This is the secret to starting quickly:
Sell something to someone.
That is all, thank you very much and goodnight.
*Alan & Simon retire*
Ok, there’s a little more to it but when you strip everything back this is the most important element of your business and it often gets lost in the thrill, excitement and seduction of logos, websites and business cards.
Most people who are starting a business put sales off to the end rather that starting with it. Why do they do this? Because sales scares them, because getting rejected scares them, because it is uncomfortable!
Most people don't make much progress when they start, they spend most of their time on making sure the logo is right, the business cards are designed and the website is perfect. If you are doing this then you are avoiding the most important part of starting a business which is sales.
We will have more on helping you get your first sale in upcoming articles but for now let's look at how you pitch your business when you are starting.
When I ask people about their business and they’re still talking after 10 minutes I start looking for the exits. Actually I switched off nine minutes and thirty seconds ago.
Most people miss the chance of sales, or introductions to potential customers because their pitch is either INCOHERENT or BORING. I want to help you structure your pitch clearly, level up on excitement (if you're not excited about business no-one else will be) and then add some pixie dust to make it really come alive!
Here’s why you need a clear, succinct pitch and exciting pitch:
This next section is CRITICAL to your success. It will help you to ENGAGE, EXCITE AND SELL your business to yourself, your friends and family and COMPLETE strangers:
WHAT you sell and WHO you sell it to.
Here’s what to do.
First you need to be clear about who you are selling to. Remember if you try and sell EVERYTHING to EVERYBODY you’ll end up selling NOTHING to NOBODY.
It costs thousands to reach ‘anybody’ with marketing messages! TV, billboards, sponsoring major events. However ,you can reach specific customers for free using incredible tools on social media, networking and other sales/marketing activities.
Remember from Step 2 (How to choose a business idea) we told you if you’re not getting the results you want it’s for three reason:
The first is FOCUS. What I’m about to give you is the next level of focus and it is CRITICAL to your success. If you don't have a focused sales message, if you don't have a focused target market, if you don't focus your activity you won't make progress.
You need to write two sentences: sentence one, you describe your product or service and sentence two, describe the TARGET customer – this is the customer who is MOST LIKELY to buy this from you.
Remember if you’re tempted to describe your customer as ‘anybody’ you’ll end up selling NOTHING to NOBODY. Here are some questions to help you define your TARGET customer – they might not all be relevant but choose the ones that help you and work to be as specific as possible.
1. What is their age range?
Be careful with this, the temptation is to be too broad.
Like John who was selling women’s clothing online said his target customer was women in the UK aged 18-45. Too broad!
Are you telling me an 18 year old would be as excited by the clothing (and model pictures) as a 45 year old? Of course not! (he figured out his target was actually 40-45 year old women)
2. Are you customers MOST LIKELY to be male or female?
3. Where do they live?
Be as specific as you can! What city? Which neighbourhood? We were helping one gentlemen launch a grounds maintenance business and he identified the 100 homes closest to his to be his target customers. He wanted to walk to work. Knowing that gives him a target and helps him to start selling immediately.
Remember it’s the customers who are most likely to buy. These are the ones we’re going to TARGET. If someone outside of your target group emails you and says they want to buy something, what do you say? YES!
4. What products, services, movies or music are they fans of?
If you can work out what they are into you can work out where they hang out and how to get to them!
5. Where do they work? What businesses are they from?
If you are selling business to business (B2B) then you need to identify what type of business is going to buy from you and who within that business you need to talk to.
We sell our product mainly to Housing Associations and the people we need to talk to within those businesses are Head of Housing, Head of Communities or Resident Engagement.
Knowing this makes it really easy for us to find people's details on their websites, LinkedIn and then contact them directly. The more specific we have got about who we are pitching to the easier it has got for us to win business.
The key is to get as focused as possible on who your dream customers are.
What are you selling and who are you selling it to?
This process forms the basis of your pitch and the more specific you are, the more successful you’ll be.
Here’s the version we had in the early days of the PopUp Business School:
We sell inspirational start-up training events to housing associations to help their residents make money doing what they love.
Jade from Leeds UK is a graphic designer. Her style is influenced by Cath Kidston so her version is:
She sells beautifully designed accessories to women over 35 who are fans of Cath Kidston products.
The more specific you are, the more successful you’ll be.
Check out our Daily PopUp on What makes a Successful Pitch.
Business has changed. Even since we started the PopUp Business School in 2011. The conversations we’re having now are completely different to the ones we had in the beginning. In case you need some proof:
The biggest retailer?
Amazon and they don’t own shops! (apart from a couple)
One of the biggest media companies?
Facebook and then don’t produce any content!
The biggest accommodation provider?
AirBnb and they don’t own any accommodations!
The world’s largest taxi company?
Uber and they don’t own any taxis!
