Startups

How Employers Can Create a Livable Culture of Go-ahead

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A recent CareerBuilder survey suggests that 21% of workers plan to change jobs this year -– a 17% jump from last year, and the highest percentage since the recession.

VISIT ALSO: Whether You’ve Outgrown Your Home Office

For employers, this turnover rate can be a frightening thought, especially when you consider the potential impact that the loss of an employee can have on productivity and morale. In this competitive environment, many employers are likely wondering how to keep their brightest stars and how to bring promising fresh blood neatly into the fold.

Not long ago, Big Spaceship held a hack day, in which members of our crew could self-organize to produce anything that made our agency a better place. There were a number of results — from solutions for a healthy workplace to tools to appreciate daily moments of humor and joy. Big Spaceship has been evolving its culture for 14 years, but it wasn’t until recently that a printed book -– a rarity in the digital age -– would illuminate the ins and outs of our company values and what they mean to employees new and old.

Turns out, this simple reminder of our values has been a key ingredient in keeping our already tight-knit crew as cohesive as ever. It’s helped the youngest and newest staff members feel engaged and confident, and encouraged the most senior employees to remain open-minded. Culture is organic; it changes and it can’t be dictated by one person.

As your company begins to look inward to attract and retain employees, here are five tips that any business can use to create its own culture manual.

You can’t mandate culture,

A successful manual must be a manifestation of the culture that already exists at your company. Its origins should be completely organic –- a far cry from many corporate environments, in which a single person or committee is responsible for dictating the culture. Remember: Your culture may be encouraged from the top-down, but it will only take hold from the bottom-up.

One of the ways that smart business leaders can spur this phenomenon is by actively putting hiring power into their employees’ hands and allowing them input on who joins their environment.Google, renowned for its organic culture, is a great example of this; the company institutes committees when taking on new hires, naturally helping everyone feel involved and valued.

Balance friendly encouragement with tough love,

People appreciate the honest truth, because it means you respect their intelligence. A lot of things that make a company great require sacrifices, and your manual should tell both sides of the story.

Encourage your employees to ask for help when they need it; feeling supported is absolutely essential to maintaining worker happiness. But don’t let them get too comfortable. Force them to take initiative and, instead of complaining, take it upon themselves to make changes when and how they see fit. Happiness and productivity both stem as equally from independence and confidence as they do from a sense of support.

People will pitch in if you give them freedom and time,

Freedom and time are golden. In the modern workplace, these are two attributes that can be extremely hard to come by — especially when it seems as if every half-hour a new meeting alert pops up. Technology is turning many employees’ ways of life into a vicious cycle, transforming them into slaves to their calendars.

Don’t let your employees become cogs in the wheel. Give them permission to take a step back from the grind and make culture a priority, not an add-on. Sometimes the best brief will say, “Here’s the general space we’re playing in. The rest is up to you.”

Stand for something,

Studies have proven that purpose-driven brands have greater success than those that are only concerned with maximizing shareholder value. But aligning your company with certain beliefs and behaviors also means that not everyone will be a perfect fit within the company’s culture. To be straightforward at Big Spaceship, we list our values on our careers page, because we know it will help attract the right kind of people — and let others know they might be better off elsewhere.

Southwest Airlines is a brand that’s been lauded for being particularly purpose-driven in recent years. They’ve built up a reputation for being hard-working, respectful and, perhaps most importantly, laid back and friendly. They stay away from candidates who don’t fit the bill, and these efforts have paid off: The company has only a 2% turnover rate.

Find the themes that define the way you work,

It’s important that every workplace articulate its unique features and create themes, both internally and externally, that can be narrowed down and shared with all employees.Defining distinct pillars will help your employees feel grounded in their day-to-day, and will keep the sometimes numerous and potentially overwhelming aspects of your culture in perspective.

Zappos is successful at this type of transparency. Its list of ten core values, while a bit lengthy, manages to convey a simple and flexible framework within which its employees can work and play. It’s a strategy that’s worked for us, as well. Our manual has three chapters: the first is about embracing humanity in the workplace, the second is about collaboration and the third is “We Change.”

Dear Patron’s, how do you inspire Go-ahead in the workplace? Share in the comments.

