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How to Beat the Odds and Succeed as a Start-Up

10/22/2015 05:29 EDT | Updated 10/22/2016 05:12 EDT
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The statistics are alarming. Nine out of 10 start-ups die at five years. I know the challenges personally because I'm on my eighth start-up now. From selling one of my successful ventures to Arlene Dickinson of the Dragon's Den, to some not so fruitful ventures, I have had my share of wins and losses. But I have no regrets because with each I've taken my share of lessons and applied them to the next venture.

So what does it take to be the one start-up that beats the odds?

Here are five tips to not only reach the five-year mark but to surpass it and achieve long-term sustainable growth for your company:

  1. Don't lose sight of your initial goal: No one will ever fault you for thinking big as long as you don't get carried away and forget what the client requested. Regardless of how great the final product is, it's a failure to your client if their simple request was ignored and not delivered.
  2. Invest in the right team: No matter how many clients you bring in, you risk losing them if you don't have the right people internally to service your clients well and deliver impressive results. When hiring, ensure that your interview process goes beyond skills and experience. Ensure their vision, personality and motivation are aligned with you and the rest of the team. Then, work hard to retain your employees through diverse work opportunities and by keeping their interests in mind. At Surround, by setting up in Oakville, our staff have each been able to save more than two years of commute time to date. One key lesson I learned early on in my career is to never underestimate the value of a team that plays well together. If you have a well-oiled machine that is yielding good results, leave it. Don't change it for the sake of saving money or shaking things up. Pulling one piece out of the network can cause everything to crumble.
  3. Always stay top of mind for your clients: Never let a client forget about you.

    Ensure regular client contact, whether it's a weekly or bi-weekly call, monthly newsletter, quarterly email seeking client feedback or a note to wish your client happy birthday. Multiple touch points on an ongoing basis ensure you stay top of mind with your clients.

  4. Recognize key dates and accomplishments: From company anniversaries to corporate milestones such as hitting website reach goals, use key dates as an opportunity to reach out. Recognizing key dates and accomplishments not only builds relationships, it reaffirms the good work that you are doing for them. By positioning milestones as something they have achieved by working with your company, they are reminded that what you are doing for them is working.
  5. Build your leverage bank account: Client relationships are much like personal relationships. You need to work hard at it. No matter how good you are at what you do, not all of the ideas put forward work. While you may have 15 or 20 successes, you might fall short a couple of times. All good actions fill up in an emotional account known as a leverage bank account. On the flip side, if an idea doesn't work, you make a withdrawal. The goal is to never withdraw more than you put in or it may result in a break up, i.e. the client leaves. The hope is that if you're always doing amazing work and producing terrific results, when something doesn't work, you can rely on an emotional bank full of such great achievements that outweigh the bad.
At the end of the day, if something doesn't work out and a client leaves, don't hold it against them. Deliver great results right until the very end, have faith in your abilities and give them the opportunity to come back anytime. They may sample the competition and realize that the grass was greener on your side. If you leave an open door, they may come back.

The statistics validate what all entrepreneurs know first-hand: starting a business is tough. Actually it can be gruelling. There will be sleepless nights whether from the excitement of a big win or from the disappointment of a loss. Sometimes things don't go as well as expected but no matter what, stick it out. Find a solution to make it work. If you jump into the water and there's no current, pivot and keep moving until you find the current that will carry you forward. It might take some time but if you were lost at sea, you would fight to your last breath to survive. The same applies in the sea of start-ups. Do whatever it takes to stand out from the rest, win the loyalties of your clients and stay afloat. Only then will you be able to beat the odds as a start-up.

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