It’s called start-up funding and that is the lie. It’s not funding – it’s debt. We’ve met people who have had to take jobs to pay off their start-up loans and there are lots of organisations in on the scam; start-up loans companies, banks, governments, colleges and universities.
When is the WORST POSSIBLE time to have debt when you’re running a business? At the beginning! When you have no customers!
And it will take you 9 times longer than you think to get one.
You don’t need a business plan to start a business, you don’t need money and you definitely don’t want to be starting a business in debt.
What you need is hope, confidence and a customer.
So how do you start a business without spending money?
Here’s the traditional approach that we get taught.
1. You make a list of everything you need to start your business,
2. Write your estimated cost next to each item and then add everything up,
3. Then double it,
4. That’s the amount of money you need to borrow,
5. Put this in a business plan,
6. Present to bank,
7. Go into debt,
8. Spend money,
9. Maybe make money in year 2!!!!!!
Can you wait 2 years to make a profit? Do you want to go into debt?
You don’t need to spend that money at all. When you’re starting out, good enough is good enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfection will kill your business before you start. Perfection costs money and you don’t need to spend money to get going. We meet so many people who have wasted thousands on starting their business. Here’s what happens:
This is the secret to falling in love with your business and not being seduced by it. Idea generation is just dating your business. The real love comes when you start creating your future together and dealing with some challenges along the way.
Here are five ways we teach people how to start for free: First you make a list of everything you need to get going, e.g. premises, a website, business cards etc and then you bootstrap as much as you can.
5 Critical Ways to Bootstrap your Business
1. Get stuff for free
Google this: How do I get (enter what you’re looking for) for free?
You’ll be amazed at the results that come up. People advertise free stuff on Facebook and Gumtree. You can get business cards for free (usually +shipping), flyers for free plus lots more! Maybe we’ll add some more free resources later, but the real win is when you do this yourself. One of our favourite free resources is Weebly. You can build a website for free and start selling straight away. Alan built a free website at the beginning of the year and took tens of thousands of pounds through it without spending a penny on web development.
Borrow space, borrow equipment, a restaurant, borrow a kitchen, borrow people, borrow whatever you can. We had a songwriter along to a workshop in Nottingham, UK who was about to spend two thousand on recording equipment until we pointed out that her local university had several BRAND NEW recording studios at 40% occupancy that she could borrow – not only that, the university would even throw in a team of sound engineers, producers and a technician! Why? Because the students, god bless them need real-world experience to pass their course!
There are resources lying all around you that are underutilised. Get creative and borrow what you need.
Want to find out how to borrow a restaurant? Come on one of our courses.
It’s how co-founder Alan got some branding and marketing done for free in the early days of his first business. He trained the staff of a marketing agency, they did some stuff for him in exchange. Co-founder Simon secured some accountancy services for free for three years in exchange for building a website.
What skills, time, products or service could you swap so you can get what you need for free? Find someone who has what you need and swap what you have for it. You have incredible skills that other people need. Swap them for what you need to get going.
4. Sell stuff you don’t need
Joanna is a mobile beautician and when we first met her she needed a portable treatment table but couldn’t afford the £120 cost. The money for this had to come out of her bills fund and the risks felt too great for her!
"If I buy this table and don’t get enough customers in the same month, I won’t have enough cash to cover my bills!" With a nudge from us, she sold the running machine that was gathering dust in her spare room (only being used as a clothes horse) and was able to get the treatment table to get going.
This is why this really makes sense. We are psychologically tied to the money we need to survive – and rightly so. Selling some of your unwanted stuff creates a ‘start-up slush fund.’
By the way, this is smarter than blowing your savings AND MUCH SMARTER than starting a business in debt! We all have unused stuff lying around in our house. Sell it and use the cash to get going.
5. Sell your value before you create it
This is the most important of all and a foundational principle of the PopUp Business School. This is about getting paid in advance for your product or service so you can use your customer’s cash to get started. At this point lots of you would be thinking ‘Yes, but that wouldn’t work with my business.’ You can make this work with ANY kind of business, you just have to think differently about how you make it happen and your customers have to TRUST that you’ll deliver on your promises. I remember Fiona who spent nearly 18 months writing a training course only to discover that no one wanted to buy it. Pitch the ideas for the course first then you can shape the course based on the feedback you get from the market. Then ask your customers to pay up front (you might have to incentivise them with a discount). We pitched the first PopUp Business School free start-up event in March, got paid in April, wrote it in September and delivered it in October.
Also you could try Kickstarter or Indiegogo and create a business funding page (your customers pledge money in exchange for your products and you get the cash when you hit your target).
When do Amazon want payment for their products? When do you pay for theatre tickets? After the show? Imagine going to the supermarket, loading your trolley with food and going straight home to eat it all, only returning the following week to pay! Can you imagine Walmart or Tesco standing for that? Of course not!
Small businesses are saddled with debilitating notion that we have to deliver before we get paid. The pop-up restaurant who got their customers to pay for their meals in advance and used their customer’s money to buy the ingredients got this spot-on!
