Most people launch their own business without knowing if they’ll succeed or fail.  Given the statistics about the number of start-ups that fail in the first year, five years, etc. it seems sensible to do as much as possible to increase your business’s chances of success.

I’ve started up three businesses, one with a partner, one that acquired two co-directors and one that I own outright.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes and learned some really valuable lessons.  These are the 5 things I wish I’d known – and ACTIONED before jumping in the deep end.

1: Who is your ideal client?

My first business worked on the ‘Anybody who needs us’ premise, with limited, but not long-term success.  The second business took a look at this, but we couldn’t bite the bullet and choose a market sector.  There was too much ‘but we could do this for these people, and that for those people too’.

Finally, in my third business I got to grips and made myself choose a client profile that I knew would really value what I could offer and that I would really enjoy working with.  It was worth writing out my client avatar – it was almost like magic.  Suddenly I was getting calls from people who either fitted my ideal client profile perfectly or were very close.

2: What can you do for them?

The key to keeping clients is a thorough understanding of their problems; what keeps them awake at night.  If you can solve their problems and deliver tangible benefits your clients will stick with you like glue.

So list the biggest and most common problems your clients experience.  Then list your services (or products) and identify how these could solve your clients’ problems.  Now outline at least a couple of benefits (what’s in it for me?) for each outcome.  This is what you’ll use to attract potential clients.

3:  What are you worth?

Nobody wants to price themselves out of the market, nor do you want to be ‘cheap and cheerful’ so you need to set your prices in relation to the value to your customer.

Some people recommend starting out by working out how much you want to earn per month/year and then working out what you would need to charge to earn that.  I think there are some dangers there as start-up companies usually underestimate the time things take and overestimate the number of hours they have available.  This means they end up working day, night, weekends and holidays to stay viable.

What value does your service have to your client?  How much would it cost them if you didn’t provide what they needed?

Of course, it’s worth doing some research into your competitors pricing, but don’t let that stop you charging more.  People who are willing to pay more, appreciate you more!

4:  Where are your ideal clients to be found?

Another easy-to-overlook aspect for a new business.  In fact, I’ve met quite a lot of established business people who still haven’t really nailed down where to find their potential clients and spend a lot of time turning up at random networking events in the hope that the golden egg will fall into their lap.

Are there local branches of professional organisations that fit your ideal client profile? E.g. if you’re providing management training a good proportion of the local Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development group would be potential clients.

Are their online forums, LinkedIn groups, Facebook Pages or groups where your ideal clients are found?

5:  How can you influence potential clients to come to you?

Who else serves your market?  Could you form an alliance?

If you’re active in groups online or offline where your ideal clients can be found, offer enormous value first and you’ll earn a reputation as an expert.

Write articles around your area of expertise – and publish on your blog, on your LinkedIn profile, in the trade journals your target market reads.

Make sure your social media activity is focused on giving value.

Don’t send out newsletters or email marketing that is sell, sell, sell – value first, promote later.

Build a list of people that have shown they’re already interested in what you offer.

If you invest time in working through these five essentials – you’ll find building and growing your business gets a lot easier.