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10 min read

The secret cheat codes for startup success

You’ve probably seen cheat recipes for things like lasagne or moussaka, ways to take the hard work out of a job but still get winning results. Is it possible to do the same with a startup business? Are there shortcuts or smart tactics that can fast-track your success whilst still delivering a quality product/service?

Automate

Automation technology is transforming how businesses operate, as it allows you to do more with less, helping you scale in ways that were never before possible. Use technology to simplify and automate any manual, time-consuming, repetitive tasks you have. Accounting, project management, email marketing, social media posting, appointment booking, payment processing, database management there is no shortage of cloud-based solutions and apps out there that can help. Most solutions offer free trials, which are worth taking advantage of to ensure they’re the right fit for you.

While many automation solutions are geared towards medium and larger businesses, there are still tools out there designed with smaller businesses in mind, such as:

  • Zapier

    A simple automation platform that allows you to integrate web applications that you use to automate workflows e.g. receive an email in Gmail, it will copy the attachment in Gmail to Dropbox, then alert you in Slack about the new Dropbox file.

  • ActiveCampaign

    A cloud software platform specialising in customer experience automation, helping you manage marketing and sales on the same platform. Set up a welcome series with email automation, find your most engaged contacts, pull in information from other systems, automate the marketing you don’t have time for. “It’s like getting an extra employee without needing an extra desk.”

  • Hootsuite or Buffer

    Manage your social media accounts via one platform. Schedule posts for certain days/times rather than logging in and posting in real-time. It’s a great time saver (but don’t forget about community management you still need to keep a human eye on things!).

  • Google Ads

    Google Ads offers free automation features that will refine your campaigns for better results. For example, setting up automated rules can save you time by cutting down the need to monitor campaigns and make frequent, manual changes e.g. if you want to boost your keyword bid any time your ad falls off the first page of results, you can set a rule for that.

  • Calendly

    A simple automation tool that cuts out the back-and-forth emails for arranging meetings, phone calls and other appointments. You can also embed Calendly into your website so as to make use of its scheduling features but not direct customers away from your website.

  • Xero

    A cloud-based accounting software platform that helps minimise the workload of accounting with features such as automated invoices, scheduled payments, and cash flow management. QuickBooks is also another solution that allows you to send automatic invoices if you’re working with clients on a retainer basis.

Keep it lean

The lean methodology is a smart approach to your startup if you want to make efficient and effective use of your time rather than potentially falling down a rabbit hole of assumptions. Eric Ries’s bestselling book, The Lean Startup, is often lauded as the startup methodology. Fuelled by his frustration that so many businesses fail because they have not tested their assumptions before releasing a product to market, Reis encourages startups to eliminate uncertainty and apply scientific method principles to your business by following these three steps in a continuous cycle:

  1. Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – a product that has enough features to satisfy early adopters.
  2. Test and measure – set your test objectives and quickly assess if your product meets them.
  3. Learn and iterate – take the learnings from your test and apply them to the next iteration of your product.

Ries recommends moving as quickly as you can through steps 1-3 and starting over again, creating a continuous loop of learning. “Rather than guess what consumers want, entrepreneurs should release new products in small, incremental stages in order to gain feedback and pivot the company’s vision when necessary”.

Turn data into actionable insights

Understanding your data is the number one skill for an entrepreneur right now. Data-driven insights are the backbone of your business. Financial data informs you how well the business is doing. Customer data helps to hone your product and service offering. Marketing data guides your sales and promotional activity. It’s the evidence you need to have in place and understand before making any business decisions and commencing any activity. For example, when it comes to prioritising your time, you’ll want to dedicate your effort and money to a market that drives your revenue. Without collecting and analysing your data, you won’t know what this market is. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to persuade a demographic that they need your product when they’re clearly not interested.

But – there’s an awful lot of data out there and if you’re not skilled in this area, it can feel overwhelming and intimidating. Especially when you’re short on time. Here are some data crunching tools and techniques that can help to quickly identify opportunities to pursue and issues to address, helping you to work smart and prioritise your time:

  • Identify market opportunities with Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends

    You don’t want to waste a lot of time and money solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Both of these tools can help you look at search trends over time, keyword volumes, competition, and then drill your results down by location. You could use this data to identify products/services that are in demand in your area where the competition is low. Winner! (Remember – trends can change so keep a constant eye on these tools.)