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Whether You’ve Outgrown Your Home Office

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There are numerous reasons to run a business out of your home, with cost savings and an easy commute being the top two. However, there may come a time when the business outgrows the home. Common signs are when boxes of inventory overtake the dining room or you need to invite employees or customers to meet in your living room.

Some people can work successfully from home for years, while others outgrow their home office faster than expected. Here are some of the warning signs that you’re ready to move beyond the home office.

Your home office affects customers or clients,

These days, many people — whether they work for a Fortune 100 company or are self-employed — work from home at least part of the time. While home offices are commonplace, you still need to keep up a level of professionalism to the outside.

If a dog barking, baby crying or roommate’s music interrupts a big call, it might be time to relocate. You need an environment that lets you give clients 100% of your attention when needed.

You can’t separate work and home,

Getting office space outside of the home might be necessary if you find yourself struggling to separate your personal life from your work. For example, do you procrastinate on a big project by doing the dishes or watching TV? Do you find yourself unable to unplug at night?

Sometimes having a physical separation between work and home can help inform your mind when it’s time to focus or relax.

Your house looks more like an office,

Can you walk through your living room without tripping over boxes? Can you eat at your kitchen table without needing to move piles of paper first?

Many people start out working in a spare room, then “work stuff” inevitably migrates to the garage, basement, living room and bedroom. This is particularly true if you’re dealing with any kind of supplies or inventory in the business. If work is invading your home, then it’s time to get more space.

You need to meet with customers and vendors,

Do you ever ask customers or vendors to meet you at your home? Holding meetings on your living room couch or at your kitchen table not only reflects poorly on your business, but also impacts your family or roommates.

You should also consider that increased traffic through your front door can be a red flag for some home associations, and could also affect your homeowners or renters insurance.

You’ve brought on employees,

Many businesses move out of the home once they hire employees who need some kind of workspace.Not every employee is going to want to work in your home, use your personal bathroom or listen to your family discussions.

If your employees can’t work out of their own homes, then it’s only fair that you set up a more conventional office environment so they have the space and resources to do their job. In addition, many homeowners’ policies won’t cover liability for your employees.

You want to be more visible,

Not every business will benefit from a local presence, but some will. Having a physical office with street signage gives your brand local visibility 24 hours a day.

Alternatively, working out of a shared office, executive suite or incubator environment will automatically expand your network of potential customers, partners, and vendors.

You’re stagnating at home,

Maybe you feel you’ve reached a plateau with your business — it’s difficult to get motivated or find inspiration for new ideas. Or maybe you feel like your original home office no longer reflects how your business has grown over the years.

In these cases, you may want to shake things up with a new physical space, and get inspired by joining a community of fellow startups, small businesses and professionals.

Taking the Plunge,

Once you’ve decided it’s time to move out of your home office, you don’t necessarily need to purchase commercial space or sign a longterm lease.

Consider your needs. If inventory and excess boxes are the main issues, maybe you’d benefit from storage space. If you’re looking for a quiet place to concentrate a few times a week for big projects, then you should consider a shared office or executive office center where you can rent space on a part-time or even as-needed basis. There are also co-working and incubator environments for those who’d benefit from the energy and support of a community.

Ways to Trick Out Your Startup’s Office Environment

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Last week we showed you some of the startup world’s most creative office spaces. These colorful environments with airy floor plans and comfortable conference rooms put the cubicle to shame — but before you start shelling out for employee skate parks and rock climbing walls, consider that not all office luxuries will serve your workspace equally well.

Mashable spoke with several startup employees to find out what they loved about their unconventional office spaces, and the results were fairly unanimous: An open floor plan and quirky extras encourage communication, collaboration and general satisfaction far more than cramped cubicles.

“The more comfortable our employees feel in the office environment, the more comfortable they are to speak up and share their opinions and insights with the team,” ZocDoc CFO Netta Samroengraja says in an e-mail.

Most startups have certain crucial design elements in common. These include employee lounge areas with cozy seating and colorful accents, snack-filled kitchens where employees can chat as they refuel and TV monitors used for everything from video-conferencing to gaming.

Startups with enough square footage also tend to shell out for recreational spaces — ZocDoc has a game room outfitted with beanbag chairs, a ping-pong table and an acoustic guitar — that contribute to a playful work environment that’s not just about punching the clock.

