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MCLELLAN: Be lean: not just as a start-up, but always


There’s been a lot of talk here in Central Iowa and around the globe about lean start-ups. The whole idea is that rather than perfecting your idea/business and waiting until it’s completely capitalized, you launch the business in process and reiterate as the marketplace reacts to what you have to offer.

I don’t disagree with the philosophy at all. But I think that to assign being lean just to the start-up phase of a business is shortsighted. Especially in light of what the economy of the last few years has taught us, staying lean through all the phases of your business just makes sense.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on the topic of lean businesses lately and have distilled several important lessons for us to consider as we trim down our businesses or launch something new.

Here are some mistakes to avoid:

Don’t over-think your idea. The economy has made us skittish and with good reason. But if you believe in your idea (or existing business), don’t kill it with too much think time.

Often, business owners will use this “need to think it through” phase as an unconscious barrier to getting out there and testing it. The ultimate barometer of your success will be the marketplace, so get your offering out there as quickly as you can. It will evolve from there naturally.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. The name of the game in business success is niching. When you get feedback, you will get all kinds of advice.

Pay attention to where the feedback is coming from. As harsh as it sounds, if they’re not your target audience, their opinion just might not matter. Don’t fall for the sucker’s choice and think you need to be everyone’s solution.

Don’t over-staff. In today’s world, there’s a wealth of talent for hire. But you don’t have to hire them in a traditional full-time employee way. Hire specialists, freelance out tasks and use contract labor to balance your expenses.

In today’s climate, people are literally hiring out entire job functions, from accounting to marketing. Don’t assume you need in-house talent to get you to your goals.

Don’t write “Gone With the Wind.” You need a business plan. But it does not have to be 200 pages. Keep things simple. One of the best models for creating the financial projection part of your plan was created by Des Moines’ Mike Colwell. You can download it for free at www.StartUpModels.com.

If you’re not sure of your business model (and that’s different from a business plan), try the book “Business Model Generation” by Alexander Osterwalder.

Don’t put off the shifts. A shift is when you decide to change the direction of your product or service based on the feedback you get from the marketplace, sales, reviews, etc. Many business owners lament the lag time between knowing they needed to make a shift and actually doing it. If you know you need to do it, in the immortal words of Nike, just do it.

Whether your business has been around for 20-plus years or you’ve been working on something new for 20-plus days, the reality is the same. The risks are real. The trepidations are real. But if you hesitate too long, you’ll be the fourth person who had that really great idea. Don’t wait for it to be perfect. It will probably be too late.

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