The Top 5 Questions to Ask When Starting or Growing a Business

Whether you’re starting a brand new business, or seeking to grow an established one, there is one key principle that should always be top of mind…

Stay focused on the customer.

In the hurly-burly of business life, it’s easy to get sidetracked by all sorts of issues that in the long run are not nearly as relevant to business success.  Pressing tactical issues like…  What’s the best way to “get my name out there”? How do I get the best price from suppliers? Which social media should I be on? Which networking groups should I attend, etc. etc.  Yes, these are important.  But the key, central question should always be…

1. “What do my customers want to buy that I can provide better than anyone else?”

Below is a list of related questions to ask when starting or growing a business…and continue asking at least once per quarter ever after!

2. Why do I want to own this business in the first place?
In the early days of your business, your goal is to experiment to learn what works:  to “fail fast, fail cheap, and fail often”. But sooner or later, you’ll need to articulate your values, purpose, mission, and vision  – because you’ll be called upon to determine what’s most important in a variety of difficult situations.

Values describe the things that are so important to you that you would hold to them – even if you were to start a different business, in a different industry, 100 years from now. They include things like integrity, innovation, competition, service, and respect. Your company’s purpose, vision, and mission flow naturally out of your core values.

Whether or not you’ve expressed them, your core values shape your most important business decisions: who to bring on as a supplier, who to hire and fire, how to manage conflict, and how to build a strong, talent-attracting culture.  Being clear about your values will empower you to make quick, well-grounded business decisions, sometimes under extreme conditions, at the drop of a hat.

Check out http://www.jimcollins.com/tools/vision-framework.pdf for helpful exercises that will help you identify values, purpose, mission, and vision.

3. Which customers am I most eager to serve, and why?
High energy and motivation are crucial to success in business. It’s much easier to stay focused and motivated when you are attracting and serving your favourite people. What is their age, stage, location, variety of needs, concerns, and so on? Where do they congregate and how can you hang out with them, both face-to-face and online? Connecting with your potential customers in a variety of helpful ways facilitates the flow of energy and money.

Sometimes it can be just as important to fire customers as it is to retain them. Bad customers can quickly drain valuable time, energy, and resources.  Look for a way to kindly offload repeatedly difficult customers so you have more time and energy to spend on the people you can genuinely help.

4. What do my customers need that I most love to provide for them?
Business is about more than taking people’s money: it’s about meeting people’s needs. Money is a handy side benefit.  When we meet the needs of customers we love with our strengths and talents, they’re generally happy to give us their money.  The better we meet their needs, the more money they’re willing to give us. It’s not rocket science.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box on this one. What else do your customers need that you can provide, besides your regular products or services?  Maybe they need further connections, cool experiences, information and learning resources, incentives and perks, and so on.

As customers turn to you to get a variety of needs met, you become a centre of influence for them.  They say good things about you when you’re not there, and they naturally refer their friends.  What’s not to like? You get valuable word-of-mouth marketing for only the cost of providing a few extra resources for people you care about anyway.

5. What are the ways in which I’m able to meet my customers’ needs better than anyone else?
Price, Quality, and Service are the top three factors that allow a business to compete in the marketplace.  But it’s very rare for a company to be amazing at all three factors.  Better to choose two of these three and focus your development efforts around them.
For example, you could advertise your services as the lower-cost, faster alternative to your competition. The fact that you’re also of higher quality would be a much-welcomed surprise – allowing you to under-promise and over-deliver.