  • Go deeper into your customer data with CRM software

    If you use CRM software, create different customer segments e.g. ‘loyal customers’ and ‘one-off customers’ to build customer profiles based on their common characteristics. Review the products they’re buying and use this to inform future developments. You might even discover your top customers aren’t who you think they are, which will have a big impact on your business plan and marketing strategy.

  • Analyse your website performance with Google Analytics

    Get rid of marketing guesswork by taking the free Google Analytics for Beginners online course. Google Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. This course will show you how to create an account, implement tracking code, and set up data filters. You’ll also learn how to navigate the Google Analytics interface and reports, and set up dashboards and shortcuts. The course will also demonstrate how to analyse basic Audience, Acquisition, and Behavior reports, and set up goals and campaign tracking. Ignoring your Google Analytics is the marketing equivalent of flying blind. It requires time to learn at first but once you’ve got your goals etc in place, it will be an insights machine that keeps on giving. We’ve written our own beginner’s guide to Google Analytics for small businesses.

  • Run A/B tests

    An efficient way to see what works best by running two different versions of an advert (for example) and comparing results. You might find that using a lifestyle image in your Facebook ads is more effective than a product-based image, or you might discover through your Google Analytics that more people engage with video content on one of your main landing pages, than images. Find out what’s working best, and focus your time on doing more of it.

Take advantage of online graphic design tools

If you’re not a designer but require visual content to promote your business, then online graphic design platforms such as Canva, are worth serious consideration. Canva offers 400k+ templates, which you can quickly customise to your needs, without having to be a professional designer. Social media images, presentations, posters, documents – and so much more – can also be created via your mobile, so you could even be building your marketing collateral from the comfort of your sofa one evening, or if you’re waiting in line for a coffee. It’s all saved in the cloud so there’s no worry around losing your designs. You can even create your own Brand Kit to ensure you (and future team members) always use the right colours, font, etc. As you grow, you can invite team members into projects so you’re all working on the same page. It’s an affordable way to quickly create beautiful imagery for your brand.

Change your mindset with the 80/20 rule

This principle claims 80% of results come from 20% of the effort you put in. Therefore, focus on the top 20% of tasks that will impact your goals. Rank your tasks based on their level of priority. Leave any non-urgent tasks on your to-do list until you next have free time in your schedule to address them. Focus on the tasks that matter most to achieve your goals quickly. If a task does not directly help you achieve your primary business objective, then it’s a distraction.

Be more mindful of your productivity

When running a business, the last thing you need is to be bogged down by admin and losing focus on the things that really matter. On the other hand, there’s always so much to deal with and you may not have the support around you to delegate time-consuming tasks. To be more productive, you have two options: either working more hours or working smarter. I think we all agree on our preferred option here. With this in mind, here are 32 hacks for working more productively. From saying ‘no’ to meetings, to getting to grips with project management software such as Asana, Trello and Monday.com. You’ll be surprised at how many shortcuts you unlock this way.

Get networking!

Sometimes it really is who you know. Great business contacts can have a fundamental impact on how quickly you grow your business. It isn’t all about generating new clients – it’s about strategically building your network to utilise expertise, influence, and services to good effect. There are many different types of business contacts – suppliers, wholesalers, creatives, lenders, investors, advisors, mentors, developers, software providers, hardware providers, manufacturers – to name a few! Establishing strong relationships will help ensure you can turn to the right person when needed, whether it’s for a good deal on a product or being introduced to a potential investor.

As you can see, it’s not just about tactics that can fast track your way to success, but working out where to focus the time you have, and what you need to have in place to be most productive. Technology has served startups with a feast of tools that can be leveraged for optimum efficiency and productivity, helping one of you go a long way. Keep your business goals front of mind and explore the tools, tactics, and platforms that can help towards this goal, right now. It might feel like extra work setting them up at first, but once in place, you’ll quickly notice the benefits.

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