Stuck In Startup Limbo? Here's What You Do Next

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Building a business is freaking hard.

You can have all the knowledge in the world and still crash at making the business work in the real world.

Knowing things is not the same thing as doing things, which makes it incredibly frustrating when you’re at a business crossroads. 

At this stage, acquiring more information doesn’t help, but knowing what the right next step is the treasure you desperately want.

As someone who is building her third business now, I’ve become an expert navigator of next steps during troubled times.

If you’re currently feeling lost at your business, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve done to dig my way out of some rock bottoms. If you’re in the middle of any of these, I hope that my experience can provide some guidance.

I’m Constantly In Feast Or Famine Mode / Money Isn’t Coming in / I Don’t Have Any Customers

When your business is in repeated cycles of feast or famine, it usually means that you do not have a reliable or working marketing strategy in place.

A business with a solid marketing and sales system should be able to replicate customers and leads on a monthly basis or be able to access a volume of customers at-will by pressing play on that marketing and sales system.

I don’t care if you’re a freelancer, super-niche business, or selling a $100,000 product — if your marketing and sales system is properly figured out, you should be getting consistent leads.

There are channels for businesses of all types and sizes nowadays to find their customers. Your mission should be to hunt down the system that works for your business, no matter how long it takes.

Do This Next:

Hire a marketing consultant to help you build a marketing and sales system that works. If everything you’ve tried so far hasn’t worked, it’s time to bring in the experts. 

If you think that your problems are related to your product, again — get some outside help. It’s one thing to shut down your startup, and it’s a completely other thing to shut down your startup after a valiant fight. If you give up on your business without fighting for it, you’ll regret it.

Even if I consider myself an expert on a topic, I always bring in an outside consultant when I’m working on my business. You develop a knowledge bias when you have your own startup. When you know too much, it makes it difficult to see the simple solutions that may be staring at you right in the face.

 Your personal blind spots and biases are usually the one thing that wreaks havoc on your business if you’re not aware of them — don’t let your pride get in the way of discovering these. 

If you’ve brought in outside help (that you’re satisfied with the results of) and you’re still not bringing in sales, it’s likely that your timing is off, or that the market you’re targeting is not viable. In the majority of these situations, you can pivot rather than scrapping the whole business.

I Can’t Seem To Hire The Right People

If you’ve been actively looking for and hiring team members or consultants, but haven’t been happy with the results, then it’s time to reevaluate your hiring and training criteria.

If you’re constantly bringing in mediocre or less than thrilling talent, it’s not them, it’s you.

Do This Next:

You may be hiring the wrong people because you’re looking for the wrong people.

Here are 3 things I personally look for when searching for a quality fit for an addition to my team:

Precision —

If I’m looking for someone to help me create financial projections for a startup, I’m going to look for someone with that exact experience. I’m not going to look for a CPA, bookkeeper, or a “numbers gal” and cross my fingers. Be precise in your search, no matter how long it takes or the amount of effort you need to put into it. There’s a hire-able person out there for every project or need. 

Obsession —

Is this individual I’m potentially hiring obsessed with their field? Do they read books, take courses, learn from mentors about the product/service/industry they’re representing, actively? If they aren’t, I’m probably risking receiving mediocre work. Experts are experts because they continuously make time to learn more than everybody else.

Corporation or human being? —

Let’s be real here, in today’s day and age there are plenty of businesses out there here to make a quick buck and could care less if you realize that the product you received is crap after you’ve submitted the final deposit. When I hire someone to do a job, I make sure that they’re people over profit focused rather than the other way around.

If your team is capable but they’re just not “getting it” it’s likely that you could improve your communications with your team or provide better training.

I recommend having a baseline conversation where you and your team members individually discuss the best systems and processes needed to get things done. Everyone has an optimal communication and delegation mode — identifying this for each person is key to maximizing individual potential.

In addition to training team members, I also have an Operations Manual that I have long-term team members read through. I don’t expect my team members (who usually have multiple clients other than me) to remember every single system and process within my company, so I make it easy for them to recall anything they forget.

I Work 12 Hour Days

It’s really easy to work 12 hour days, especially if you work out of a home office. Although you may have an endless list of to-dos, working 12-hour workdays won’t do you any favors for the long haul.

Entrepreneur burnout is a real thing that everyone experiences if they keep up the long workdays. This kind of work schedule is not sustainable, and it’ll leave you sick or mentally incapable of sticking with your business for the several years it requires.

Do This Next:

The first question I ask entrepreneurs who work 12-hour workdays is this: is 80% of your 12-hour workday spent on directly generating revenue for the company?

Activities that directly generate revenue for the company are things like: getting on sales calls, meeting with customers, and building out the systems and processes to make more sales. If more than 80% of your time isn’t spent on these activities, then you have permission to completely slash your 12-hour workday.

When you’re in the beginning stages of building a business, focus on the activities that will help you validate the lucrativeness of your business idea.

 Spending all your time on a fancy website, product, and your social channels are all a waste of time if you can’t sell anything. Here are some more steps your startup can skip and why you can skip them.

If it’s financially possible for you, I also recommend hiring out a lot of your non-sales activities that compose your 12-hour workday to freelancers or software. Here’s my step-by-step plan on how to do that.

Sophia Sunwoo