, Workshop #2.  For more information and to register for this event, click here.  If you aren’t able to physically be present for this event, view the webinar by subscribing here.

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SEO Advice for Start Up Entrepreneurs

There is no silver bullet when it comes to SEO and I have a feeling that, with the Facebook’s new Graph Search, the SEO world is about to be flipped upside down. My office is located at thinkspace in the coworking section which gives me the opportunity to speak with many different start up entrepreneurs. I find joy when I see their eyes light up after talking to me about SEO strategy. But, the ideas that they have are always, “I can do that! I don’t need to hire someone!” It’s true, there is no secret to SEO and there is no magic wand.

If you ask me, the secret to success is the development of the SEO strategy early in the development of your start up. Odds are that your main competitors are already funded and have processes already identified  The fact is simple, the larger the company, the harder it is to change. The online marketing world is changing rapidly. If you build a strong SEO foundation, you will prosper for years to come.

Find an SEO Adviser

seo guruI’d like to fill this spot for you. But if not me, find someone else who’s qualified. Buy this person lunch once every month and present your marketing plan, your content plan, and your website plan to them. Ask for their input and advice. Just the other day I made a recommendation to a start up game company on how to rework his web directory. The simple task of allowing some of the user-generated content to display in a directory-like architecture changed his development plan. The bad part…. his website was already developed and he was getting ready to launch. This should have been identified in the early planning stages. The recommendation took me all of one minute to identify and recommend. My advice for a start up entrepreneur? Find an SEO Adviser and buy them lunch once a month or once a quarter. We SEO guys like to eat too!

Find an SEO Adviser That Fits Your Business Model

Want to compete with Expedia? Find an SEO adviser that knows the travel business. What to compete with Microsoft? Find an SEO adviser with experience in enterprise software. Every vertical has its unique INs and OUTs. Find an adviser that fits your business model.

Know When To Hire An SEO Consultant

Not all SEO campaigns require monthly fees. In fact, most of the SEO work that a start up needs can be executed in projects. Educate yourself so you know how to identify what SEO projects you need. A respectable SEO guy will run you $50 – $75 per hour, a killer SEO guy will run you $75 – $200 per hour. The difference is in the research, planning, and type of work executed. One SEO guy might spend 5 hours doing keyword research. But another SEO guy may include a keyword trend analysis, a comparison of keyword search volume between countries, an competitor analysis per keyword, and they might deliver it in a branded PDF versus a Word document.

Here are some SEO projects and suggested hours that you may need to contract for in the early stages.

Keyword Research: Budget 5 – 15 hours for a keyword research report and documentation.  Make sure the deliverable has keywords segmented into groups. I always ask for search volume in the USA in both exact and broad match. Also, I ask to list the cost per click of each keyword so I can identify the suggested value of the keyword. Be sure to include a basic aggressiveness factor, this will show you what keywords are easy to obtain, and what keywords are hard to obtain.

Website sitemap creation: Depending on the size of your website, budget another 5 – 10 hours for this. It’s hard to rank for a keyword if you do not have the proper web page on your site to target it. Some keywords can be targeted on your service pages, your location pages, or your blog post pages. Others may need more advanced thought to create content for. Make sure you have a plan to target the keywords that you deem valuable.

In future posts, I’ll make additional recommendations for SEO projects for start-up entrepreneurs. Also, in the near future, you will be able to contact me through thinkspaces’s office hours program to seek free advice regarding SEO strategy….no lunch bribe needed for that.

 

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The 10 Benefits To Launching Before You’re Ready

A guest-post from Anne Samoilov

Today’s post comes to Thinkspace courtesy of Anne Samoilov and is republished by permission.  Anne has been helping solopreneurs become more productive, create and launch their life’s work. She teaches about topics including online launching, product launch, small business growth, productivity, self-management, motivation, business planning + goal setting. Anne’s background also includes 10 years experience as producer for animation, visual effects, and game development. We’re excited to have Anne here on the Thinkspace blog – kicking off a series of brown bag workshops.

website-slider-anne-samoilov

So – last week I started this unofficial launch smackdown series by talking about some of the mistakes to lead to launch failure or failure to launch! If you haven’t read that post – go there now!

Today I’m answering the key question I get from people who don’t believe they are “ready” to launch.

What are the benefits to launching before you are ready, established or a guru/leader in your industry? (Don’t get me started on that word Guru…) Basically – should I wait if I don’t have x (subscribers, traffic, etc)?

Before I dive in – let’s first talk about who you are and give you a little perspective on why knowing these benefits are so important to understand.