Some office add-ons will make sense for only a small segment of businesses; TastingTable, for instance, rents a test kitchen and dining room staffed with two full-time chefs near its SoHo offices. The extra kitchen space is a boon for the food-and-drink newsletter, but is probably a less prudent investment for a software firm.

At Zazzle’s sprawling Redwood City headquarters, everything from the communal desks to the wallpaper was custom-made to reflect the company’s design-it-yourself ethic, according to co-founder and CTO Bobby Beaver. Likewise, Etsy takes a DIY approach to office design with colorful knickknacks, quilts and plushies, all made by Etsy sellers. “My apartment is so boring compared to the office,” says Sarah Starpoli, Etsy’s Employment Experience Manager.

Quirky office additions such as HowAboutWe’s popcorn machine — which one employee assures us is regularly put to good use — or Zazzle’s ping-pong table may not rank as “strictly necessary” for your startup, but they undoubtedly contribute to a more welcoming work environment. “Go to your local IRS office to get a taste of the dark side of an office landscape,”Squarespace’s director of interface, Michael Heilemann, suggests.

There is, however, a fine line between a morale-boosting office perk and a misallocation of your startup’s precious funds. So, when you’re decorating that new exposed-brick loft space, go the more sensible route and avoid the 10 extravagant accessories in the gallery below — ball pits, bike repair shops and Bengal tigers are on the list — that only Google and Facebook can really afford, at least until you’ve made your first million.

Does Entrepreneur Need a Mentor in their Business

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“Being an entrepreneur isn’t an easy job,” says Andres Teran, cofounder of Toplist, a social shopping recommendation startup. “There are moments that you have nothing and feel like things are never going to getting better.”

Teran is referring to the days before his company’s vital pivot point, when he and his team had dedicated their lives to creating a site they loved with features they themselves would want.

“Toplist, before being an app, was a website where people shuffled around cool products curated by their own interests,” says Teran. “We worked hard to develop this cool site with great features that showed amazing products. After we launched the site, though, we noticed people didn’t use all the great features we had built for them. They weren’t engaging with the amazing content we had curated for them. Worst of all, they weren’t coming back to use our service.”

VISIT ALSO: Ways to Globalize Your Career from a Startup

At that point, his team set out to raise capital for what they had built, hoping to secure enough money for marketing, hires and anything else it might take to help the concept catch on. But, with low user numbers, the Internet odds were stacked against them and time was running out. No one fronted the cash.

“We were just about to let everything go and end the project when we landed a meeting with the CEO of a micro-credit company that had just gone public in Mexico to see if he wanted to be involved as an angel investor in our company,” says Teran.

It was the only lead they had, and soon, he would become the first investor. But not in the company’s current state. First, there were essential pivots to be made, honest realizations to be had and hard-earned advice to be taken. The Toplist team needed an outside perspective and some guidance to find their way.

“On that day, he made us realize two things,” says Teran. “One, the product we had been working so hard on did not work for the users; we thought it would, but it didn’t. Two, not everything was a complete failure: We had learned a lot about how to build products that people could be engaged with, we learned about working together as a team. We had learned from our mistakes actually.”

What was supposed to be a pitch meeting turned out to be a crucial pivot point for Toplist — one that wouldn’t have happened without the right guidance and advice. Teran’s team took the feedback seriously, made the necessary changes and their luck started to change. The company’s new and influential mentor had saved just saved them from near failure.

VISIT ALSO: Grab you Skilled Place without Resume

“Before we left his office, he said that if we changed our project into something more attractive he would definitely invest,” says Teran. “Sometimes you need someone else to honestly point out what is wrong. We were amazed by his good will.

He could have just said, ‘No,’ and we would have gone on with our failure and him with his success. But he took our side.

He could have just said, ‘No,’ and we would have gone on with our failure and him with his success. But he took our side.”

Mentorship has been a hot topic in the startup world for years, with incubator and accelerator programs offering it — among other things — in exchange for stock in founders’ ideas. Outside of incubators though, finding a good mentor is challenging. But finding the right mentor is a lesson in luck, persistence and not letting opportunities pass you by.

“We did look for mentorship before we found someone that was right,” says Teran, explaining that his company’s mentor was discovered by chance. “I think the way to go is talk with people that can give you advice on certain topics and, most important of all, help you to make good decisions.

