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Photo Credit: Jennifer Maguire Coughlin

What Was Your Biggest Hurdle When Starting Your Business? [ANSWERS]

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Starting a business can be difficult. Even with an exceptional business plan and all the capital in the world, it is sometimes difficult to create a strong and sustaining business.

CEO Blog Nation and Rescue a CEO asked a few entrepreneurs and business owners what their biggest hurdle was when starting their business.

 

Photo Credit: Jeff Frank

Photo Credit: Jeff Frank

Getting Customers

Simplicity Sofas opened its factory in High Point, NC in November 2007. Exactly three weeks after opening and before the first sale was made, President Bush announced that the U.S. had officially entered a recession. During the next four years 40% of all American furniture manufacturing jobs vanished. The economy, however, was not the biggest hurdle. Due to overseas price competition the company could not sell its American made products through the normal retail distribution chain. As a result all company sales were made through the company’s e-commerce website. The “hurdle” was figuring out how to convince customers to buy expensive furniture online that they could not see or sit in from a small company they had never heard of.

Thanks to Jeff Frank, Simplicity Sofas!

The Time it Takes to Make A Business Profitable

Photo credit: Liz Updike

The biggest hurdle that I believe new business owners face is the time that it takes to get the business up and running and then earning profits.  When I first got into business, as a solo entrepreneur working as a consultant, some said it would take a year, some said it would take two years, and some even told me that it would take a good solid 3 -5 years of hard work to begin to feel confident that the business is not only going to be profitable but sustainable.   When I started my business, I came from a level of experience in the financial services industry where I had spent 30 years helping financial advisors and business leaders grow their business to a higher level of success and profitability through education and training, high visibility marketing events, and strategic focus.  My value proposition in the corporate world had been as a revenue driver and investment product specialist who could communicate and train on complex subjects to make them simple for the advisor and client to understand and execute. I was lucky, before I started my business, I was able to put the hard work time in and paid my dues in the corporate world.  While holding various positions of leadership, I established great relationships through the quality of work that I was delivering. By the time that I launched my business, I had 30 years of relationships to leverage and a good reputation as a professional to lean on as I started my business.   Simply by word of mouth, I began working with clients within the first two weeks of leaving the corporate world.  In addition, the timing was right, my business fills a void that has been created in the financial services industry with all of the restructuring, downsizing, and budget cuts.  I could see that the job market was tightening in the financial services industry after 2008 and that as companies began to cut costs, they would also cut their mid level and senior level managers as well as their marketing and sales teams.  I recognized that this would be a trend until the economy turned, interest rates increased, the housing market stabilized and until we get into a period of economic expansion where established companies will again feel confident to invest some of the cash that they are hoarding into growth and development, hiring new employees, and working at full capacity.   As I was contemplating starting my own business, I observed that as part of this current downsizing trend in financial services that there would be more of an opportunity for the outsourcing of training, marketing, education, and business development on a corporate level to continue to support business growth without the carrying costs of a full staff. In business, timing is everything, relationships matter and if you can leverage the two you can overcome the hurdle that all new business owners face and shorten the initial time it takes to develop the business into a profitable entity.

Thanks to Liz Updike, LIZ Enterprises!
Photo Credit: Jennifer Gaddis

Photo Credit: Jennifer Gaddis

Gaining Clients

One of the biggest hurdles I faced while building my business was getting clients. I would spend thousands of money on networking events and talking to people who really didn’t care about what I had to offer. I was at so many trying to make a sell that I stopped focusing on how to serve my clients and customers. If you are struggling to consistently attract the right customers to your product or services here are a few tips to stop selling and start serving is to do a survey: You can use something like SurveyMonkey.com or PopSurvey to get feedback from your own audience or Use Aytm.com to use their list of panelist to get market research from your market. The best way to find out what your customers want and why is to just ask. When you get feedback from your market you can then take that information and use their answers to create an emotional attachment in all of your marketing efforts, whether it’s on your website pages or your product videos. You can them present exactly to your audience why they need your product or service and how it will benefit their life. Once you know what your market is thinking, this will allow you to put your marketing on autopilot and it will become effortless because you are no longer chasing your clients they are chasing you for a solution.
Thanks to Jennifer Gaddis, Heels and Jeans!
Photo Credit: Maureen Metcalf

Photo Credit: Maureen Metcalf

Developing an Identity

I left Accenture about 11 years ago. I knew that distinction would be of some value for a period of time. Over the years I needed to develop an identity that differentiated me from the thousands of others who had worked for large consulting firms. I needed to define how I was different, how I was the same, and create a unique selling message. What did I do? (1) Identified what I was passionate about – I discovered that I was good at taking leading edge scholarly research and making it practical for businesses. (2) I wrote a book that won an international book award then a workbook series on innovative leadership. (3) I now have a niche and a brand that is truly differentiated and also a value proposition These steps took several years. During the time that the Accenture affiliation was “depreciating”, I was building the alternate identity. The timing worked well for me and the company. We now have a very solid brand and value proposition.

Thanks to Maureen Metcalf, Metcalf & Associates!

 

Finding Time to Do Everything

Photo Credit: Jennifer Maguire Coughlin

After more than 10 years working for large and boutique public relations agencies in New York City, I left corporate agency life behind and began taking my own consulting PR projects. I went from being the managing director of an agency…to being my own mail room, accounting department, client relationship manager, media relations machine and new business development team. After founding Jennifer Maguire Coughlin Public Relations, my biggest hurdle was finding time to do everything. I got over the time hurdle by making two major changes: turning my emails off for at least one hour each day (to work through and prioritize key deadline items) and I dedicate an hour each Sunday night to creating a weekly action item list (AKA to-do list), instead of losing sleep on Sunday regarding deadlines for the week ahead. Almost two years later, everything is not done. Will it ever be? I’m committed to finishing the Web site to promote my firm – but in the meantime, I got over that hurdle by publicizing my firm using social media, referrals and directing people to my blog.