The very first person to make a profit at the PopUp Business School (who was unemployed and recovering from substance addiction) took orders for lunch (at one of our events) and convinced everyone to pay in advance for their lasagne. When he left the room with £88 in his pocket we weren’t sure if we’d see him again but luckily he returned!
Go through your list of what you need to start your business and see what you can get for free, borrow, barter for, sell something to get cash for or sell your value before you create it.
This step deals with number 1, you will learn number 2 and 3 by the time you’ve completed this guide.
I remember one participant I was trying to help decide between the two ideas she had put on her website. The first was a recruitment agency and the second was care packages for hen parties. Yes, they were both on the same website!
If you are someone that has more than one business idea then you need to narrow it down and focus. If you split your focus between two or even three ideas you won’t make the progress you want to. Focus on one idea at once
Out of all your business ideas, based on where your head is at right now, what’s your best guess as to the idea that:
Simon and Alan use this method for choosing business ideas that they want to focus on at the PopUp Business School team meetings. It makes it easy to see where you should focus.
First get a pad of sticky notes and write each of your ideas on a separate note.
Second create a scale with one axis showing excitement from 1 – 10 and the other access show ease to start-up from 1 – 10.
Then take the sticky post it notes and stick them on your grid 1 by 1. If you have a friend to help you with it, even better!
Once you have finished if you have an idea in Box B, you may have found the one! This is the one that gets you out of bed in the morning and you can start quickly and easily
If your ideas are in Box A - You have great ambition but are probably stuck because the thing you’re excited about is too big, too ambitious, too perfect. To knock it into Box B you need to be creative and come up with ideas to answer these questions:
What could you do this this idea to make it brilliant? What twist to this idea would make you different to the competition (like the zombie fitness trainer).
We meet lots of people who try and run with three, four even five business ideas at once. It’s because they’re scared! We’re all scared! What if it doesn’t work? What if I don’t chose the right idea? The people who try and run with more than one business ideas at once are ALWAYS the ones who will get frustrated, quit and have to take a job instead.
If you’re still left with more than one idea, like some of the artists and makers we meet, answer this question:
Out of all of your ideas, which is most special? Which of your creative talents makes people go ‘wow! I’ve never heard of that before?’
There are, broadly speaking two types of start-up we meet.
Type 1 – ‘I’ve got a great idea and I think I can make money out of it.’
Type 2 – ‘I love doing XXXXXX, I just need to figure out how to make money out of it.’
Guess which one is still trading in three years? Type 2 of course!
One of the best pieces of advice I as given in the early days was this:
Fall in love with your business idea don’t be seduced by it
(In Step 3: The Great Funding Lie, we’ll give you the secret to this).
For example, wouldn’t be amazing to have a book published? To see it there on the shelf! However the thought of having to write a thousand words a day for the next 200 days? Less exciting? Unless writing is what you love doing, yes! When you’re choosing the idea to go with it’s not just your excitement for the idea, it’s the activity you have to do every day to make happen! That’s the stuff to fall in love with. And once you’ve chosen, go all in.
Anyway back to the ‘why’… there are some questions I want you to consider. Firstly:
Imagine you’ve succeeded in building the business you want –
What tastes and smells would you experience, tucking into that delicious meal at your Caribbean hotel? Pay attention to these visions and revisit them regularly; notice the colours, the sounds and how it feels. It helps you build the inner desire to get things done and create your business! And it’s fun!
As you proceed through this step-by-step start-up course, I want you to build this picture using all of your senses because there are going to be some challenges. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, but by strengthening your ‘why’ it will help you navigate the challenges, build your resilience and ultimately help make your business succeed.
If you have a large enough ‘why’ then any ‘how’ is surmountable. ‘Why’ gives you the motivation to get out of bed in the morning and make things happen. The ‘why’ doesn’t just have to be personal gain either. Some of us find that, a ‘why’ outside of ourselves can be more motivational. For example Alan’s ‘why’ is to help other people, to change the way entrepreneurship is taught, to have an impact on the cities that we PopUp in. This is what gets him out of bed and working.
It doesn’t really matter what your ‘why’ is, just as long as you have one that’s strong enough to get you over the obstacles that are coming towards you as you start up.
Write down your answers. Imagine your answers (your imagination has no limits).
He had built his business to tackle a problem he had in his own life and had a compelling ‘why.’ The ‘why’ inspired me to taste his cakes, the ‘why’ bought me into what he was doing and the cakes and brownies were DELICIOUS! I needed a compelling ‘why’ to get me engaged and he gave it to me.
Why are you running your business?
What’s your story?
What experiences have you had that have led you to this moment?
If you can clearly articulate the ‘why’ for your business to your customer you will inspire them to engage with you. ‘Why’ is far more compelling that ‘what!’
Why are you doing this?