A big thing, though, is not to obsess about finding mentorship, because you could lose focus on what’s really important as an entrepreneur — executing the concept,” he says.

So how do you stumble upon your own honest and willing mentor without losing sight of your first priority (your company)?

“Good mentors will be hard to track down, and their time is extremely limited,” says Brett Hagler, cofounder of Hucksley, a marketplace for discovering one-of-a-kind brands. “Reach out creatively and always try to take the ‘backdoor’ approach by getting introduced through a mutual contact. Certain platforms such as LinkedIn allow you to have direct access to your targeted mentors. Always be creative on your specific ask and make it as relevant and direct as possible.”

Look hard for a mentor and network as much as possible, but don’t make finding a mentor your primary focus. Perhaps Sheryl Sandberg said it best in Lean In: you don’t need a mentor to excel, “Excel and you will get a mentor.”

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

Get Ready for your Tech Startup Jobs

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From Berlin to Tel Aviv to San Francisco, it’s no secret that tech startups represent one of the few bright spots in the global and American job markets. For those already on the inside, finding your next stop is more or less straightforward.

VISIT ALSO: Make your Startup Business Standout from Crowd

But if you’ve been working at a bank or for a boutique hotel, it’s far more complicated to break in. Tech startups speak a different language (What’s a GitHub? Who’s Ruby?), the culture’s distinct, and it’s even hard to find the jobs. There’s also a perception that you have to know programming to work for a startup (of course, the reality is that startups hire marketers, accountants, and all sorts of others).

We run one of the largest tech startup hiring events in the U.S., called Uncubed (we’re entering Germany for the first time today), and it draws both insiders and those looking to get their first startup job. Here are 10 tips from our community for those on the move:

Start within arm’s reach,

Products and services that you already use and know are great places to begin your search.

Take the companies behind the apps in your phone. Some are one or two people; others have teams of hundreds with many open jobs. If you come from banking, start with the payments and finance startups. The ability to have a knowledgeable conversation about a company’s offerings is a surefire attention-grabber.

Skip the blind dates,

Really, really do your homework on each company before meeting or applying for a job with them. Scour their websites, blogs, social media presences, and articles written about them (or by their team members). This is much more important at startups than at large companies.

Don’t forget to tip,

Now that you’re well-versed on both the company and its offerings, come up with one great suggestion for how they can improve or one new feature you would add. Even if it’s not a world-changing idea, startups love this.

Link outside the box,

Building your digital presence through Twitter, blogging, Instagram, Quora, and skill-specific centers like GitHub (in addition to LinkedIn and Facebook) are mandatory at this point.

Blogging offers an outlet for your interests, thoughts, and writing; Quora exhibits your knowledge by allowing you to answer others’ questions (or ask your own); and GitHub connects developers around coding projects.

Start now. Even a little will make you far more desirable than someone who isn’t active at all.

Talk to strangers,

Involve yourself in local, professional communities through Meetups for entrepreneurs, startup enthusiasts, coders, designers, and others in your field of interest. Reach out to companies and professionals directly for coffee meetings and informational interviews. In no time, you’ll have a budding network in the startup space.

Take one a day,

Make it a goal and personal challenge to reach out to at least one new person or company each day. Through friends, professional connections, and referrals, your network will grow exponentially, opening doors to new professional opportunities.

Stack the deck,

You don’t need a job to have business cards. Here are some thoughts on how to stand out amid all the card swapping.

Do it yourself,

Bulk up your résumé, skills, network, and confidence in the off hours. Freelance work, passion projects, volunteering, competitions, and classes are all great ways.

Bookmark these pages!

The search continues for the holy grail of an updated and highly curated startup job board for all fields. In the meantime, you can bet that every city of scale has a great local resource and then most skillsets have their own board, such as Careers 2.0 for programmers and Behance.net for designers.

Ditch the tie; perfect your Ping-Pong serve,

The clichés of startup life are clichés for a reason. Scrap the corporate culture and dress code, and understand that even though they can .seem frivolous, startup trappings like the ping pong table serve a purpose.

Make your Company Culture as a Best

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Companies aren’t built by individuals, they’re built by teams with complementary skills. But recruiting good talent is half the battle — you also need to foster an environment in which your employees can flourish and grow.

