Hundreds of SaaS businesses crop up every single month (this month, in particular, we become one of the businesses to add to that list). And all of those businesses are eyeing that elusive growth trajectory. A trajectory everyone wishes to achieve, but only few succeed.
The ones those succeed, kudos to them. But we are here to talk about the ones that are missing the mark. It’s not like they all have a bad product, or a team that doesn’t know what it is doing. Most of the times, these businesses are led by a group of extremely smart and intelligent people who understand the market, who know what makes their customers tick, who know what it takes to excel in their fields. So why is it that so few of these startups are able to scale to heights they aspire to? In my experience, a lot of times it is because of a lack of contextual focus. Focus is important, but what you focus onto is equally, if not more important. That is where contextual focus comes into play. And an important attribute of contextual focus happens to be self-awareness. Knowing what you need to do, what you should be doing, how you should do what you should do, what you can actually do, and finding the sweet spot where these circles intersect with each other.
The basics of business growth aren’t hard
Keep aside everything you know, and just think as a newbie. If I were to ask you how would you grow any business, your answer would be simple : (1) get more customers, (2) get your customers to buy from you repeatedly, instead of a competitor, (3) sell your customers more stuff than they initially intended to buy. As I said, the basics are fairly simple, anyone can tell you what business essentially needs to do in order to grow. It’s how you do it that makes all the difference.
Make a note that I didn’t need to use any fancy jargons to make the point. You can call ‘get more customers’ customer acquisition, ‘repeat buys’ customer retention, and ‘sell more’ increasing ARPU. You can call it by any name you want, it doesn’t change the fact that the basics remain the same. An average layperson may not know the jargons, but he knows what makes any business flourish and succeed. The point is, you don’t need to have a masters degree to know how to grow a business. You just need to get back to the basics and think like a layperson, and then strategize from there.
Where does self awareness come into play?
Every step of the way, no matter what line of business you are in, or what stage you are at. Though selfawareness is crucial at every step of the journey, it becomes absolutely crucial in the early stages of your business.
Things that I can do at ease may not come so easy to you, and vice versa. Things that a startup with ten people is able to do might be difficult for you if it is just you and your cofounder burning the midnight oil. Things that even a seed funded startup can do might be unsustainable for you to even consider. So you need to chalk out your path for yourself, keeping in mind your broader goals and objectives, and most importantly your targeted timeframes.
There are countless ways in which you can acquire customers. One quick Google search would throw back dozens of routes for you, ranging from paid ads to SEO, from influencer marketing to PR. They all work. With different level of impact, and different degrees of efficacy, sure, but they all do work. But just because they all work for acquiring customers, doesn’t mean they’ll work for you, and more importantly, that you need to do every single one of them.
Take the example of paid ads. Yes they work, but in order for them to work for you, you would need to do a lot of experiments, run a few different campaigns, test out different audience types, and most important - run it for at least a little while. Hard to do any of that if you are pressed for funds and operating on a shoestring budget. If you have just enough money to spend on paid ads for a week or two, you may be better off flushing your money down the toilet.
For SEO, it takes a whole lot of research, work, time and patience to start getting good results from SEO. It needs discipline, it needs consistency, it needs commitment. If you approach SEO with the expectation of flipping on a revenue stream, you would be left with nothing but discontent.
Same goes for almost everything on the list you will find anywhere about how to acquire customers. So, what do you do?
Choose your battles
Since you obviously can’t do everything, I would be extremely careful in choosing what I would be doing, based on what I can do. I would pick only the threads I know I can be working on for the foreseeable future, and then I would work on those threads every single day.
Take us for example. When we started planning for our product launch, the first thing I decided was to create potentially value-inducing content for my target audience, every single day. It is almost a month since we decided that, and every single day, I have pushed out one piece of content. Every single one of those is targeting one issue or another that plagues our target customers, i.e. you, and I have been on it consistently. And I will continue doing this every single day as far as you can see. I picked it because I knew from my past experience that I would be able to do it. It will take me some time to collect my thoughts every single morning, but once I have, I would be able to come up with a piece of content that passes the checklist. Off all the threads in front of me, this was the one I was most confident of in my ability to do with sincerity and consistency, so that’s what I picked.
Same goes for social media presence. A decision was made to focus on one single social network, and we chose Twitter for the conversational dimension it has to it.
Choosing your battles puts you in the right frame of mind, helps you declutter your thought process and helps you channel your energy in the right directions.
How you choose your battles is a combination of everything, what you can do, what you should do, and what you like to do. I like listening to queries, answering them, and taking notes when a query hits the lightbulb moment. So I chose my path accordingly. Unless you enjoy doing what you are going to be doing, you would have a hard time maintaining consistency and quality into it, and without those, your output would always be subpar.
Don’t clog up your bandwidth.
In the early stages of your business, you find yourself pressed for time all the time. There is always so much to do, and the active threads will just keep on increasing with time. Whether it is product management, product release cycles, customer support, vendor management, or hiring, there would always be more on your plate than you can handle. So its absolutely imperative that your marketing efforts do not clog up your bandwidth. Otherwise you will find yourself at a fork in the road where you have to let go of one for the other. And that never turns out good.
I chose writing on the blog because, as I said, I knew I could do it, but at the same time because I knew how much time I would need to keep aside every day to do it. So, I plan my day accordingly. There is a set time in the morning when I write the story for the day, and once I have pushed that live, I am done with that for 24 hours. My day is free to cater to the other active threads.
Same goes for Twitter and Emails - the primary mediums we have chosen for communicating with customers. I can do those with the discipline of spending 15 mins at a time on them, taking care of the threads that need to be addressed, and then closing the apps instead of being sucked away into the seemingly endless abyss of scrolls.
Having this discipline is absolutely critical. Because your marketing needs consistency and commitment to start delivering results, and your business needs you to be present for it to continue to grow. You have to learn to manage both. Having segregated time and space to do them will prevent you from being in a place where you bit more than you could chew.
So how should you go about your growth?
That’s a question only you can answer. No one else knows what your capabilities are, what kind of support infrastructure you have access to, or what you need to do. Figuring out the ways in which you can acquire or even retain a customer is easy. You can spend a couple of hours and you will have a comprehensive list for that. But what you choose from that list is on you.
Take a step back, look at that list, figure out your constraints, visualize your next few months, and pick up the threads you think you can do best. Then show up every single day and do those, without compromising on all that you already had on your plate (and will continue to have).
Pro-tip: Do not overestimate what you can get done. It is easy to think things won’t take as much time so you have the bandwidth to pick up a thing or two more. But remember, (a) it probably would take more time than you think, (b) the point isn’t to do more today, the point is to pick those that you can do every day - come what may. So be extremely conservative in your calculations here. Every time you face the urge to pick up one more, remember:
That’s it for today, see you tomorrow.
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