How to Jump-start a Start-up

Canada native Paul Kerr has been involved in several successful start-ups. Here, the writer, speaker, trainer, and current principal at Skills For Excellence, a performance-improvement firm based in Carlsbad, California, offers his best advice for those entrepreneurs just starting out.

Paul Kerr, principal at Skills for Excellence.

Understand that cash flow is paramount

Cash is the oxygen of any business, and every effort should be made to create a steady and positive stream of it from actual operations. If you have outside investors, they will grow weary if your company becomes a black hole that keeps requiring infusions of fresh capital with no end in sight.

Run a no-frills operation

Don’t waste money on nonessentials. I was once involved in a manufacturing start-up in an inner-city ramshackle building. My office had a leaking roof and an old-school metal desk with a missing leg left by the previous tenants. While the place was being repaired, I knew above all else we needed customers, so I found an empty paint can to serve as a leg, opened the yellow pages and started making calls while water dripped onto my desk. By my third call, I had set an appointment with a C-suite executive at one of the largest, most desirable prospects in the area. I sold him on the first appointment, and they became a major long-term customer. How many frills do you really need to do well? Not many.

Appreciate the relationship between sales and marketing

Effective marketing produces quality lead generation. Without leads, who will you sell to? Even if your marketing is designed to drive prospects to your website or brick-and-mortar location, once they arrive they will need to be sold on your offering and often supported through the presale process via IM, chat, e-mail, and/or phone.

Know your market and how to reach it

Today’s marketplace is big, crowded, and noisy—so “if you build it,” they won’t come unless you find a way to go to them first.

Have a message and clearly articulate it

In the film industry, they have what is known as a “logline.” Screenwriters are expected to reduce their 180-plus-page scripts into one sentence, which concisely explains the entire story so agent and studio readers can immediately know what the screenplay is about. Make sure your new business has a logline so that people quickly know the products or service you offer without elaborate explanations. If possible, include what you do in the actual name of your company or, at minimum, in your tagline.

Define what you want in life and what you value most

A business start-up is taxing on a good day. It can drain you emotionally and physically and can be very pervasive. In the middle of a start-up, it is easy to lose perspective and allow the business to become an end in itself. But let’s be honest: is any business really worth losing your family or health over? Learn to keep things in check and pace yourself. Put the business in its proper place without allowing it to take over your life. Make sure you’re running the business and it’s not running you.