Economic uncertainty may be a fact of life today, but you don’t have to let it drain the energy from your business. If you’re looking for ways for your company to regain its entrepreneurial mojo, one good place to turn for inspiration is the startup scene. Here are some lessons from startups that can help you invigorate your business.
1. Stay hungry
Whether they’re 20-year-old college students or 50-year-old corporate refugees, new company owners will typically go to great lengths to win their first customers and keep them. As a business grows, it’s a lot harder to treat every client like your first one, because you have less time to devote to each account. Even if you’re working at near-capacity right now and have all the customers you need, don’t get complacent. Schedule time to go after new accounts, even if it’s at a slower pace than in your early days, so you’re prepared if the economy takes a dip and you lose clients. You’re likely to come away with some new insights into how the marketplace is responding to your business—and how you can juice up your offerings.
2. Know when to ditch work-life balance
It may be tempting to say no to a last-minute rush project that’s going to cut into your evening or weekend time. But before you pass, consider what the long-term implications would be for the client relationship if you said, “Yes!” Many customers will appreciate your flexibility and reward you with more work—perhaps at a time when you really need it. While you may not want to make late nights routine if you and your team are juggling family or other responsibilities, an occasional last-minute sprint can keep the adrenaline flowing through your business.
3. Work with smart people
Talk with young startup founders about their teams and they’ll rarely gripe about the quality of their employees. In fact, you’ll typically hear about how they recruited their brightest friends to help them and how well it’s worked out. How do they attract top talent for a song? They create a stimulating work environment. If you don’t feel like you’ve built a great brain trust, examine your workplace carefully. Is it a place that the top innovators in your field would want to work? If not, start paying attention to the practices of companies that do have the type of workers you’d like to have—and look for ways to adapt them to your firm. It’s not just about how much you pay them.
4. Let data drive your business
Even if a fairly simple website and a Facebook page are your main marketing arms, they can provide you with lots of useful feedback about what your customers value. Ditto for your point of sale software if you run a retail store. Make sure you use all of the analytic tools at your disposal, so you can measure your customers’ response to the products and services you’re offering and the ways in which you market them. Many successful startups pay very close attention to such data, and they use it to continually improve the way they do business.
5. Don’t be afraid to change your business model
Many of today’s startups begin with very small scale technology offerings and float them in the marketplace before committing to developing them further. And they quickly pull the plug if an idea isn’t working, so they can move on to a better strategy. Even if you run a brick and mortar business, it’s possible to adopt their mindset. By testing new ideas on a limited basis before committing a lot of capital to them, you’ll keep your business nimble enough to react to an ever-changing economy.
Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist specializing in entrepreneurship whose work has appeared in TheAtlantic.com, BNET, Crain’s New York Business, CBS Moneywatch, Good Housekeeping, Inc., Working Mother and many other publications. A former senior editor of Fortune Small Business magazine and editor of its website, she does editorial consulting for online and print publications.