Business Growth

Based on losing $30,000 of personal savings, tripling our revenue in 6 months, interviews with fast-growing Silicon Valley companies, and entrepreneurs who built $20,000,000 companies

I’ve been really bothered recently by a myriad of companies and “profit strategists” trying to teach unknowing entrepreneurs and SMEs really short-term, non-strategic business lessons.

Hey, I’m not a “local business guru” or “Singapore’s highly sought after profit strategist” or any of that crap.

I’m just an average guy who happens to know some things about building a business through hard lessons and losing a lot of money in trial and error. There are many people more experienced and more successful than I am, and in no way am I claiming that I am a business veteran. 

But the reason I’m writing this blog post is that many of these “business gurus” who are publicly making ridiculous claims are teaching really short-term stuff that doesn’t really help.

Some (read: maybe 1 or 2) of these “gurus” really know what they’re talking about, but most of them, from my experience and opinion, are full of hot air.

How do I know this?

Firstly, I am highly connected to the U.S and some venture capitalists over in Silicon Valley. I have learnt priceless lessons from them in building real companies. Most of what local business gurus teach are completely short term and lack proper strategy. That’s why students who attend these business guru courses never achieve the success they’re looking for.

Secondly, my partner and I started our company as two 26-year-old fools with just a low 5-figure sum, struggled for 12 months, had countless sleepless nights, and basically had to learn everything the hard way. We were fortunate enough to get some informal mentorship by entrepreneurs who built companies to the $20,000,000 in revenue mark and that changed our perspective on everything. 

So with my limited business knowledge, I’d like to share 4 core truths I have learnt about building a company.

This is what I have learnt personally, so take it for what it’s worth.

Truth #1: There is no secret system, magic bullet, or template. There is only a proven process

Too many entrepreneurs and SMEs buy into grand promises, mostly due to impatience and lack of knowledge.

Don’t believe in the hype. There’s no secret system, there are no magic bullets, and there are no shortcuts. If there was, the people who are teaching you these secret systems should be Bill Gates already. They are not.

I’m a big believer of systems, but not secret systems.

There are no “plug and play email templates” or any other business templates that can work well for you.

Your brand is different; your business is different plain and simple. What works for someone else might not work for you. And besides, if you’re truly looking to build a big business, why would you want to copy someone else?

History has proven that pure copycats without any form of differentiation never succeed. Look at all the big companies you see today. They grew big because they had something unique and different to offer.

Using “templates” is the very mindset of a follower, not a leader. Let me give you an example of a “copywriting headline template” that won’t work.

A horrible copywriter once suggested a “headline template” that you can just plug and paste for your own business.

The headline went something like:

How to [fill in benefit] without [painful task] 

Examples:

  • How to get rich without working 
  • How to lose weight in 7 days without running or dieting

Hey sounds great right? Those are great headlines.

But the problem with this template is that your business must really provide the solution that you’re promising in the headline. Can you really help people lose weight without exercising or some form of dieting?

99% of the time, it’s all hype.

This type of teaching by local business gurus shows a very shallow way of thinking that is typical of a non-strategic, mediocre follower.

Unless you’re a start up with a truly innovative solution, this headline template will probably only serve to get your customer’s attention, but I don’t think you will be able to deliver what is promised in the headline. Instead of copying a template for business success, you should follow a proven process or framework.

The most proven process I know is to fully understand your customers, develop a strong positioning from day 1, and figure out how to generate leads consistently, predictably, and profitably over time.

This is an on-going process that takes time. A lot of time.

The fastest growing startups in Silicon Valley run 10 marketing experiments per week to find out what works and what does not work. And even for them it takes many months or years. 

They document their experiments down into a logbook to scientifically understand the thing factors that really result in business growth.

There is a process and framework, but not a template.

I’m not saying that all companies must do this. I’m saying this to highlight that fact that business growth is all about sticking to a process and framework of testing and learning. 

Again, this is all back to the fact that what works for other companies might not work for you and for your particular brand.

Truth #2: No business operates in a vacuum. Brand positioning is key

This is probably the number 1 reason most SMEs fail.

To understand this concept, you need to take a step back and understand a little about economics. In economics, there is the concept of Monopoly vs Perfect Competition.

A Monopoly is an entity that is seen as the only choice for its particular market. Take Google for example. When you think of a search engine, you just go to Google. There are no other choices. Yahoo and Bing are there but nobody really ever uses them.

Another example is Facebook. It’s the only social network you will ever use. No other choices.

As local business owners, you will very rarely create a monopoly. According to Peter Thiel, former CEO of Paypal, creating a monopoly only comes with proprietary technology, economies of scale, network effects, and branding.