People who ask me questions about being ready to launch usually fit into one of three categories – it’s useful to figure out roughly your category for one good reason — you’ll realize you aren’t the only one in your category! No one wants to feel like the odd person out – embrace your category or mix of categories, but don’t let it hold you back.

1. Surveyer:

You’re curious to know how you can possibly launch this thing you’ve created – You’re just not sure how to start, but you’re resourceful and ready to figure it out. You might not have a ton of experience in your topic, but you sit on the sidelines, watch others launching, and know there’s something there …you just need a little “more” proof before doing anything.

Main defining characteristic: Always asking questions, getting feedback, difficulty settling on a direction without outside help.

2. Creator:

You’ve been creating a ton of content and people like it. You don’t need convincing that you need to launch – you need proof that it can work even if you are just starting out. Plus – you want a full proof plan to take your ideas to market. Making the leap from all free all the time to paid offerings is a big jump for you.

Main defining characteristic: Creator with a conscious…you know it’s not getting you anywhere.

3. Jaded Tester:

You’ve been through a launch before – and you need major convincing to do it again. You set goals, are convinced you did everything right, but nothing worked at all like you thought it would.

You have tons of resistance to launching because you didn’t get the results you wanted when you did it the first time.

But – you are smart–can figure almost everything out. That’s why this hurts even more – this is the one thing you haven’t deciphered yet.

You want to find the lessons, but you’re a little miffed from the last time you stuck your neck out to the world.

Main defining characteristic: Lost confidence, stubborn, and you need to renew your belief that you CAN launch successfully.

No matter where you are within these categories…you can launch. You should launch. And here’s why.

Here are the 10 benefits to launching a new product, program or service before you say you’re ready:

1. You grow your list.

Whether you plan to do a video series, blog posts, interviews, guest posts, maybe a free webinar, all of it will be focused on one thing – getting more eyes on you and your business. A lovely “side effect” and your primary focus for that first launch should be building your list.

Don’t believe it?

Catherine Just grew her list to the first 1,000 with her first launch. She’s done a few other launches since then too!
Alicia Cowan also grew her list from several hundred to well over 1000 during her first launch and continues to build her audience with free webinars, workshops and relaunching her initial program.
LKR grows it’s list by several thousand every single time a new free webinar or launch is announced.

If your list isn’t growing during a launch – then you aren’t doing enough to reach other people’s audiences – which is one of the mistakes I mentioned in the last post!

2. Launches help build and rebuild confidence

Committing to a project from beginning to end, seeing it through, doing all you can – knowing that you learned, built your list, made some sales – this does a lot to instill confidence in yourself and your business. Even when things don’t go as screamingly well as you’d like them to, once you understand the process of launching, you feel more confident to do it again.

If you aren’t feeling so confident after a launch – you aren’t alone. It’s easy to set lofty launch wishes and then be completely shattered when they don’t come true.

There are so many elements of a launch that play into you achieving or not achieving those goals, so instead of feeling bad or wallowing.

Be proactive. Look back over the “mistakes” you made, record what you learned, and use it as an opportunity to plan for the next time out.

3. Your business will come into extreme focus + clarity.

Time and time again I’ve watch entrepreneurs work to launch a product, program or new service only to emerge on the other side with:

-> a slightly shifted business model
-> a new target market
-> a deeper understanding of what they want their business to be

Keep your eyes open for clues to seeing your business in a new, objective light.

Clues come in lots of different forms:

  • – a different kind of person than you expected enrolling in your program
  • – having the exact person you wanted in the program asking you for something “else”
  • – a sinking feeling that you don’t want to do 1-off coaching
  • – an immediate idea of what to launch next

Pay attention.

4. You get to test your product out before a massive audience buys it.

So you only have a small group of people going through your program.

Guess what? This is your chance to see what works and what doesn’t work in your program.

Treat those people like gold – because they’re the first, their feedback is gold!

Here are a few things I did during the first round of Fearless Launching:

  • – Gave 1-on-1 support calls throughout the program
  • – Asked for feedback along the way
  • – Took the feedback and improved the program

Sometimes it’s the simple extra bits that you can give that will make the life of your product, program or service that much better.

Don’t be afraid to shower your first round with extra special loving.

5. Launches help you build and strengthen relationships with your readers, prospects and customers.

I’m very close with the members of Fearless Launching – but I don’t just make room for customers. I make it my mission to connect on a personal level with everyone who reaches out to me, joins my mailing list, or leaves a comment.

I know it seems obvious, but caring and listening is all people want sometimes. So – open your ears and let people know you’re there. I actually feel the relationships strengthening over time with each and every one of you. I even feel a little protective too!