Thanks to Jennifer Maguire Coughlin, JMCPR!

Getting Attention

Photo Credit: Chais Meyer

Getting people’s attention has become a much bigger hurdle than it used to be. Partly because the online world now has dozens of websites for most niché opportunities. Even if you have a great product or service, you somehow have to get a prospective client to pay attention to you, just long enough, to ‘try you out’ otherwise, you won’t even have the chance to prove how awesome your company is. Getting through the constant barrage of ads, updates and notifications has definitely been the hardest part so far. At the same time, it has also shown me the importance of ‘enabling your community’, giving tools to the fans that you do have to help spread the word on your behalf.

Thanks to Chais Meyer, ShirtSayings.net!

 

My Reticence to Hire

Photo Credit Barry Maher

Probably the biggest hurdle I had to overcoming in starting my business was my initial reticence toward becoming an employer. Operating on shoestring (and a broken one at that), I originally had to do everything myself. The thrift that made it possible for me to survive and then thrive in the beginning, quickly became a hindrance when I delayed hiring people who could do any number of specific tasks easier, cheaper and far better than I could.

Thanks to Barry Maher!

 

 

Photo Credit: Shreyans Parekh

Photo Credit: Shreyans Parekh

Search Marketing

The largest business hurdle we have faced when starting Koyal back in 2003 with two siblings, was definitely in the area of search marketing when we were building up our natural search across search engines through valuable back links and our social media channels. It took time and a whole lot of dedication to our search and PR efforts to achieve the kind of progress we’ve made in natural search for terms like “wedding decor” and “wedding decoration” paired with our brand presence and PR online.

Thanks to Shreyans Parekh, Koyal Wholesale!

 

Bringing an Industry Back to the USA

Photo Credit: Craig Wolfe

I could see the need to totally transform our business and do something no-one else had done before even if it was the biggest risk of my life. How do you return a whole industry to America that began here, but now is totally gone? This in a nutshell was the challenge I faced this year. The reason I felt so strong about this is that to me the biggest challenge facing business and Americans in general is preventing the manufacturing industry from getting gutted and us losing our edge as a world business power. Where manufacturing goes, the service industries also follow. You cannot ever give that up and think that there are not consequences. Outsourcing everything will have great consequences in the future. I felt internally that I had to do something and every sign was pointing to me saying yes and making the leap. So I decided to do something quite radical which had the potential to completely torpedo what I had built here for the last 12 years. So in a nutshell, I saw companies unwilling to take the risk of bringing their manufacturing back here. Well for me, the most important thing was bringing a whole industry back to America. As I mentioned, the rubber duck was actually invented in the USA. Now every rubber duck is made overseas. So yes, we’ve brought the whole rubber duck industry back here and are now the only ones making them in America once again. Yes, I bit the bullet.  But was this ever hard. The loss of skilled workers, factories, painters, mold makers, etc., etc. was unbelievable. We had to start virtually from scratch.

Thanks to Craig Wolfe, CelebriDucks!

Related Post (via Hearpreneur): Ducks, Ducks & More Ducks!

 

Maintaining Focus & Maximizing Time

Photo Credit: Jeff Blackwood

Our biggest business hurdle has been maintaining focus and maximizing time. Building a software product can take a long time, and during that time you can become distracted by things that won’t necessarily help your business. Figuring out minutiae and going down warrens that suck time out of your business can be deadly, and it takes a lot of discipline to keep things on course. At any one time, one of our executive team may become distracted, but then we all pull together and support each other to ensure we stay on track and push forward to meet our goals.

Thanks to Jeff Blackwood, ABPathfinder, LLC!

Talent

Photo Credit: Paula Conway

Finding and retaining talent is the largest hurdle in business, any business. As a media and marketing firm that works with a lot of celebrities and noteworthy clients, we need very crafty publicists, marketers with good business sense, and a tremendous work ethic. When I started my business more than a decade ago I worked long hours, through the night often, to get the company off the ground. Today, the effort that I put in to building the company goes largely to finding talent. As all business relies on people, the key is to treat people well while also challenging them, and this is often a difficult balance that most business owners do not know how to straddle. We weed talent out very quickly with a number of touch-points as we call them; a variety of intricate questions are asked prior to a hire, and simple challenges are set in place to see how they perform. When your staff is faced with difficult or challenging obstacles, the talented ones will pull through and even reshape the situation. If they are sub par for your organization, they fold fairly early when challenged. My advice to small business owners and entrepreneurs is to find employees and contractors who are like-minded in your working style and ethic, who also bring new and unique talents to the table. Reward them handsomely and give them incentives like  bonuses or even small gifts such as gift certificates. Make them work hard for milestones, but reward them when they do.

Thanks to Paula Conway, Astonish!

 

About Gresham Harkless Jr.

Gresham Harkless is a Media Consultant for Blue 16 Media and the Blogger-in-Chief for CEO Blog Nation. CEO Blog Nation is a community of blogs for entrepreneurs and business owners. Started in much the same way as most small businesses, CEO Blog Nation captures the essence of entrepreneurship by allowing entrepreneurs and business owners to have a voice. CEO Blog Nation provides news, information, events and even startup business tips for entrepreneurs, startups and business owners to succeed.
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