Subscribe to Inc. magazine
OWNER'S MANUAL

4 Ways to Turn Less into More

Money, time, connections -- you need more of everything, right? Stop whining and start using your contraints to your advantage.

Sometimes less really is more, especially when you’re starting a company.

If you have plenty of resources, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re doing well. Problems get overlooked, waste goes unnoticed, and revenue shortfalls are covered by cash reserves… often until it’s too late.

More—whether more money, more time, more automation, or a bigger network—can actually make long-term success more elusive. On the other hand a constraint can be a blessing in painful disguise, forcing you to pay attention to what really matters.

Here are four ways to turn less into a lot more:

1. Money. No startup has “enough” money. Many businesses are started with no money.

If capital is tight, make that an advantage. Instead of spending time—and the little capital you do have—on things that make your business seem like a “real” business, spend all your time finding ways to generate revenue as soon as possible.

Like Jason Fried says, starting a business is not the same thing as making money. A successful entrepreneur masters one skill that is more important than all others: Making money.

When you don’t have money you’re forced to focus on finding customers and generating revenue. Learn how to do that and then worry about running a business, because without customers you don’t have a business.

2. Time. You have a great idea. You just need time to pull it off. If only you could quit your job and devote yourself full-time…

Don’t. Except in rare cases, the smart move is to keep your full-time job while you start a business on the side. Granted it's not easy: Sacrifice, discipline, and a lot of hard work are definitely required.

But that's okay—if you aren't willing to sacrifice and work hard, your start-up will fail whether you keep your full-time job or not.

If you’re truly committed to your idea, you will naturally maximize the time you are able to devote to your start-up; the three hours a day you are able to spend will be a lot more focused. And you’ll naturally strip out “nice to have” features and focus solely on what customers really need—and will pay for.

3. Automation. Most large companies improve processes and cut costs with automation. It’s tempting to copy the big boys, but in a start-up, adopting automation early on is often unnecessary and even counter-productive.

For example, I bought a product from a small company. A couple days later I received a recorded call thanking me for my purchase and encouraging me to contact them if I had questions or wanted to provide input. I’m sure it was intended to be a nice touch but it just felt tacky.

In the early stages of a business, avoid automation where it touches the customer. If you want to thank a customer for their purchase, email or call them personally.  If a customer complains, respond personally. Automation can save time, but if you want to build a customer base—and get ideas for how you can improve your business from the people who matter most—communicate with customers the old fashioned way.

Less automation typically leads to more engagement.  Stay personal for as long as you can.

4. Network. A huge network is a huge advantage, right? Not in a start-up. You don’t have time to nurture dozens or hundreds of connections.

Quality of connections, not quantity, is what matters most. And don't worry about the “status” of a connection; all that matters is whether you can help each other reach your goals.

Find someone you can help. Reach out. Give before you worry about receiving. That person may help you in return or may connect you with someone who can.

Spend 90 percent of your networking time building a few quality connections; devote the remainder to building a large group of social media connections. Remember, any tool that automates or makes the process of making connections easy will rarely establish the connections you really need.

Most of us aren’t visionaries. We can’t, even if given unlimited resources, sit down and map out a groundbreaking new product or service. But most of us are great at solving problems. Constraints are problems you can solve.

And every time you do, you build a better product or service—and a better business.

More:
Last updated: Jan 30, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: