The Right Time for Publicity

This is the realm of a Catch 22. In order for a business to grow, people need to know about it. However, if people know about your business before you have solidified your product, you may end up with negative publicity that will haunt you for a while. If you wait too long before making your product public, you may end up losing a significant portion of the market to your competition who went public before you did.

Of course, if you have a business plan (which if you want your business to be successful, you will definitely need one), then you should have thought about this already. The question is, what did you come up with?

Some businesses can be developed in stages, which makes the answer to this question relatively simple: provide public information in stages, as each piece of your product or service becomes available. This way, you can ensure that the components you’re advertising can stand up to public scrutiny, and you don’t talk about the components you are still working on.

Other businesses, however, have an all-or-nothing perspective. They have a single product which cannot be broken into pieces. If these businesses require funding before the product is ready for sale, they will have to decide how much information to broadcast. Tell too little information about your product, and you won’t gain interest. Tell too much, and you may end up promising more than you can deliver, or give your competitors information that can be used by them. The trick is in striking the right balance between the two extremes.

My advice would be to use the following as general guidelines:

  1. Be sure you are ready to talk about your product before going live.
  2. Try to find a way to break up your deliverables into stages so that you can start generating a revenue stream and good publicity while you work on the later stages.
  3. When talking about a work-in-progress, don’t talk about the features you haven’t solved yet, or are not 100% certain will be in the final product.
  4. Make sure that when you start talking about your product, you have an image ready. You will make your first impression at this point in time, so be sure it is the one you want. You’re lucky, you get to control the timing of your first impression.
  5. Don’t talk off-the-cuff. You will be asked questions about your product or service, and if you don’t have a prepared answer, be aware that creating one on the spot may result in revealing more information than you would otherwise want to tell.
  6. Don’t target a bigger market than you are capable of managing. If your product can service millions of people in hundreds of industries, that doesn’t mean you need to target every industry from the start. Pick one or two as your initial market, and build on your success. You can work on expanding while impressing the smaller group you targeted.

Succeed or Fail? Your Choice…

I have been reading over the last few days many articles on success, and a few on failure. In business, only a few will succeed, and it’s not always the individual with the best idea. For example, Starbucks succeeded in building a massive empire, but there are thousands of small coffee shops that did not grow. Is Starbucks the best coffee? Not in my opinion. But there is something special about Starbucks that cannot be said for its competition.

There are many books written about the success of various companies. Successful entrepreneurs will give interviews talking about their keys to success. What they don’t talk about is how they might have failed. When is the last time a failed start-up was the topic of a small business magazine?

There are, in my opinion, 2 components to a successful business. The first, discussed by Joel Spolsky in his article Joel Spolsky’s Secret to Start-up Success, is about motivation. The successful entrepreneur has pushed through the hard times and the easy times. Despite it all, they remained driven and motivated, and in the end, it pays off. “The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly.” Cecil B. DeMille

The second component is best expressed in the saying “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston B. Churchill Every success has failures along the way. In order to succeed, one must not stop at the failure, but use the experience to move forward. There is a lesson to be learned in every failure, but too many people stop at the failure, and, rather than analyze why it was failure, merely quit. Success does not come to those who quit.

In conclusion, to succeed in your endeavors, find a way to maintain your enthusiasm for what you are doing. That means that you need to enjoy the journey to your goal, and not just the goal itself. Second, when encountering a failure, use it as an opportunity to learn, to gain experience, and move on. If you wrote a book and a publisher rejects it, look at why it was rejected. Did you target the wrong market? Do you need to rewrite sections to improve the flow of ideas? Then make the necessary adjustments and try again. It may take one try, it may take 100 tries. But if you persevere, it will pay off.

Ways to Save a Bad Time at a Conference

This is #8 on Chris Brogan’s list of 100 Blog Topics I Hope YOU Write.

First of all, I have skipped #6, and, not having used Flickr yet, will not be writing about that at this point in time.

To me, there are two types of bad times at conferences. First, the conference may turn out to be something that you were not expecting (as an example, you go to a Sci-Fi convention, and discover that it’s actually a Star Trek convention, in which you happen to have no interest). The second type of bad time is where the conference could have been good, but for some reason, you aren’t connecting.

In the first case, there’s really not much you can do, unless you decide to take the opportunity to learn something new. Extra knowledge can be useful, even if you don’t know yet how you might apply it. Besides, in any group setting, there’s the networking aspect, which is difficult to predict as to how it will pay off in the long run.