Encourage your readers to leave a comment – to email you. Then – respond. Sometimes it takes a little longer, but taking the extra time to respond makes a huge difference in those relationships. Someone might not be a customer today, but tomorrow things can change.

6. You suddenly understand and can easily identify your ideal customer.

One of the toughest parts of starting an online or offline business is understanding your ideal customer.

Before Fearless Launching – I had a vague idea of who I was serving. After two rounds of the program – I now completely understand who this program serves best and who will get the best results.

Honestly though, I sometimes feel like I got lucky and the exact right people enrolled.

How do you really get lucky like I did? Make sure your content is focused, in YOUR voice, and aims to provide a clear outcome. That’s all I did – and it attracted the exact right people.

In my case, I wanted to make sure that people who didn’t think they were ready to launch were prepared, understood the process, got support along the way, and launched.

Most people either achieve this or get very close. And the ones who don’t get close – they do get there eventually.

7. You make some cash.

I’m all for making money when you launch. All that blood, sweat and tears – all the time that you focus on this one project. You deserve some moola, right?

Revenue is only 1 of my goals during a launch. I want to see growth in revenue, list, traffic, but also in my delivery of value.

How do you deal if you don’t make money on your online launch? It all comes down to traffic, eyes, and if your offer was right for that traffic.

If the offer didn’t match the eyes, you probably didn’t make any money. That doesn’t mean your offer sucked, it just means you need to reach some new eyes or that you have to adjust your offer for the people who did show up!

8. Making mistakes in front of fewer people is a lot less painful than a large crowd.

The main benefit of launching before you are ready is that your audience is smaller. Would you rather fall in front of a stadium of people or a televised event or at a wedding where you know most of the people.

Sure all scenarios kind of suck, but the point is – make the mistakes while you’re surrounded by a smaller group of people.

Use your first launch to practice of the process of launching.

9. You find out who supports you + who might not be so dependable.

Start now and you’ll see right away who’s going to support you and who’s NOT going to support you.

People are fickle. They talk a big talk – and will tell you, “Oh yeah what you’re doing is amazing”, but then don’t stand up and help you during a launch or even click on a tweetable.

Don’t hold it against them. People who say one thing might be genuinely wanting you to succeed, but then when the time comes to support, they just miss it completely or realize they have other obligations. We all have priorities in life and you need to respect that.

In fact, I know when it comes down to it – I support who I support too!

It feels personal when someone doesn’t tweet or share for you or leave a comment, but it’s not. Remember that.

Next time – you’ll know who WILL tweet/share/spread the word for you – and who might not!

10. When you demonstrate your knowledge, you turn lurkers into prospects!

Launching means you demonstrating your expertise with people.

Even if they aren’t convinced to buy – you have shown them you mean business, you are knowledgeable, and if they liked what you taught them – they will be back.

Often – someone can follow you quietly for years and then suddenly buy something or decide they want “in” on what you’re doing.

There are people who’ve been with me since I was writing about fitness, pilates and productivity… imagine how nervous I was to reveal that I wanted to stop all that and teach launching??

I was shocked when the hands raised one by one by one… and that audience I was so afraid of sharing my expertise with…they wanted it all along!

4 Reasons To Love Launching

Now – beyond benefits – the 4 words that express why I love launching, love watching people launch, and love getting people excited about their own launches:

Clarity + Growth + Money + Process

So – If you think you’re not ready for launching… consider being ready for a little or a lot of all of these words to describe what’s happening in your business?

What you can do right now

#1 – If you haven’t read the 9 launch mistakes post – go now, read it and post your homework in the comments.

#2 – Which “mistake” have you made that you can learn from, turn it around, reframe it and use it as a starting point to planning your next launch? It’s all about the rebound – share the lesson and what will shift next time out for you.

Talk to you in the comments below!

-Anne

Anne will be presenting at an upcoming thinkspace event: February 14, Fearless Launching: The Beginner Launch, Workshop #1.  For more information and to register for this event, click here.

Thinkspace in Fremont, Seattle we need your support!

fremont-map-thinkspace-seattleIt’s been a while since we discussed having a location in Seattle, but, we’re at that point where our Redmond location is packed to the gills and we soon will be supporting nearly 300 companies! We have targeted a few locations in the Fremont area and are getting closer and closer to making this happen.

Over the last four+ years we have been blessed to meet so many wonderful people and have had thousands of people come use our space and services. It’s been incredible to be able to serve so many entrepreneurs and support them in launching their companies. We are now at that point where we are going to take a step forward again and launch another location in Seattle. As an entrepreneur you know that when starting up a business or expanding a business there are growth risks. Rather than take the approach of “build it and they will come”, I would love to think that I’m a little bit smarter than the first time around and that I really have learned something! That being said, we (my entire team) would sincerely appreciate it if you would reach out and send us email. Also, if you know of someone that you know what would be interested we would love to get introduced.