This is usually not achievable for local businesses and 95% of businesses out there period. Most of us will find ourselves in the other end of the spectrum: Perfect Competition.

The world of Perfect Competition means that there are many companies fighting for the same market with similar offerings.

Profits will get diluted because customers have choice. Your business does not operate alone in a vacuum. You have tons of competitors, and you will make less money than monopolies. So in the world of perfect competition, you need to find and give your customers a reason why they should choose you.

And you achieve this with art and science of brand positioning.

95% of companies do not understand the concept of positioning. Needless to say, most business gurus have no clue about this. They might have heard of the concept, but they don’t truly understand it nor know how to execute it.

Brand positioning is basically the place in the customer’s mind that your company owns. 

What do your customers know you for? Customer service? Premium quality services at affordable prices? We know Apple for beautiful design, and easy to use interfaces. We know Nike for making stylish and high performance shoes for athletes.

These are the positions they own in our minds.

What position will you own in your customer’s mind? If you don’t have a strong brand position, what happens is you will get easily forgotten and always compared with your competitors on price.

If you can’t answer the question: Why should customers choose you over anyone else?

Then your customers have no reason to choose you do they? They should just choose your competitors or whoever is cheaper.

So how do you answer this question?

There is an advanced process to finding out the answer to this question which I share more at our live seminar here: www.canny.com.sg/seminar

Truth 3#: All great businesses have cracked the code to consistent and profitable lead generation

Many people don’t understand what a lead means. They think that a lead is just anyone. Every company listed in the yellow pages is not a lead. The database that you bought from a “lead generation” company does not mean it contains leads. 

A lead is a potential customer who has expressed an interest in your product or service. Someone who signs up for a discount voucher is a lead. Someone who requests for a free trial session or class is a lead. Someone who requests for a consultation is a lead.

From my experience, consistent, profitable lead generation solves most business problems.

Consistently is the key word here.

A lot of business gurus teach you tips and tricks for lead generation that is really short term and not consistent.

You need to build a lead generation machine. A machine that will allow you to never worry for not getting new leads ever again. Building this machine takes time.

A lead generation machine usually involves a combination of finding a niche, picking 1-2 main key channels in digital marketing, creating a positioning strategy, continuous tracking, and continuous learning. This is a process.

But once you figure it out, your company can finally scale and grow quickly. 

I’d like to elaborate a little on the importance of tracking and measuring your marketing.

Imagine not doing accounting for your business. You will have no idea where your cash ins coming in and going out. No business can function without proper accounting. Similarly, you cannot successful build a real business without understanding your numbers in marketing.

For all you know, you could be spending $2000 and making only $1000 as a result of that Google Adwords campaign.

You need to know how much you’re paying every month to generate how many new customers, how much that customer is worth to you, and etc. If you know that for every $1 that you pay, you eventually generate $2 back, then you have a machine that works.

Making the numbers work in your favor is what creates the machine.

I go more in depth on this here: www.canny.com.sg/seminar 

Truth #4: Consistency is everything

The main pattern I see with many new entrepreneurs is jumping from opportunity to opportunity. I’ve been guilty of this myself when I first started out. Sadly, this is a recipe for failure and I had to learn it the hard way by losing $30,000 in personal savings.

When we started out, we were a generic digital marketing agency that did everything for everyone.

You need to consistently sell one product category or service well for only one core target market. This is the way to get remembered and stand out.

When we changed our focused to running Facebook lead generation for retailers, our revenue tripled within three months.

You need to stay consistent in your marketing efforts too. 

When we started out, we tried everything. SEO, direct mail, cold calling, Facebook marketing, website design etc.

The result?

Nothing worked.

Why?

Because we didn’t do one thing consistently or long enough for results to start paying off. The key is to be consistent and stick with doing one thing long enough to determine whether it works or not.

Don’t jump from SEO to Google Adwords to Facebook in your marketing just because you spent $200 dollars and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work now doesn’t mean it won’t work later. That’s because again, this whole business growth thing is a learning process.

We have had clients who worked with us and for the first 2 months, results were extremely poor.

But we stuck to our process and in the 3rd month, made some tweaks that helped the client generate 30 new customers in the first week.

Spending $200 on Facebook ads and seeing no results is not a big deal. The big deal is what can you learn from this failed campaign?

  • Was it because your promotion was poor?
  • Was it because you were targeting the wrong market?

Stay focused to the process and learn from failures. You need to learn about your business everyday.

When you commit to doing something consistently, learning from failure, eventually you will find the formula for your success.

