4 min read

When Starting a Business, Focus on What Matters

Starting a small business is hard and the failure rates are well known. Focusing your efforts on what matters and starting quickly will help.
When Starting a Business, Focus on What Matters

Your most precious resources are time and energy.

Especially when launching a new business. You only have limited amounts of each, so you don’t want to use too much time before you launch, or spend energy on activities that you don’t need to do.

You shouldn’t be afraid to launch in order to quickly test your key initial assumptions. Facebook popularized the mantra “fail fast”. They believe that getting a product or service out there in the market early is the best way to collect the feedback you need in order to know what to build.

But it’s so much easier said than done.

It takes a surprising amount of discipline and willpower. I think it's because of the way most of us are schooled. In school they never really let you fail, so you probably aren’t comfortable letting something out into the world and into the hands of other people when you know it isn’t perfect.

While you understand the value of speed, there’s still a level of fear when you come to the reality of launch day. The problem is, most new business owners have spent far too much time on non-core activities by this stage. This means too little focus on what really matters. Usually it’s only evident after launch what the non-core issues are. By then though, looking back, it’s so obvious.

Here’s What Doesn’t Matter

When you talk to small business owners who have recently launched, certain activities emerge as clearly non-core. We should learn from them.

A certain pattern also clearly emerges in these activities: they are all the fun activities we use to distract ourselves and procrastinate, but are not actually required to sell a product to customers.

At the time when we need the most focus, we are at most risk of letting ourselves drift off course.

It’s important we stay on top of these urges, to manage our time and energy to launch quickly and with the least amount of wasted time. This is where you need to keep yourself honest, it will be different in every industry.

But as an example, here is a non-exhaustive list of non-core issues for an online business like an e-commerce store:

  • The name
  • The logo
  • The color scheme
  • The fonts on the website
  • Perfect copy
  • Perfect team bios
  • A perfect marketing funnel
  • Optimized analytics configuration
  • Fine tuned search engine optimisation

None of these things matter the the success of a fledging e-commerce store. Of course, there are exceptions. But these generally hold.

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What to Do Instead

We are never fully ready.

We can prepare and wait for the perfect moment. But it won’t come. Gandhi wasn’t ready when he started leading. The great pizza shop down the street wasn’t ready when the doors opened. Neither was the great cafe on the corner.

No one is ready in the beginning.

Yet we need people to make a difference, to lead us, and this involves taking a plunge when you’re not fully ready. And yes it will be uncomfortable and nerve-wracking at times. But this can be a sign you’re doing something worthwhile.

Don’t wait for perfection before starting, it won’t come. Settle with good and get rolling. Focus on what matters to reach this point.

How to Create More Focus

If you’re struggling (or think you might struggle) one thing that works to get yourself comfortable is to write down the milestones you want to hit at launch, and with each subsequent release or improvement. This way you are clear what you are leaving out, and why, to test a specific assumption at that stage.

For example, you could write down clearly:

  • This is what the 60% mark will look like,
  • This is the 80% mark,
  • This is 100%.

Simply release what you need to test your hypothesis about what customers want. Once you start releasing it becomes much less scary⁠ and much easier to see the benefits.

What really matters is how quickly you get the next release out.

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Here’s What Matters

People often set out to start a small business with a goal of hitting a monetary target like earning over $100,000 per year.

If you are one of these people, or if these people come to you for advice, the advice is simple: don’t have a goal to earn over US$100,000 per year.

It won’t set you up for long-term success.

Instead, launch your business and make yourself a daily schedule where you go into work every day and do great work that creates value and joy for your customers and employees. This is the only guaranteed way for you to win. Forget everything else.

Why?

Not because you are guaranteed to hit your arbitrary earnings goal. No, it is the path to getting better at what you do, and when you’re better at what you do, you’ll do better in the long term in every way.

It will make your product more valuable to customers, improve your customer service, increase your value proposition to employees, and create a more valuable business. It will also save you from the realization that the joy of hitting an earnings goal fades very quickly.

Chances are you’ll be in business for a long time. So focus less on your take home earnings and more on improvement. Try to make your business 1% better every week and make sure that you’re planting seeds for the future by investing in yourself and the people around you.

If you want to have a great small business with all its benefits, you need to fall in love with showing up everyday.

So find a business where you can fall in love with the process, and launch..

Then move fast and fix things.

Before you go...

We all know that small business is about doing the little things right.

The little optimisations, the high-impact tweaks and the 1% gains you can make to your business to make it a little better, a little more profitable and even a little bit more pleasant to run.

I have interviewed 500+ business owners, surveyed thousands more, and I am always probing for their best tips, tricks and hacks to improve their business. There are three that stand out above the rest and I want to share them with you.

Join my email list for free and I’ll send them to you right now.