We spoke with nine entrepreneurs to get their tips for building a great team and retaining the talent. Have any more tips? Let us know in the comments below.

Always Be Hiring,

“Hiring is a continuous process, not a punctual hunt,” says Alexandre Winter, founder and CEO at Placemeter, who advises you to avoid specific job descriptions. “Hire in tech, product or business, but only take people that really wow you.” It’s important to think about the person’s career path, too — let them adjust to new responsibilities and be mindful of where they are and where they’re going. Winter says one of the biggest mistakes you can make with bright and talented employees is burning them out by giving them too much work too soon.

Encourage Entrepreneurial Thinking,

“Inside of a startup, each and every person needs to think like an owner and an entrepreneur,” says Levo League CEO and co-founder Caroline Ghosn, who encourages people to ponder the thought, ‘What would I do if I were running this company?’ “Getting each and every person comfortable with asking for forgiveness, not permission, allows the entire team to benefit synergistically from their talents as a team being greater than the sum of our parts as individuals.”

It’s also crucial to hire and cultivate the “whole person,” she says. “We foster open conversations about the well-being of our teammates, their personal needs and situations.” That might include creating a flexible work schedule for a new mom or sending a developer to a coding bootcamp. In the end, it makes employees happier and healthier, makes them better at their job and increases productivity. “We care immensely about the success of the integrated person.”

Remember That Your People Are Your Business,

“Hiring is the most important thing you can do at a company at any stage in it’s lifecycle,” says Brett Lewis, founder of Skillbridge. “Great people versus okay people is the difference between success and mediocrity — and it is something that founders spend far too little time on early on.” He also says that in the startup world, your sixth hire should be a recruiter, who can devote time to finding other fantastic hires.

Lead by Example,

“As a leader in a company, everyone feeds off of what you do — the culture starts with you,” says Unroll.me co-founder Jojo Hedaya. “If you come in early, are always focused and happy, it sets the tone for the rest of the team.” Show passion for the company and its mission, set goals and expectations and work hard, and your team will follow suit. “I was always a believer that a great leader is one that gives a lot, but can also expect a lot in return,” says Hedaya. “I always explain to the Unroll.me team that we are a family with the same goals and values in mind. We are brothers and sisters who would do anything for each other.” Hedaya cautions that it’s more than just skill that goes into a successful team — you need people to fit well. Everyone should be having fun and enjoying what they do, and if the best developer out there is difficult to work with, you’re better off without them.

Character Counts,

Baldwin Denim is based in Kansas City, and the mom-and-pop shop is in the business of people. “We want to hire really good people that communicate and exude positivity, and look at someone’s character, first and foremost,” says Matt Baldwin, who says Baldwin’s employee retention is high, and the business often promotes from within. “Our employees have to have the same qualities as our brand — authenticity, quality and attention to every detail,” he says.

Don’t Underestimate Freelancers,

Hiring someone is a big commitment — and what if it doesn’t work out? For some kinds of businesses, freelancers make a ton of sense. “I like to say we have an army of freelancers, which means I can hire great talent without having to lure them away with a salary we could never afford,” says Rachel Hofstetter, founder-in-chief of Guesterly. Plus, technology like e-payments and Echosign make compensation and paperwork simple. “Because we’re a startup, we can move fast and treat them like we’d want to be treated.”

Hofstetter also recommends hiring college students and recent graduates — they’re professional, eager to learn, affordable and enthusiastic. Plus, if you’re in the market for help in the tech department, these young people are likely ot be well-versed in the most cutting edge technologies.

Listen to Your Gut,

If you get a weird feeling or sense of doubt about someone, trust it — you probably have reservations for a reason. On the flipside, if you have doubts about a current employee’s contributions, don’t be afraid to let them go. It’s the old startup adage: Hire slow, fire fast. “Company culture is a proactive thing, it’s not something that builds itself,” says Alban Denoyel, co-founder and CEO of Sketchfab.

Give Employees Ownership and Flexibility,

“We really encourage everyone here to holistically be happy, and excited,” says Emmett Shine, CEO of Gin Lane Media. Shine says his agency seeks out ambitious, “auto-didactic” creative technologists who wouldn’t be attracted to a traditional agency — there’s an emphasis on what you create, rather than how much you create. “This makes our management structure as minimal and ‘flat’ as possible — encouraging our team members to take ownership of the things that we make, and their role in making them,” says Shine, whose company also permits flexible scheduling to fit left-of-center lifestyles. “We really encourage everyone here to holistically be happy and excited. If that means taking a day or a week off, to be with family or go on a trip — then that’s fine. A happy employee will be multiples more productive than someone not inspired, or stressed out about something.”