So that’s my 4 truths for truly growing a company. I’m not a business guru in any sense, but these 4 truths have worked for me based on my personal experience.

I hope they can help you as well.

If you are interested in growing your company, find out about our upcoming live seminar here: www.canny.com.sg/seminar

I go to the gym quite often, about 3 times per week, for about 2 years now.

There’s a guy named John that I have seen at the gym for all this time. He goes just as often as I do.

He’s a relatively skinny guy, trying to build on some muscle. But for 2 years, his body has mostly remained the same. I still remember him always sharing with me about this new strength training method he learnt from Youtube, and this new diet program he’s trying out. 

It changes every two months. On top of that, his lifting form is bad and overall he’s just not doing the right things to build muscle.

For me, I’ve gained 7kg in muscle and lost at least 3kg of fat in about 8 months. I maintain where I’m at now.

So what made the difference? How did two people who go to the gym just as often, have drastically different results?

Well, John was working hard, but he was working hard on doing the wrong things and not sticking to something long enough to see it pay off. His weight lifting form was wrong, he wasn’t lifting heavy enough, and he wasn’t eating the right foods.

I work hard on the right things, made sure I lift the correct weights, correct form, and correct sets. In other words, I followed a proven strength-training framework that allows me to improve month after month. Every week, I know exactly what I’m supposed to do to achieve my goals.

I have a blueprint.

And it’s the same with growing your business.

Too often SMEs jump from tactic to tactic without having a proper strategy or framework that can lead to consistent growth. 

One day you try some Facebook tip, another day you try Google ads, etc. We call this spray and pray marketing. You try something for a while and hope that it works. If it doesn’t work after spending $500, then you stop.

This is a sure-fire recipe for failure.

Also consider this: If you do Facebook marketing or Google ads, so can your competitors. These are open platforms any business can use.

Doing these things won’t help you grow your business to the level you want it to be.

It is the strategy behind using these platforms and sticking to it long enough that will make the whole difference.

What you need is a proven marketing framework that can consistently and repeatedly generate long term sales growth.

When you have this, you control your destiny by knowing exactly how much your revenue can grow based on your resources. You will also have a clear blueprint on how to get there.

If you want the proven framework for growing your business faster for the long term, then go here: www.canny.com.sg/seminar

Are you looking for substantial resources, inspiration and tips that will give you an advantage in your entrepreneurial journey? The market of business books is so large it may seem intimidating to plunge in and take a swipe at any single one. Many of you have the desire to improve yourselves, your strengths, knowledge, and as a person. In this article, we took the opportunity to come up with 10 selected business books that will not only gets you thinking, but could also spark some creativity.

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“When I went to school, teachers asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down, ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” This was one story of the famed John Lennon. Where some people grew up wanting to be doctors or lawyers or CEOs, Lennon knew that to be happy is just as important, if not more. Even though Flow is not an entirely new concept, Csikszentmihalyi, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University, gave the concept its name today. Csikszentmihalyi is noted for his works in happiness and creativity, and in this book, argues that Flow can increase the happiness and achievement of employees. As a useful note, his name is probably not the easiest to pronounce, but as a guide, if you are indeed searching for his book physically, try “mi-hy Czech-sent-mi-hyee”

Never Give In!: The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches by Winston Churchill

From sayings of Sir Winston Churchill’s abnormal poly=phasic sleep habits to the power of his oration, it is clear that Churchill is one of the biggest political figures in history, and remains the only British Prime Minister to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature. In the book Never Give in!, grandson Winston S. Churchill has put together a personal selection of Sir Churchill’s speeches. It covers the whole of Sir Churchill’s life, from the very first speech he made to those of his last days. Sir Churchill is revered as an indomitable public figure, his spirt and wisdom can be called upon to move and inspire.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B Cialdini, Ph.D.

Influence was Dr. Cialdini’s seminal book, based on 3 ‘undercover’ years applying for, and training at used car dealerships, fund-raising organizations, and telemarketing firms to observe real-life situations of persuasion. The book has since sold over 2 million copies and has been translated into twenty-six languages. Harvard Business Review lists the Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University in “Breakthrough Ideas for Today’s Business Agenda”. Influence posits and explains the 6 psychological principles that drive the human impulse. It reveals not only ways to nudge others into complying to you, but also to defend yourself against subtle coercion and manipulation. For people in marketing and business, this may well be among the most important books to be written in the past years.

