Invest in upskilling to $ave big when launching your business by Andrew Lenti

A braindump of tips and upskilling opportunities that will allow you to launch and sustain your business more autonomously.

Let's face it, starting a new company is expensive and if you open your wallet to every service provider, coach and best-selling author turned mentor that knocks on your door giving you their pitch, the game will be over in record time.

Steve Jobs is often quoted for his adherence to sales and marketing and how although he knew his product was the best, he also knew that without the correct messaging his product would have failed.

From our experience going on year 5 as a SaaS provider, marketing to date has been by far the most expensive part of bringing our value proposition in front of our target audience. I believe that the old saying is true; half of your marketing expenditures will disappear into thin air. It is expensive not just in monetary terms but also for the amount of time and mental energy it will cost your team in brainstorming, drafting content, re-drafting content and reflecting to ensure that the messaging is appropriate. This, not to mention the time spent in launching your campaigns and following up with the inbound leads generated from it.

There are endless stories of start-ups with big VC portfolios that in the end ran out of funds. Behind the scenes of these tales of horror, marketing always played a big role in burning the cash supply.

Don't fall into this trap! The more you rely on an external service provider, the less you will have in your hands to work with in tough moments when cash is limited.

If you want to 'bootstrap' your company to success, you will need to learn to cut many corners while doing so in style. This post speaks about the financial savings you will make by being extra-organised, quality-focused, and by making strategic investments in upskilling in specific areas of sales and marketing.

ATTENTION: Prior to doing this however, there is a great deal of effort associated with in-house upskilling that you will need to consider as a long-term investment. You will need to choose a set of tools and dedicate the time to learn them. You will also need to build a solid discipline based on process management and perform the systematic maintenance necessary to keep your processes in order, visible and available for scrutiny.

Our methodology in many ways goes against much of the common doctrine promoting a more outsource-and-delegate strategy that is often advised to new businesses. With our approach, your initial investments will probably not bring immediate results and growth will take time, concentration and above all patience. If managed correctly however, it will bring you the well-oiled machine you are seeking and allow increased independence and flexibility which ultimately leads to lower costs in key areas of business development. If this is what you had in mind when starting your business, this collection of tips is for you.

 

Invest in upskilling to $ave big when launching your business

Displayed using our standard T-O-P-P framework, here are some tricks of the trade we learnt along the way in upskilling our workforce and leveraging complementary synergies to allow for big $avings and long-term sustainability.

TECHNOLOGY

Your website: Learn how to manage your own website so that you can publish articles, connect and launch social media ad campaigns and make changes on-the-fly. This may not give you the sexiest website but will allow you to increase frequency in publishing and sharing content. Google will reward you for this with increased crawl bot activity and page indexing which ultimately increase your ranking.

Adobe Photoshop: Becoming an Adobe Photoshop expert will take another significant portion of your time but if learnt properly, you will save big on graphic designer costs. This will allow you to build a quality library of posters and be able to perform complete makeovers on old advertisements in short amounts of time ensuring that your weekly posts and archive of promotional material are kept fresh and enticing to your audience.

Training videos: Invest in a video making software and ensure someone on your team learns how to make quality training videos. Your clients will train quicker and more thoroughly if they can do so in their own time and not be constantly subjected to workshops and webinars. Embed 90 second videos in your training manuals to make the learning experience even more intuitive.

Explainer videos: If you go the extra step and become a semi-pro video producer, you will now catch the eyes of thousands of people a day as your videos will be floating in their LinkedIn and Facebook newsfeeds. HINT - Construct your next video based on the structure of a video that already made someone rich. Search online for award winning explainer videos, observe their style, their mood and format and count the amount of words used that were squeezed into its allotted timeframe. The more words you put, the more chance you will lose your audience. If your video making skills become semi-professional, you will be able to reduce word count with on-screen visual communication. Lastly, engage a professional video producer at least once and create a top-notch video together. In doing so, you will learn heaps of secrets as you work with your partner in building the video storyboard and articulating it into its final product.

