Startup the Right Way: If They Come, You Can Build It

What if there’s a better way to startup? What if everything you’re doing is wrong?

Remember the movie Field of Dreams? For those who haven’t seen the film, it’s about an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella who hears voices no one else can hear. The voices tell him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield, so the 1919 Chicago White Sox will magically appear.

“If you build it, they will come,” he hears. So he does.

Real life isn’t like the movies.

When the little voice in your entrepreneurial head says “Go for it!” There’s no screenwriter who’s going to “edit” out your failure, and replace it with a happy ending. You’re on your own building your field, hoping “they” will show up.

It sounds crazy when I put it like that doesn’t it? You’re probably saying:

“C’mon Deb, it’s not that simple! We write business plans, we study the marketplace, the competition, the target audience! We don’t just leave it to chance!”

You’re right. It’s not that simple. Entrepreneurs do a lot of work before they launch. They often spend a lot of time and money getting ready. They develop products and services, and design brands. Not saying they don’t. The voice usually comes later, after the planning.

Most startups think: “If I build it, they will come!”

What’s the ‘it’ in your Field of Dreams?

Maybe your ‘it’ is something you love doing, and people around you say:

“Do what you love, and the money will follow” (a load of malarky by the way).

Maybe it’s something you need, but can’t find elsewhere. You think:

“If I need ‘it,’ others must too! I know! I’ll build ‘it,’ and they will buy ‘it’ from ME!”

Maybe it’s something you’re particularly skilled at doing, or are trained to do. You figure:

“Hey, I have the skills, other people don’t, they’ll need someone to do what I do, if I do a better job, charge less money, or work where there are few people like me, I’ll be successful!”

In other words,  chances are  high you want to start with a product or service you think is great. Maybe you think it’s the most wonderful gonna-revoluntionize-the-marketplace ‘it’ that ever was. You’ve done your homework, written a killer business plan, and secured funding from investors. You’re gonna build ‘it,’ and the customers will come!

Most startups are wrong.

How do I know? Because the sad truth is, 90% of startups fail. Did you know it was that high? I didn’t. I mean I knew the percentage was high, but I didn’t know it was that high! It’s daunting, isn’t it? Kinda makes you realize what a special breed entrepreneurs are when they succeed, doesn’t it?

90% of startups fail. 

What if they’re not a special breed though? What if the ones who succeed just go about things differently? What if they don’t build “it” first?

Recently, Joe Pulizzi published An Open Letter to Startups — You are Doing it Wrong, and after reading it, I can honestly say, I’ll never look at the startup process the same way again. I was one who thought the way to go about it was to create a product or service, study the marketplace for that product or service, market to the target audience, then deliver the goods better than the competition. Well according to Joe, that’s “doing it wrong.”

Joe says there’s a “better way,” a way he discovered after the business he started the product-first way failed. Junta42 was Joe’s first business. He describes it as a kind of “eHarmony for content marketing.” He thought companies needed better content, but had trouble finding professionals to produce it, so he would hook them up! Sounds like a great idea, right? As it turns out, not so much.

Not only didn’t the marketplace really need the service, they weren’t willing to pay for it, so Joe closed the business, and was on the verge of looking for a full-time “real” job when he discovered a better way to start a new business.

Through a lovely accident, I stumbled on a powerful way to build a business in the digital age—and now believe there is no better way to go to market. By focusing on building an audience first and defining products and services second, an entrepreneur can change the rules of the game and significantly increase the odds of financial and personal success.

Joe focused on doing what he did best–producing great content–and responded to his audience as he went along. He built a loyal following who were not only more than willing to tell him what they wanted and needed, they were coming to him asking to buy it. Joe put himself out there as an expert at what he already knew, and only after he built an audience of customers, did he package, market, and sell his expertise to them in the form of the Content Marketing Institute. Five years after failing to sell a specific service, Joe’s new ‘it’ is the fastest growing business media company according to Inc. magazine.

Attract and build your audience first.

What ultimately made Joe successful was pivoting from perfecting products and services to building an audience. He was still doing what he loved, and what he was good at — producing high-quality content — he just wasn’t trying to aim it at anyone in particular. By waiting until his audience came to him, he was able to use what he learned from them to develop the perfect products and services to meet their needs, products and services they were much more likely to pay for!

Joe calls this model “Content Inc.,” and lest you think it only works for selling content itself, he’s produced an eBook listing 17 startup examples that used the model to prove his point.

Joe’s article explains the six steps of the Content Inc. model, but I won’t reprint them here. You should read the whole thing yourself to get the most out of it (and follow Joe on LinkedIn too, trust me on this, you won’t be sorry).

Now before I forget…I want to go back to the point I made about how “Do what you love, and the money will follow” is bad advice. It is, and here’s why: it’s no different than starting with a product or service, and forgetting about how it connects with other people’s money. You still need to build audience. You could do it the old way, and try to hang up a shingle first, and wait for the customers to come to you. You could market yourself to people you think want or need what you love to do, or you could do it Joe’s way, the Content Inc. way.

Startup by producing content about that thing you love to do.

Even if what you love to do is produce a tangible product or offline service, you can still follow the six steps Joe outlines in his article. . Take me for example: I love to sew. I’ve always thought I’d like to sell my services or products online. I could start with that, make a bunch of stuff, open an Etsy shop, and see who buys. Or I could sit back and think about what it is I really love about sewing (designing, creating, patterning, inventing, styling, fabric, color, learning new skills) and start producing content about those things, from my individual point of view, and build my audience.

I might find there’s a tiny audience who’d want to buy things I might make, but an enormous audience who’d want to buy my advice about what they should make, or how to make it. Or vice versa. I don’t know yet, and that’s the point. Even if I did “market research” to see where there’s a need in the sewing marketplace, I might not be the right person to fill it. I might be better suited to fill a different need, one I have yet to discover.

Connecting your passion to other people’s needs takes time.

And finding out what needs people will pay to fill takes more than market research at a single moment in time. It takes connections. You’ll need to talk to real people, engage with them over time, and in a variety of contexts. You’ll need to see what they respond to the most, and it may surprise you. They also need to like you and trust you before they’ll buy from you. Trust comes first, and that takes time to build too.

It may take a year or more to follow this model. Be patient. When was the last time you heard of a startup that succeeded after spending less time preparing to launch? Far from being vague or directionless, the Content Inc. model provides a very clear direction, or at least a clear focus: outward, away from yourself. The beauty of that is, your chances of success are much greater.

Startup right and your business can adapt to market changes.

To make it long term, you want your startup to be nimble and flexible so you can adapt quickly to changing market conditions. Imagine producing a specific product or service, committing your time and resources to it, and before you get it off the ground, you get priced out of the market by a competitor. Pivoting to a different offering would drive your business under anyway. Then your only option is marketing what you’ve got, and hoping for the best. You’ve built it, and now it’s on you to get them to come buy it.

By all means, follow your dreams, do what you love, but don’t build a business around it until you have an audience for it. Create content, engage, listen, learn, and if they come, then you can built ‘it.’

Looking for someone to help you write content around your interests, or to fine-tune and promote the content you’ve got? I can help! Get in touch today, and together we’ll create a plan to build your audience!


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