My first year running a business was a lot like playing Frogger without understanding how to cross a road. Instead of assessing the traffic, making a plan, and moving swiftly to the other side, my frog was manically leaping in circles, getting run over, and constantly being sent back to the start screen. I developed a deep understanding of why Frogger has been dubbed “the arcade game with the most ways to die” or, in entrepreneurial terms, “the career choice with the most ways to completely f*** up.” But amidst all those car crashes (or worse yet, reaching the water part of the level but simply drifting off-screen due to my inability to make a decision), I slowly began to work out a few techniques that, more often than not, got me safely to the other side. So, if you would like to leap past months or even years of confusion, inefficiency, and avoidable business failures, I invite you to look both ways and join me in learning 5 Ways to Leap Start Your Start-Up and Avoid Becoming Roadkill.
1. Find a time management framework that works for you.
During my first two years running a business, I did the only logical thing I could think of: wake up in the morning and tend to every email and every random thought that came to my mind until I could no longer stay awake. Then sleep, then repeat. I remember complaining to a colleague that there were never enough hours in the day, to which he replied, “Why don’t you make a schedule?” I remember nodding in agreement while thinking, “A schedule!? Ha! Do you even remotely understand the diversity and complexity of tasks that flitter in and out of my workload every single day?” In hindsight, I was the one who didn’t understand, as he wasn’t talking about the traditional schedule of “8 am – answer emails. 9 am – create marketing materials. 10 am – stop following this schedule as 15 other things have urgently come to your attention.“ Instead, he was talking about a time management system.
A time management system provides structure and techniques that will help you complete tasks more effectively and essentially make good use of your time. They have been used to boost productivity for decades, and there are lots of different time management frameworks out there to suit your style and needs. The framework that’s worked best for me so far is Getting Things Done (GTD), a system developed by David Allen and published in a book of the same name. The crux of GTD is that information takes up space in your brain, so if you can move that information out of your brain by recording it externally, and then break that information down into actionable items with known time limits, you can zoom through your tasks without feeling like you are working in rush hour all day every day.
There is no one-size-fits-all model of time management, so my advice is to play around with a few different ones and see how they feel. Here’s a list of 10 time management frameworks to get you started. It will take a bit of trial and error, and you may need to modify the frameworks, or even combine a few, but taking the time to get this right will spare you countless hours of inefficiency down the road.
2. Find the right tools to execute that framework.
Once you have found a time management framework that feels right, the next step is to make sure you have the tools to actually execute it. These tools could be anything from post-it notes to a more complicated digital platform, and it really depends on what framework you choose and how you like to work. I personally wanted a digital system (paper drives me absolutely crazy), so I began by playing around with digital time management tools such as Trello, ClickUp, and Miro. These free and freemium pieces of software can help you organize and keep track of your tasks, projects, etc., and you can set them up to reflect the time management system you’ve chosen. For example, if you are working with Getting Things Done, you might choose something like Trello and create different lists that mirror the GTD workflow (do, delegate, defer, etc.). These tools can take some time to set up and get used to, but they will help you develop the ability to smoothly navigate a myriad of obstacles and dodge those car wrecks that threaten to kill your business.
3. Start using a CRM system, like, yesterday.
I will never forget the first time I heard someone say “CRM.“ Having never read or heard the acronym before, I mistook it for the completely made-up word “Serium,“ which I proceeded to fruitlessly google for hours. It was another few months before I finally put together the elusive “Serium” was actually “C R M,“ or Customer Relationship Management, and it was the thing I had been desperately searching for to help keep my business, and my sanity, afloat.
A CRM system is a way to manage and keep track of all the relationships you have with your customers and potential customers. As a business owner, you are already doing this somehow, whether it’s in your head, on a random list on your phone, or through labels in your inbox. The beauty of using a CRM system is that it can actually track your customer relationships across the entire customer lifecycle, enabling you to know exactly who is who, what they have/haven’t purchased, when to follow up with them, etc. Even if you have only a handful of potential customers, and half of those customers are your family and friends, start using a CRM system TODAY. Even a handful of leads can quickly turn into disappearing turtles right under your little frog butt, leaving you stranded in the water with a quickly fading memory of who that turtle was and why you were sitting on them in the first place.
In terms of what system to use, it again depends on your needs and how you like to work. I have been using the free version of HubSpot for a couple years now and it has served me well, but there are plenty of other options such as Pipedrive, Salesforce, and Zoho. I played around with a few free trials before settling into HubSpot, and the good news is it’s pretty easy to migrate your data from one platform to another. This means you don’t need to fret too much about picking the right one from the start (which can sometimes be so paralyzing that you never start at all). You can spend time exploring one or more systems until you find what works best over time.
4. Build and grow your email list.
Much like using a CRM system, it is never too early to start building your email list. Why? Because with 4.03 billion users, email has a bigger reach than any other platform. Emails are also proven to outperform social media and other digital marketing strategies when it comes to conversion rate (the percentage of people who complete the specific actions you set forth, e.g., clicking on a link, filling out a survey, or making a purchase). Remember, your customers and supporters actually want to hear from you, and emails are the perfect way to share your personal message directly to their inbox.
In terms of where to start, you’re going to need a way to collect email addresses and ideally keep track of relevant metrics such as how many people are opening your emails, clicking on links, etc. There are plenty of free and freemium email marketing platforms out there such as Mailchimp (that’s what I’m using), SendinBlue, and Constant Contact. Most of these platforms will integrate with your CRM, creating a really powerful system. Once you have the backend sorted, you are just missing one key ingredient… the email addresses themselves! While there is no harm in simply asking people to sign up for your mailing list, I would suggest using a lead magnet to really kickstart things and to keep your list growing. A lead magnet is a free product or service given in exchange for someone’s contact details. This could be a .pdf with some useful tips, a link to a webinar, or a discount code. You want it to be something that your customers and potential customers will value. Use this lead magnet on your website, social media, etc., to encourage people to hop to it and sign up.
5. Find a business mentor.
My final piece of advice is something that has been the single most powerful and transformative influence in my entrepreneurial journey: a good business mentor. A good business mentor has already manically leapt in circles, gotten run over, and been constantly sent back to the start screen, and they are now here to help you move swiftly to the other side of the road. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still going to have plenty of car crashes (which is where a lot of great learning actually takes place), but you’re also going to have someone there reminding you to look both ways before you cross the street. As my own mentor, Christopher Bean, states in his article The Value of a Mentor, “There is tremendous value in the transference of knowledge, information, and skills from someone who has more wisdom and experience to another person who is willing to learn and grow. In our personal lives, we all have someone whom we look up to or lean on in times of uncertainty. In business, it should be no different.”
With that in mind, it is now time for you to hit the road and take your learnings to the next level. I promise if you follow these five steps, you will not only leap start your start-up, but you will have more time to play Frogger – and that is definitely a win-win situation.