The pricing for the offices would be in the range of $500 – $900 per month depending upon size. In additional to holding office hours with mentors, we will also be providing our virtual office, business address, virtual receptionist, recruiting services, registered agent, and constantly connecting people that can help support you in your startup. We’d love for you to be one of the thinkspace Seattle Charter Members. Thank you for your support!

Best,
Peter & Team!
Email me at: peter / at / thinkspace / dot / com
Call me at: 425-629-6200

When It’s OK To Say ‘No’

Young startups are especially vulnerable to the negative impact a bad decision has on the future of a company. A large corporation might have a bad product and recover just fine, but a startup depends on every action it takes being a positive step in the right direction.

In a world where saying “no” is looked down upon, it’s important to remember that the future of a business depends on turning down opportunities when the risk is just too great. This doesn’t mean you should avoid any and all risk, but you should be doing everything you can early on to maximize every minute spent working on the startup.

So, what are the kinds of things it’s ok to say “no” to?

Cheap Gigs

There’s nothing worse than taking on a gig out of desperation only to find out that a job you really do stand to get ahead with was right around the corner. Your company can easily become tied up in a bad deal only to have to turn down better jobs as a result.

Feel free to say “no” to cheap gigs. Your startup’s time is valuable and this value needs to be established early on to avoid limiting your potential earnings later on.

When you start out working for small amounts, you can easily miss out on more substantial pay days. Remember, other companies are used to paying a fair market price for services. If you undercut the competition, you’re undercutting yourself and setting a precedent that will be hard to shake when word gets out.

Cheap Solutions

Being frugal and going with off the shelf products to solve business challenges is a popular solution for startups wanting to just get up and running without the hassle of planning before any actual work gets done. This sounds great on paper, and speed is indeed important. Unfortunately, those cheap quick-fix solutions end up costing you more in the long run.

Manny Ruiz of Intelligent IT recently offered Business Insider this advice, “When you have limited funds, people do two things. An operations person does the tech work, or a sales person does it, and you feel your way through. Don’t do that.”

Branded Swag

Buying tons of branded swag with the intention of getting the name out about your startup is a time-honored tradition businesses love to take part in. Giving out branded keychains, mugs, water bottles, and t-shirts might be all the rage on conference floors, but this extra cost really does little to market your business. The money you spend on branded clothing to give out at conferences could better be spent making demo units available to actual influencers.

Mark Cuban listed this as one of his 12 rules for startups in Entrepeneur.com. He mentioned, “A sure sign of failure for a startup is when someone sends me logo-embroidered polo shirts.”

Contracts that Lock You Down for a Set Period of Time

Locking your startup into a long-term contract can hinder your ability to grow in the future. Even something as simple as an extended lease might end up costing your business a lot should it outgrow the facility you start in.

Overnight successes are a rare occurrence, but they do happen. Getting out of a lease isn’t always easy, or cheap. The alternative is to build on to the space you have leased (if the contract permits it) only to hand the space back over once the term has ended.

This rule would also apply to contracts with clients that tie up your staff and restricts their ability to take on new, higher paying gigs.

Anything that Restricts Your Ability to Pivot

Being able to pivot is essential for any startup. This could mean giving your company the wiggle room it needs to shift its primary business focus or something as simple as giving yourself an out should a client decide to go with another vendor.

Pivoting around shifts in the industry is vital to the success and longevity of any modern business. Things change very quickly, and how well you can adapt could make all the difference in the world to your business.

Even established businesses suffer due to inability to change. Apple is a prime example of this type of situation. It faced an uncertain fate in the late ‘90s as Microsoft continued to evolve and Apple’s products remained largely unchanged for years. It wasn’t until Steve Jobs returned and change the way the company ran from the top down that Apple was capable of becoming the company it is today.

People Who Don’t Add Value

People will come along throughout the early stages of your startup that will promise the moon but fail to deliver. This is a fact of life for any entrepreneur, and many companies suffer through costly missteps that threaten to close the business.

It’s hard for a lot of first-time entrepreneurs to get used to saying “no” to bad deals. Either out of politeness or a misplaced sense of trust, saying “yes” too quickly could cause you to miss major milestones in the company’s development.

Startups value every minute the team spends. Even the closest and most tight-knit teams could benefit from the shedding of extra weight when it becomes apparent that a member is doing little to add value to the company. Your staff will appreciate an honest and stern approach to decision making as they realize it’s those types of decisions that keeps the doors open on your business.

