There are plenty of different ways to go about building a startup. Some are carried entirely by their founders’ ideas; some are egalitarian and billed as “collectives” rather than businesses (job titles, in these cases, are usually totally made up). Some are founded on close friendships; others are groups of like-minded strangers who crossed paths.
While there is no single key to success as a company, there are central factors to conducting business successfully that I’ve learned over the past five years that helped grow my business from startup to a multi-million dollar company. From customer care to responsible bookkeeping, read on to learn five small changes that will effectively strengthen your startup.
1. Maximize your meetings — or just get rid of them.
Most meetings stink. They’re a drain on time, often involving a CEO reciting progress reports to people who don’t need to be there and will get the minutes CC’d to them in a later email anyway. If there’s discussion without a goal, it doesn’t go very far; if there’s food, it’s usually bad for you (sandwiches, pizza, takeout).
We’ve found that small, casual meetings huddled over desks while team members are casually discussing Web features can yield amazing results. Instead of involving the whole company in general meetings, startups can really speed ahead by holding mini-meetings no bigger than four people, concentrated around expressed goals.
These meetings can be walking meetings or over a healthy lunch. This way, decisions can be made by the people in the best position to make these decisions. Your company doesn’t lose hundreds of dollars in billed hours during useless meetings, and members of the team can get to know each other better.
2. Boost office morale as much as you can.
Team-building is really important for a startup dynamic — to be able to weather through high pressure, long hours, little cash flow and no guarantee of security. Employees need to be able to rely on each other, feel happy and safe, and benefit from real social relationships. As a business, if employees feel more emotionally tied to the company, you improve retention.
This starts in the hiring process: You have to make sure your employees care about the work they’ll contribute to the company and make them feel like they’re being valued as a human, not just a colleague. And while you can’t give each employee an amazing benefits package, you may be able to dig a little deeper into your pockets for fun, out-of-office activities and group lunches (which respect the vegetarians and vegans on the team!). And, most importantly, each employee should be encouraged in their work, from a pat on the back to the freedom to share and pursue their projects for the company.
3. Get everyone involved in branding.
If you have one big meeting that involves the whole company, make it your branding workshop. These workshops will allow your team to cast their voice into what they think this company should be, and it will provide a unified vision for everyone to get intimately familiar with. Doing this in my company has helped us double our brand’s visibility over the past six months alone.
Make sure to provide food, because it will be long. But by the end, your team members should walk out feeling like they know each other a little better by joking around and answering silly questions like “If [company] was a mode of transportation, what would it be?” They should feel like they contributed something to the essential nature of your company and be able to direct the rest of the work that they do to being on-brand. However, make sure to moderate fairly — after all, while there are no wrong answers when it comes to branding workshops, some ideas just don’t really lead anywhere helpful.
4. Be obsessed with your customers.
At our company, we are staunchly focused around two things: product development and customer service. They should both be harmoniously interwoven together at the heart of your business. Maintaining a close relationship with your customers will yield all kinds of good outcomes.
The happier your customers are, the more your profits will grow. The more your customers tell you what they want, the more opportunities you have to improve your product by adding features or eliminating useless ones. The more ways your customers use your product and find out about you, the more data your company has to find the real underlying purpose, adjust the value proposition or measure its goals.
Make sure there’s always a real human being answering your phones, set up a multitude of different ways for your customer to reach you for support, and survey your subscribers.
5. Track your finances.
When you’re an entrepreneur and heading a startup, you already have a lot on your plate. You can save time and headaches by investing in an accounting platform (after all, it’s cheaper than enlisting a professional!). There’s a platform for every need, and they include features like tracking finances, financial reports, invoicing, payroll, tax prep, automated billing and more. Using these platforms has made our accounting, invoicing and time-tracking exponentially easier. You’ll be able to keep a keener eye on your finances, safeguard yourself from human error, complete a variety of mundane tasks on one program and maybe even save money by tracking expenses — all while saving time!