Work to Maintain and Build Company Culture,

“Arguably the most important decision you make as a startup or young company is who to hire,” says Jeff Jackel, CEO of BuzzMob. “And this decision is no less critical when hiring the your fifteenth employee than it was for your third hire.” He emphasizes that in these critical early stages, each hire should fit well and improve the company’s efficiency and culture — if they don’t, they’re the wrong person.

While it’s largely the CEO’s responsibility to set and cultivate the company’s culture, it’s a never-ending task. “The importance of this nuanced element of business can’t be underestimated or neglected,” says Jackel, who spends one day per week focusing on company culture in one way or another. “Even the best products and services have fallen victim to a lapse in attention to company culture. If you constantly cultivate this as much as you do any other aspect of your business, you’ll have an efficient office full of happy people.”

Make your Startup Business Standout from Crowd

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These days it is rare to find a business niche that is not already over saturated, however that said are you sitting reading this thinking ‘but, my idea is different, mine will work’ if the answer is yes then keep reading as I know how you feel I remember talking to my uncle who started The Workplace Depot many years ago.

My uncle had exactly the same problems you may well be facing right now and I want to share with you some of his ideas we have discussed many times that made his business go from strength to strength over the years.

Shout about your USP (unique selling point) from day one

This may sound obvious but all too often I see and hear about new businesses starting up and unless I really delve into their website and about page I don’t actually know what it is that makes them different, what sets them apart from the competition. Use all your PR channels to shout from the roof tops about your USP(s).

Being a new brand it is a fair assumption customers will not have encountered your business before so when they see you for the first time you want them to instantly know THIS is what sets you apart, THIS is your USP.

Get personal

One of the best bits of advice my uncle had for me when I started my first business was be personal able, get to know the customers and let them see there is a real person behind the business. One of the keys for new start-ups to be successful is for there to be trust and the best way of getting trust is to put your name and face to your business, let customers contact you directly, put a big picture of yourself (smiling – not miserable as this says a lot about your company) and a lengthy author bio all about you, your history and what makes you tick. Don’t hide behind a business façade.

Honesty is paramount

Being honest is so important for new businesses; where possible you should try and keep your business as transparent as possible, customers can smell a dodgy business start-up a mile away. Some examples of tactics I have seen used are offers that appear to be too good to be true (and near always are), over promising and under-delivering and finally pretending to be Mr Big.

When starting up we all like to make our we have an ‘entire team’ when the likelihood it is just you sitting in an office. While some small white lies can be harmless if you start doing it more and more it can trip you up down the line when a customer calls and always speaks to the same person (you) or asks to visit your offices – this can leave a bad taste in the mouth and personally I prefer to be honest and open and say I am the new kid on the block and actually find doing this enables me to highlight all the benefits of working with a new company such as fresh ideas, reduced costs due to small overheads and flexibility that larger companies cannot afford.

Know your competition

Being a new start-up is like entering the lions cage with a couple steaks strapped to each arm, you’re going to get eaten alive UNLESS you do your homework and know your competition. Starting a business puts you in a very unique situation you can use to your advantage, you can hold off ‘launching’ your business as long as needed to enable you to do all the competitor research you need to.

You ought to be looking at what they are doing well and more importantly what they are not doing well, make a list of both and compare with all your competitors to see if there are any glaring areas you can creep in and fill the void. Look at your competitors from both an online and offline perspective, leave no stone unturned. Make the most of your time pre-launch as once you go live your competitors will see you coming and try to squash you. So doing your competitor research will ensure they don’t stand a chance.

Go the extra mile

My last top tip for all you start-up business owners is to go that extra mile, a great piece of customer service in whichever form can often have a ripple effect within your niche and being a new brand you want those first mentions of your company to be a positive one. Take onboard your competitor research and if there are questions out there being posed get involved and answer them even if it does not directly lead to a sale/conversion of any sort.

A willingness to help the customer and go the extra mile will stand you in great shape for the future.