Oh, and one last thing. If you plan on offering a sweet treat to your employees, don’t be afraid to say “no” to Twinkie knock-offs. You really do get what you pay for with those.

The Perfect Pitch

In almost any real-world situation, you rarely have much time to make a first impression. A polished appearance is important, but that only goes so far – the first few things you say about yourself and your business (or, “what you do”) is paramount to forging a new business relationship. Often, this only takes a few seconds and comprises what most people call your “elevator speech.”

Almost every business professional has (or should have) a short and sweet pre-prepared dialog of what they do as a professional. In the startup industry, this “speech” should actually be designed more like a “pitch,” ready in the event of a spontaneous meeting with a mentor, VC, or potential business partner.

I have had the opportunity to attend – and even judge – several startup competitions over the last few years. At every event, I have seen dozens of startups severely overestimate just how much time 60 seconds (which is how much time these startups usually get to pitch their idea) really is. Just as they are getting to the core of what problem their startup solves, and how they are going to solve it, time is up.

At one of the most recent events I attended, I spoke with a VC who could not agree more with me that the perfect pitch is really quite simple – just explain what problem your product solves, and how it solves that problem. Then, if you have the time, dive deeper into the gory details of marketing plans, the backend of the product, future iterations, etc.

That’s a lot to cover in 60 seconds though, and the biggest thing to remember when pitching your startup is that you are trying to sell it – especially to judges and/or VC’s. A vague pitch, which may be intriguing to other entrepreneurs, will not impress someone who is looking to fund a great idea. Alternatively, a pitch that spends too much time on a backstory runs the risk of missing an opportunity to actually explain what their startup is, and what their product does. That said, if you can sell the premise of your great idea in 60 seconds, you are more likely to get another shot at a little more time to explain your startup and product in more detail in a later round.

For the rest of us, this is a good reminder about how to develop our own “personal pitches.” No one wants to hear a 5 minutes backstory about how you got the job you have. A short, powerful statement about where you are now – and where you are going – can be so much more powerful.

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The Secret To Success

The other day I was having a meeting with the founder of a local startup, who some have described as a “serial entreupreneur”. I asked him the “secret” to his success, and without hesitation, he said it was simply about “relationships.”

I immediately knew what he meant. I began my official career in social media at a startup working with a founder who spoke almost daily to our small team about the impact of relationships on business development, client acquisitions and most importantly, client retention. At the time, I admit I found this constant talk about relationships to be somewhat like talking about other buzzwords like the need to be “engaging” or “influential”.

The reality is, though, relationships are the key to building a business – any business. Solid relationships (and several of them) in the early stages of your startup will help you find the right team and also find the resources you need (perhaps even at a lower cost.) They will also help you find those first few crucial leads, especially if you’re more of a service-oriented than product-oriented.

Either way, you’ll need to reach people, and having strong relationships with people who trust and believe in you will help spread the word about your idea, your product, or your service, thereby getting your startup off the ground and actually launched as a business. This is part of word of mouth marketing, and it relies 100% on relationships. Of course, if your colleagues, friends, and acquaintances don’t have great relationships themselves, this is a dead end – but if you have already done a great job building up dozens (and hopefully hundreds) of great relationships, this won’t be an issue.

It’s important to keep in mind that as a startup, you need to build relationships with several types of people, and like a plant, keep nourishing them on a routine basis. This doesn’t mean you have to (using this analogy) “water” the relationship everyday, but if you know you’ll need press in the future, you’ll want to start interacting with specific writers at specific blogs now (such as by commenting on their posts, sending them an occasional email, and interacting with them on Twitter), so you actually have a relationship with them when you hope they’ll write about your new app when it launches in a few months. (As I mentioned at a talk at thinkspace a few weeks ago, the press is much more inclined to write about something when its pitched from someone who has taken the time to get to know them.)

On the flip side, if you have not built, maintained, or leveraged relationships prior to or in building your new business, you may find it difficult to get, well, really anywhere. You’ll likely find it difficult to find business partners, and especially find it hard to land clients as there will be few others in the community who will vouch for your credibility. If you’re still in the early stages of your startup – or still thinking about one – consider what bridges you may have burned, and what relationships you could strengthen to not only benefit you personally, but also professionally.

But don’t just stop there. The importance of relationships when running a business only increases as your business grows – and as you do as well. It’s critical to keep this in mind during difficult situations – especially those that are internal. Every relationship you form will have an impact on the entire lifespan of not just your business, but your career.

While the “secret” to success might be relationships in and of themselves, the real challenge is learning how to maintain and build upon them to achieve the success you desire.

What’s your secret to success as an entrepurener? Share your thoughts in the comments.