How Google Works by Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg

We are know that Google’s unique culture and working arrangement has put itself in its own class, but how much do we know of what really goes in within. The problem is compounded by Google being one of those organisations that is notoriously hard to go into. How Google Works is an entertaining, page-turning primer that contains lessons and explanations about how technology has shifted the balance of power from companies to consumers. Google’s solution to succeed in the ever-changing landscape is to create superior products, and the attraction of a new breed of multifaceted employees dubbed the smart creatives’. Schmidt, once a CEO himself, and Rosenberg, offer insights on corporate culture, strategy, talent management, decision-making, communication, innovation and so on, with numerous insider anecdotes from Google’s history.

Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science by Charles Wheelan

With notions in macroeconomics that there is such as a thing as an unemployment rate that is ‘too low’, suggesting that the economy is inefficient in its use of its resources, it is no wonder that Economics has been labelled with the humorous tag of being a ‘dismal science’. Naked Economics by American economist and author Wheelan strips down the economic jargon and demystifies nomenclature, to allow the general reader to engage with pleasure and confidence, the not so dismal science. The book covers hotly debated and thought provoking topics into the 21th century such as the globalization, information economics, the unavoidable interdisciplinary nature of economics and politics, as well as the Federal Reserve. Wheelan has since published a sequel called Naked Statistics, also worth checking out.

Losing my Virginity: The Autobiography by Richard Branson

The book Losing my Virginity features Sir Richard Branson, best known as the founder of Virgin Group, and his inspiring story of rags to riches. “Oh screw it, let’s do it”. That attitude and has allowed Branson to run hundreds of companies through Virgin Group, and become one of the wealthiest man alive with an estimated net worth of US$4.9 billion. The Autobiography covers Branson’s journey, as he starts out with his friends and the outrageous idea of deciding on the name Virgin, since they were ‘complete virgins in the business’, through the forging of his own rules of success, to a new model to compete in today’s stressed out and overworked generation. You may want to pick this one up before the adaptation of the Branson biopic by David Mirkin is done on the big screen.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

American sports and cultures are built on long standing traditions and conventions. When MLB’s Oakland Athletics larger than life General Manager Billy Beane was facing low budgets and the public pressure to win games, he turned to an analytical, empirically based sabermetric approach to assemble a competitive baseball team. Despite a disadvantaged revenue position and the conventional believe that young, big and athletic hard hitters were tickets to success, Beane defied both tradition and his own scouts in his quest for success. Even for non-baseball enthusiasts, Moneyball shows that sometimes, wisdom is in the questioning of the conventions and beliefs we hold dear and take for granted.

Economics: User Guide by Ha-Joon Chang

Once again, the dismal science is rendered in an intelligent, lively, readily accessible, and a not so dismal manner. University of Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang offers a whirlwind crash course through economic history that explains the strengths and weaknesses of different schools of thoughts, from the classical to the Keynesian to Neo Keynesian Economics. Being a heterodox economist, Chang has a disregard for conventional economic pieties. Economics: The User’s Guide offers a non-mainstream lens through which the layman can easily look through. From the future of the Euro, inequality in China, or the condition of the American manufacturing industry in the United States, the book is a concise and expertly written guide to economic rudiments that offers a clear and precise snapshot of the global socio-politco-economic landscape and how it affects our lives.

Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton M. Christensen

Probably the best known written work of Harvard Business School Professor Christensen is The Innovator’s dilemma. In Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen articulated his theory of disruptive innovation and its importance in today’s ever changing landscape and consumer preferences. As stated in the title, the dilemma stems from the idea that businesses and firms tend to reject innovation and new insights since the current consumers cannot use them now. It shows how the ‘successful’ companies can do everything right in adhering to the current needs of their consumer base, adopting new technology and competing with rivals, but still ended up losing market dominance. The book offers many examples of successes and failures from the perspective of the dilemma of innovation and the anticipation of future needs.

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

We cap this list with another book by Csikszentmihalyi. How did Einstein came up with his Theories of relativity? What process did J. M. Keynes went through in writing the seminal work The Theory of Employment, Interest and Money? Creativity aims to unravel the mystery behind the geniuses of people such as Keynes and Albert Einstein, among others. We can all try to quantify levels of intelligence through standardised tests and IQ tests, from convergence tests to divergent tests. There are many theories of the creative process but it remains unknown what the traits of creative genius really are and where they come from. Creativity uses the concept of flow, and draws from 91 interviews with the truly exceptional academics, musicians, artists, outstanding politicians and business figures. Csikszentmihalyi explores the creative process behind the genius, including 14 Nobel Prize winners, and learn that many of them were not even stars in school.

Although the benefits of such an insight and empirical approach to scholars and academics are clear, the thought-provoking mixture of scholarly and colloquial will enlighten even the inquisitive general readers as well.

 

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