“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” Mark Twain, author
Here are my top tips for managing the everyday day risks we encounter in business and turning them into opportunities. They’re gleaned from personal experience and the extensive collective wisdom of the far more accomplished and wise folks amongst my network.
The tips are as relevant to startups and new businesses as they are to anyone running and growing a business or a part of it.
They follow on from my earlier exploration of the risks we take and whether they’re really worth it.
1) Be prepared and do your research: on your market, your customers and their behaviour and your proposed product. Form a good business plan. It needn’t be a magnus opus, often less is actually more, so that you don’t end up getting lost, or distracted, by your own detail. But do ensure that it’s thorough.
The Business Model Canvas by Strategyzer is a great 1-page starting point and a great document to keep under review at all stages of your business. (Many large, international businesses rely on it too).
Above all, don’t jump into the unknown with no inkling of what awaits you (and definitely don’t risk your home or other critical finances and assets). But to quote one of my entrepreneur role models, the co-founder of one of the fastest growing ‘unicorn’ businesses of today, Will Shu, co-founder of Deliveroo: you do need to ‘go all in’. Once you’ve done your homework, commit. And commit hard.
Half-heartedness is not the character trait of any successful entrepreneur or business manager.
2) Don’t exaggerate: be realistic about outcomes too. If you look too good to be true, people will suspect you aren’t the real thing and that you’re not worthy of backing. If you go too far the other way, you’ll uninspire the very people who could be championing or partnering with you.
Be factual, concise and make sure you provide clear justification for your vision and why it is credible.
3) Be as original and distinct as possible: copying someone else is rarely a recipe for success. ‘Me too’ propositions waste precious time and resources. Difference is good, as long as it meets demand and creates a user/consumer-friendly experience.
4) Draw on the wisdom of your network: to help validate ideas, to find the cheerleaders who will give you the courage to back yourself, to help you open the doors to funding, sales and opportunities.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without the encouragement, constructive feedback and support of my network.
Be social. Put yourself out there. Don’t be secretive about what you’re doing. In every conversation lies opportunity.
5) Manage the money: and never take your eyes off it. The principal purpose of most businesses is to sell. If the money coming in doesn’t cover the money going out, you’re sitting on a bomb.
6) Test, test, test: and then test some more, with real members of your target audience. There’s no point taking a business risk if you can’t sell what you’ve built and believe in. The sooner you hear from the customer his/herself, what they value and how much they value it, the wiser you’ll be about the likely market reaction to your proposition. This advice and its value in ensuring sustainable revenue, never goes away.
7) Measure, measure, measure: make sure you know exactly how you’re performing and what’s responsible for that outcome. And measure the right things – not the ‘vanity metrics’ that look great at a first glance, but actually don’t get you any closer to real sales results.
(Some social media metrics are definitely misleading on this. See my separate blog on what to prioritise and what to ignore if you’re interested in using the right metrics.)
8) Keep innovating: standing still is not an option. But innovation and progress needn’t be on a grand scale every time, as long as change is felt and appreciated by your customers and target customers.
9) Know when to sell or to stop: As Dawn Whiteley MBE told me earlier in the year, when we were discussing her top tip for small business success, ‘don’t be afraid to change the plan’. And if it’s not working, have the courage to seek objective help about how to improve prospects, or to stop, if you can’t see a way to make things work.
It’s better to pull back than go down with the ship.
10) People: aim for the right team and expect not to get it right every time, even despite your best efforts.
Don’t over-promise or under-protect yourself contractually when it comes to who you work with in building and running your business. Avoid letting emotions cloud your assessment of individual performance and your decision-making. Recruit properly, do your background checks (e.g. references, social media profiles, cross-checking CV content), on contractors as well as employee roles, and deal with problems dispassionately and fast.
One thing that I have learned and feel very strongly about is that if you don’t have the right people on-board, or you can’t make personalities ‘gel’ productively, don’t spend long fighting a situation that you cannot win. It will only make things worse. If you have good contractual documents in place, they will support you in bringing things to a swift and fair close.
One of my favourite marketing straplines of the moment comes from the disruptive insurance tech startup, Wrisk:
“Life is risk. Own it.”
It is very good advice.
The 10 tips above should go a very long way to ensuring that you can embrace and be confident about the risks you need to take.