Let me start by saying that I do a lot of research on success. How it happens; why it sometimes doesn't happen; and why it seems to come more fluidly to some than others. Hint: it's 80% opportunity and 20% skill set. (Read "Outliers: The Story of Success" by Malcolm Gladwell if you don't believe me). While this doesn't make me an expert on success - Hello, FLOCO is like a baby fetus on the scale of a business lifetime - it does make me an expert observer. What I've learned from reading, watching, and listening to some of the smallest business fetuses (feti?) who become huge successes in their field is that there's a certain formula most business owners repeat in order to grow and spread brand awareness. I call it the "Sponge - Fountain - Magnet" success cycle. Spare me the giggles and hear me out:
Stage 1: Sponge
A wise and snarky food stylist once told me that the biggest thing that's lead to her current success is that she was a master sponge. I don't mean she could take down Mr. Clean in a kitchen duel; I mean that for the first part of her career she literally absorbed every single bit of knowledge, experience, and know-how by as many influential people she could position herself around. It takes a lot of free work, late nights, and rejection, but it's worth it. She didn't come out of the starting blocks pretending to be an expert in anything: not in her craft and certainly not of her audience. That would be foolish and based on guesswork more than hard facts.
Instead of "Fake it 'til you make it.", think "Learn it so you don't have to fake it."
When you're coming out of the starting blocks as a new or potential business owner, actively learn everything you would ever need to know by surrounding yourself with experience. Have you always dreamed of owning a little organic brew coffee shop on the corner of your hometown? Coffee culture is now your oxygen. Every waking moment of spare time needs to be reading up on successful coffee shop startups, meeting up with junior and senior shop owners, and taking polls from shop regulars about how you can provide a better experience. Use what's already available to you to build your brand on a solid foundation of study.
Are you getting what I'm putting down here? Be. a. sponge.
Here are three ways you can master the art of the sponge:
1. Send out feelers to friends and family (and your target).
Before you even go about starting a thing or expanding your thing to offer more things, you need to know if there's a need for your thing. Straight up ask people who you're trying to attract as to whether or not they would buy your thing. Have they ever bought a similar thing before? What would keep them from buying your thing? How much would they pay for the thing?
Tip: Want to get the most out of these conversations? Talk to them over the phone or in person. No email. No chat.
2. Read (a lot), and then read some more.
Podcasts on your commute, books on your lunch break. Take every moment you can spare (when you're not meeting with people) to learn about how others did what you want to do, and then keep a notepad of ways you can be better. For competitor research, we recommend using this handy worksheet.
3. Ask the experts.
Now is not the time to be shy. Make a list of your favorite bloggers, biz owners, Instagrammers, etc. and get in contact. Let them know who you are and why you admire what they do (be sincere). Then ask if they would give 10-15 minutes of their time to answer a few questions about their successes. Expect 10 no's to every 1 yes.
Tip: If you have a pretty bangin' blog you could turn it into an interview series and drive more traffic to your business simultaneously.
Some example questions would be: "At what moment did you decide to take [business name] to the next level?", "What has been your biggest failure to date and how did you grow from it?", "What's the one piece of advice you'd give entrepreneurs looking to start a business like [business name]?"
By this point, you've gathered pages upon pages of super useful insights on how you should setup your business and who you're truly catering to. Now is not the time to start selling. Repeat: you are not ready to sell anything. Now is the time to hone your craft and give back to the community for inspiring you to start the thing anyway. Now is the time to give all the things. For free.
Enter, the Fountain stage.
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