In the second case, there’s a different problem. You went to a conference on the nature of the universe expecting to hear lectures from the like of Stephen Hawking, and discover that he wasn’t interested in presenting, so they took the local high school physics teacher as a stand-in. Couple this with the fact that 90% of the attendees are still in high school. You have a PhD in physics.

Remember, that unless you failed to do any research into the conference (in which case you have no one to blame but yourself for it not living up to your expectations), there are likely other people at this conference who are also not enjoying themselves. Other people who came to the conference with similar expectations to your own, and made similar discoveries as you have about the nature of the conference.

Find them.

You could sit and complain together, but better yet, you can set up an impromptu conference in the middle of the one you’re all attending. Even if you can only find one or two other people who seem bored, get together with them in a fairly public area (look for a spare room that’s part of the conference area but isn’t being used at the moment) and give a presentation on a topic you are considered expert in (assuming, of course, that it relates to the subject of the conference). Ask the people you’ve met to do the same.

In a short while, you will have heard a few ad lib presentations on topics that you would have found interesting. You’ve connected to a few other experts in the field. And if the organizers of the conference are paying attention, you may soon get a request to help them organize their next conference, preventing a repeat of the poor performance.

Clever idea… but are you the first?

If you are an entrepreneur, then you have likely come across the question in the title more than once when you presented your idea to someone. The question is valid, but, unfortunately, often difficult to answer. I was reading today in the National Post about how due diligence on the show Dragons’ Den failed to reveal in two particular cases that the products under investigation were not, in fact, original. While I will not discuss here the issues in the products mentioned in that article, I will talk about the question that should have been raised.

Has your idea been done, or tried, before?

Often, when you think of an idea that could be turned into a business venture, the first step is forgotten, or given minimal attention. Before you go diving into the work and becoming emotionally attached to the idea, do your own due diligence. Try to locate your nearest competition, and find the pros and cons of their product or service. What advantage do you hold over them? If you cannot answer that question, then your entire idea may be flawed, or based off of out-of-date information.

A common response, though, is: “There is no competition! My idea is so unique and innovative that no one has ever tried it before!”

The answer to that, of course, is that you haven’t looked hard enough. If your idea has never been tried before, then what makes you think it is viable as a business. The competition may be distant, or impractical. It may be expensive beyond the cost of the problem it is supposed to solve.

But it exists.

To start yourself looking for the competition, think about the problem your idea solves. Then look at what other people faced with the same problem do. Do they ignore it? Do they use some roundabout way of solving it? Is their current solution expensive? What are pros and cons of the solutions that are already out there? How does your idea compare?

To make this a little simpler, suppose you had a potential client sitting in front of you. They will give you $100K contract on the spot if you can convince them that your solution is really the best. Of course, you can talk about the problem your idea solves. You can talk about your price versus the price of the competition. But what you absolutely must talk about is how is your product better than the alternatives. That means you need to know your competition in great detail, because if you don’t, you will lose the sale. If your potential client knows more than you about your competition, then they will ask you questions you don’t know the answer to, and then you lose the client.

Business Proposals

I have my first business proposal sometime next week. I’m meeting with someone who is a potential client AND a potential investor to describe my idea, the research I have already done into it, and to get buy-in from them. I’m actually not trying to get any money from them at this point, but I’m aware that it is a possibility.

I know that I should ask him to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) and I will, but I’m not sure if he will sign. Probably will, though, as I know this guy fairly well, and it would get back to him if he tried to steal my idea. Also, he’s not technical, and therefore the details of my idea are quite possibly beyond him, so from his perspective, he may as well pay me to develop this idea as well as pay anyone else.

I’m still trying to figure out the pitch, though. I don’t want to go too technical, as that’s not the point. Currently what I need from him is to get access to people that can help me with the research. So he needs to know, in high level terms, what it is I’m thinking of. Since he may become an investor as well, he needs to know what the estimated cost of developing this solution is, and why. Time frames are important, but are hard to judge until the research is complete (I did plan a research period followed by a development period, but currently the time frames for development are completely tentative).

Can anyone think of other aspects of the idea I should probably cover? Also, what format should my presentation be in? I can throw together a document outlining the idea, or I can put together a PowerPoint presentation and bring my laptop (if he has a projector available, since I don’t). However, this is an initial meeting to see if there is interest, and perhaps a presentation like that at this stage is overkill.