LinkedIn Sales Navigator: I would be shocked if anyone in B2B or B2C does not have a subscription to this amazing tool. By now we have lost count of the hundreds of partners, clients, acquaintances and even employees we have found easily through its super-robust filter features. A must for anyone looking to expand their network. Learn to use this tool and all its functions to watch your network grow in both quality and quantity.

 

ORGANISATION

Outsourcing: When outsourcing, build a robust quality governance team in-house aiming to be hands-on with 20% of the delegated tasks. Build in your contract with your service provider that you want accessibility to works-in-progress and that you would like to be trained in specific areas and activities. For our Product Team, we did this by keeping our front-end developers in house (Europe) while relying on our off-shore (India) functional programmers to do the heavy lifting and manage security administration. By splitting the two teams, quality control and testing activities became more frequent decreasing defects, increasing iterations, and keeping the long-distance partner in check to our desired level of quality.

Virtual teams: Since the Covid-19 pandemic, virtual team management has officially become the norm for businesses in all sectors. Your ability to collaborate as a team working from anywhere is more and more important as virtual companies with no physical location are starting to attract even the most traditional businesses that previously wouldn't consider working with providers who did not have a physical location. For the entrepreneur, this is great news for major savings are to be made in overhead costs. To avoid unnecessary pitfalls, standardise your meeting procedures to ensure that they are well organised in the same way you would do if the meeting was in a physical location. Take the time to train properly when facilitating and leverage the platform features correctly to make the session more interactive while avoiding downtime and confusion. Know the differences between online meetings, broadcasts, webinars, and brainstorming sessions and establish protocols that standardise a session from start-to-finish.

Strategic partnerships targeting reach maximisation: You will notice in your first years that there are hundreds of opportunities to share the energy and passion with like-minded, fresh companies like yours. This opens up many 'not-for-profit' opportunities to join forces in win-win media & content publication partnerships where as your networks and followings mingle among themselves, so will your visibility and reach in the market, not to mention the know-how that you will acquire along the way. WARNING: Be careful to not spread yourself to thin in commitments of such for they are time consuming if you want to cultivate these relationships properly. Choose only a few high quality, knowledge-sharing relationships that show great potential.

 

PEOPLE

A short time prior to our launch, I was advised by a software house to seek a university student and a semi-retired programmer with a big long grey beard. I didn't understand at the time what this tip signified but now I believe I do.

The University student: Connecting with young talented individuals who have still not launched their careers is very refreshing and quite surprising as you will see how many technical skills they possess. In our first years, we brought on board a 19 year-old who was an up-and-coming developer. In a short amount of time, he became our trainer in many of the applications listed in the first part of this article teaching me personally fundamental techniques in web page design (e.g. css, js) that continue to prove the worth of the time spent learning.

The semi-retiree: There is enourmous opportunity in the market to find affordable, highly-experienced individuals who have left or are leaving the corporate world and are looking to stay busy by putting their corporate skills to good use as a freelancer. Our team have quite a few that fall in this category. Their adherence to procedure, discipline and the soft skills they bring from many years of leadership positions in big companies adds a great deal of credibility and confidence when facing clients in sales relating settings and offers mentorship to younger team members looking for a second opinion prior to making big decisions.

The translator: Capitalise on a global workforce to create multi-lingual marketing collateral. If you operate in multiple markets, you will notice that you will have partnership opportunities arriving from every corner of the world. One way to tame outgoing cash flows and save money is by trading services for services. In general, a translator can be paid up to $500 per each page of content. When engaging with a partner in a foreign market, offer your services in a way that they will help you translate brochures, videos and presentations into their language so that you can then launch marketing campaigns in their market and potentially engage them as a local partner as incoming leads arrive.

 

PROCESS

ICONS, GRAPHICS and more ICONS: If you want to catch people's eyes with crisp messaging, you need effective visual graphics. Keep a bank of icons ensuring that they are well organised and named correctly so you can locate them quickly. They become major accelerators when putting together presentations and save space on the screens and slides presented to your audience. Similarly, make sure you keep your high resolution graphics and photos well organised and readily available. PowerPoint presentations with low resolution graphics are best left for your 90s throwback party.

