6 steps to stay on course: For startups at cross roads

startups at cross roads

This article has been authored by Rini Dutta, Founder of Centric Brand Advisors

I set up my business a few years ago – after a long and fulfilling life in the corporate world. This was a mid-life career change and a pretty drastic one. From a marketing head in a respected company to a self-employed person operating out of a home office – the change was enormous.

However, I persevered. I was joined by some likeminded folk who helped me stay the course. Today our firm is relatively established, bootstrapped but profitable and has just opened our first branch office. Hence, while I pay myself a pittance and am still concerned about our quarterly targets, I am happy and optimistic about the future. As a client of mine observed – Centric Brand Advisors has reached the inflexion point where profitable growth is evident.

Over the past few years, I have met many startups in my role as a business consultant. Increasingly entrepreneurs who are at cross roads seek our opinion on whether they should stay the course in this tough environment or turn back. The decision is tough.

This post will help startups at cross roads with a few suggestions on how to make the journey easier from my personal experience.

1. Don’t do it alone

I started off alone. And while I made some money – the business really grew when I found a like-minded partner who gave his time, energy and money to grow the firm. With an equal partner who shares business vision – harsh truths are exchanged, work load is halved and positive energy increases 100 times. But look for people with complementary skills and avoid free loaders.

2. Look at the P&L monthly (if not weekly)

Running a profitable firm is my goal. One that will help me live a happy life while doing what I am good at. This means looking at the P&L – even if I hate numbers. Fiscal discipline helped me become frugal with inessentials and spend on what mattered. In our business, we spend resources on People, Process and Technology. The rest is unimportant and can be downsized.

3. Stay true to your business vision

I wanted to provide business advisory services based on our decades of real world experience in brand positioning and retail management. Many well-wishers told me to offer digital marketing or advertising services – indicating this is what ‘the market’ considered marketing. However, I wanted to offer practical business advice on how to make brands more relevant, focused and differentiated. Something only an experienced professional with real world experience could offer.

Today, we have clients who hire us for our specialized advisory services and appreciate fact based advice we provide. By remaining true to our vision – the firm remains differentiated from other players in the market.

4. Stay relevant

I have a lot of business and marketing experience. But some of it is outdated and irrelevant in the digital world. Given that clients want marketing advice from someone relevant & contemporary – I learnt the basics of digital marketing and hired an amazing consultant to complement my skill sets.
Staying relevant is critical for long term success.

5. Promote how you are different

When I started off, business development was tough. I had become used to working for a Fortune 500 company and trading on its brand name. Once I joined the self-employed band wagon – the rules of engagement changed drastically.

While networking or self-promotion is difficult for me to do as an individual, understanding the client’s requirements and informing them politely as to how I can help is not difficult.

Our fact based – experience driven approach to ‘Results not Reports’ makes us different. We also state we are not a creative agency and often walk away from lucrative assignments. As a result, we may lose a few engagements but where we get selected – it’s a good fit and we can make a difference.

6. Be Prepared for Time and Financial Investment

The last but most important aspect of business is having patience and the willingness to invest in the future of the firm. By skimming off the profits every month – an entrepreneur can pay herself a salary today but will not be investing in a brand for the future. Capital infusion and working capital management are critical aspects to be managed.

Every global MNC I have worked in (from Unilever to Lavazza) invests a significant amount of money in building a business for profitable growth. By foolishly expecting fledgling brands to fly before they are strong enough – we end up moving away from the right path.

In summation

I believe we are in an age where creativity and risk taking by entrepreneurs will be rewarded exponentially by a value seeking consumer.

However, creating a new business is a difficult task and one can rarely do it alone. By surrounding oneself with like-minded people, staying focused and supporting hard work with patience and investment, start – ups can race towards profitable growth.

Entrepreneurs should stay the path if they have a strong vision, conviction in their offering and the basics of fiscal prudence in place.

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