A Lesson in Marketing

I learned something new today about marketing. May be simple to others who have worked in this area for a while, but it was new to me.

When trying to sell a product or service, your selling line should not be “This product will save you money” or something of the like. You open yourself up to questions about what makes you special, why should I buy from you, and so on. Instead, make a small change, and suddenly, your selling line is much better: “This product will save you more money than the following alternatives”. You then proceed to list the most impressive alternatives that you can find.

The difference is, in the second statement, you indicate that you already know about the alternatives, how much they cost, how much they claim to save, and how your product is better. You haven’t explained all that, but you have indicated that you are prepared to defend your product against those alternatives.

Customer Satisfaction

I have a satisfied customer. That’s not unusual, or even noteworthy, for most businesses. However, how I got a satisfied customer is worthy of a post.

I had been writing a bunch of scripts for this client over the course of the last 9 months. There have been ups and downs during the work, and last week, we finally produced a product that can increase their sales. Again, not terribly impressive, considering that I was hired to do exactly that.

Last week, once I had delivered on a significant piece of the project, I was presented with the next round of development for this project, in response to their customers’ requests. By the time my client had finished describing what they were looking for, I had turned his wish list into 3 categories:

  1. Can’t be done (because of the client’s systems and limitations therein). This did not make the client happy, but he understood that it was beyond my control.
  2. Can be done. This included a quick estimate of the time needed to build each item.
  3. Already done. The client was unaware that during the course of other development, I had anticipated some of his requests, and already built them. He was not billed extra for this, I had merely chosen a design that had maximum flexibility so that certain future requests would not require a full rebuild of the program.

It was the third category that gave me a satisfied customer. While customers do not want to pay for work they did not request, they are even happier when they discover that their dollar has gone further than they had initially thought. I have never had an issue with this client over the size of my bills, and they have always paid promptly. But when you take a customer who is already happy with you, and show them something extra that they didn’t know about before, you leave with a customer who will advocate your work for you.

The lesson I have learned from this is to do the following:

Whenever working for a client, try to add a feature to what you are doing without billing the client for the work. It does not need to be a large feature, but it should be a noticeable extra. When the client mentions their satisfaction with your work (which, if you maintain a high standard for your work, should happen with most, if not all, of your clients) point out the extra that you threw in. Stores have sales, specials, and discounts. As a service provider, you can have them too.

My Guarantee

I had a discussion this week with one of my client’s regarding the quality of my work. The client liked the guarantee I put on my work, and is now one of my advocates. He has already sent me business, which I would not have been able to get without him. That client, as well, loved the guarantee I gave, and is an advocate of my business as well.

My guarantee is actually very simple. At the beginning of a job, I give a quote, whether it be a flat fee, or an hourly rate. I make it very clear what I will deliver for that cost. At the end of the job, the two of us (client and myself) determine that there will be no future development as part of this contract. At this point, my guarantee kicks in.

If the client locates an error in my work, no matter how large or small, within the first 3 months, the fix is 100% free. The only condition is that the error must be in a portion of the deliverable that the client asked for, and not in something which I decided to put in as an extra, unless it affects the rest of the program. For example, if the client asked for 3 reports, and I threw in a fourth, but it doesn’t work correctly, that’s not covered. But the other 3 reports are, and if the fourth report corrupted some data, that would also be covered.)

There’s an old expression: Put your money where your mouth is. My guarantee does exactly that. The client needs the program I provided, and is willing to pay for it. Because the work is all custom, the client wants to know 2 things:

  1. How much will it ultimately cost?
  2. How much will it cost me to get you to fix pieces that are broken?

The first question has the easy answer: $5000.00 or $75.00 per hour, for example. But the second question is the one which has the complicated answer. That’s where my guarantee comes into play. The answer is $0.00. There’s no catch. Once we decide it’s done, if you find a problem, I will fix it free of charge. If you want me to add something new, then we’ll need a new contract to cover that.

As a catch to this, I’ve added a second level of the guarantee. Occassionally I will subcontract work to other developers for a variety of reasons. My guarantee extends to their work as well. I insist when subcontracting that the subcontracter meet my guarantee. If they won’t do it, I won’t send them business. The reasoning on my part is simple. If you are not that confident in the quality of your work (after all, we’re only talking about bugs, not changes), then I don’t want to put my name anywhere near your work.