Soft guerrilla marketing: Bombard the social media daily with your value proposition. Use a good mix of content publications and the occasional hard sell advertisement. At the finish of every successful client or partner exercise, publish an article or case study highlighting the experience and lessons learnt in the field. By consistently publishing experienced-based content that gives value and insights into your offering, you will notice that your online following will naturally grow generating interest to explore collaboration opportunities with those who need your products and services.

Checklist and workflows: The days of spending hours reading a 45-page procedure to learn something are long gone. Most decision makers nowadays rely on quality process maps and control checklists to put actions to words. For those of us feeling comfortable in publicly sharing our know-how, this opens up great opportunity to connect with business leaders who are looking for high quality problem solvers. Capture, dress-up and publish your process flows and activity checklists in a way that bring value to businesses facing similar challenges. Use tools such as LinkedIn SlideShare and showcase your material on your company page & website to watch how the magic of soft selling through publishing your know-how will help you grow your network exponentially with minimal effort. Here is an example of a waste management process workflow we shared online that has since been making its way around the world numerous times >> capture office waste in 5-easy-steps

Play frequently in your sandbox of ideas and unfinished content: Keep a large reserve of unfinished content and a journal so that you always have a long list of draft publications, ideas & articles ready to be brought to life in moments of creative inspiration. If you have an idea for an article, capture it immediately by saving a draft or putting a post-it note on the refrigerator. Remind yourself that you are on your way to being great person of influence in your field and that with each publication, your company gains more credibility in your sphere of interest. Your SEO specialist wants you to update your website weekly. This is one way to ensuring that you do. SPECIAL TIP -- take your writing with you on holiday. For me, nothing inspires the creation of quality writing more than waking up on a remote island, away from my daily routine with an unfinished work that needed just a bit of natural inspiration to get me to the finish line.

FAQs: keep a long, healthy list of FAQs. I can't begin to underline how much time this help you save. The moment you notice you are answering the same question that someone has already asked in prior discussions, add it to your FAQ list. Update your FAQ lists regularly, discuss them with your team and ensure that they are included and sometimes even showcased in your pitch presentations. Group FAQs into macro categories to allow you to reduce your cycle time when selling, onboarding, and training. For us, key areas to have FAQs handy are: incoming partnership requests, curious potential product buyers, proof-of-concept and product test pilot inquiries, and technical FAQs for IT personnel who are evaluating our product.

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In closing

There is a famous story of the two aspiring skiers, one which spent his time in the shops spending large amounts of time and cash buying all the up-to-date equipment, and the other who pointed his resources on training, repetition, trial and error and more training despite his limited budget for equipment. One went off to be a famous Olympic athlete and the other sold his beautiful skis in the second hand market the following year.

Take a conscious note of where opportunities to acquire know-how exist, put a finanical price tag on them and commit yourself to role up your sleeves to position yourself in the market to be independent of expensive, low-value service providers.

If this article is of interest to you, please connect with me for more on this topic and follow our company page on LinkedIn. We will be delighted to have in our tribe.

Best of luck in all your entrepreneurial endeavours,

Andrew Lenti

ps - If you like this article, I also recommend Aspiring entrepreneurs beware, bloodsuckers are everywhere, an article we published looking at the many online cons and tricks to watch out for when presenting yourself for the first time in the market as a new business.

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Andrew Lenti has been working with multinational organisations involved in business transformation initiatives since 1999.  In that time he has been based in 7 different countries. He has rich experiences working with business leaders at all levels of the organisational hierarchy and has spent vast amounts of time working with shared service centres of excellence on business restructuring implementation projects. He is one of the co-founders of TOPP Tactical Intelligence Ltd, a European operational excellence software provider and is one of the original architects of P.R.E.S.T.O., the cloud-based,  performance enhancement continuous improvement business management software currently being used by large and small organisations as a tool in performance management and assisting with operational restructuring. 

If you would like to learn more, please visit www.toppti.com