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2.5 Start-up Tips You Can’t Afford to Ignore

The secret to a successful start-up? Choose your partners wisely and stay away from Jokers.

On the way to building our search engine optimization company, my partners and I received plenty of well-meaning advice along the way. So, when someone recently asked 'What was the best advice you received when starting your business?’, I had to take some time to really think about the ones that could qualify as ‘the best.’

So many memories of our early days starting Slingshot SEO flashed through my head. Eventually, I realized two solid tips were battling in my head for ultimate domination over the others. Here they are in a nutshell:

1. Choose your business partners wisely. Ask yourself if you would invest $1 million in your prospective business partner. Think about it. You are planning to invest your time, blood, sweat and tears–which is worth much more than $1 million–into your business partners during the start-up years. If you wouldn’t invest $1 million in that person, then you better think twice about entering into a partnership.

Along the same lines, would that person invest $1 million in you? If the answer to both questions is yes, then you’re starting your partnership with a high level of trust and confidence in each other which will be crucial in times of stress (practically every day!) in the start-up years.

Beyond trust, there are several other factors to consider when choosing prospective business partners. Do their traits and skills fill in where you are weak or do they just add to your strengths? Filling in each other’s weaknesses rather than adding to strengths will further diversify the skills in the leadership of your startup. It is crucial you are not stepping on each other’s toes in daily duties. You also will be able to sleep better at night, trusting that your business partners are taking good care of the tasks you aren’t doing yourself.

2. Ask prospective clients up front for a small retainer. If I had to narrow my advice to just one for a new service-based start-up, this would be the one. It’s that important. I can’t tell you how many businesses expected highly discounted or free service because they were dealing with a young start-up company. Around our office, we referred to them as ‘Jokers.’ In the beginning, we had an extensive service quoting process. Many of the companies we pitched to got cold feet or even expected free service when the quote was delivered.

Our business consultant, David Clegg, suggested we ask for a $500 retainer up front which would be discounted from the final quote if prospective clients decided to do business with us. This advice had immediate returns by quickly cutting out the ‘Jokers’ and freeing up our schedules to spend valuable time in front of real prospects.

We consider ourselves lucky to have had monthly meetings with a brilliant consultant at the start of our business and the caring advice of a successful businessman, George Dearringer, who also is the father of one of our founding partners.

Actually, that brings my essential tips to three for start-ups. It’s extremely important to find solid mentors who genuinely care about you and your company. Mentors like David and George will be there for you to answer critical questions in stressful situations, question your decisions and even participate in the occasional shouting match.

Life and business is all about learning. If you have a start-up and can’t think of the best advice you’ve received from others, then you had better start looking for mentors as you continue down your unique business path.

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