From the December 2001 issue of Startups

If you missed my last article, "Preparing to Sell," I introduced the idea of a "sales runway." A sales runway is the length of time that your business has to get enough sales volume before you run out of money. In simple terms, getting your business off the ground means the cash you earn directly from sales is more than your expenses. We originally looked at managing your sales runway, and now I want to look at 10 steps to make sure your business gets airborne with the runway that you have.

Don't Be Everything to Everyone

1. Focus on a single product or product line. Study successful businesses in your market, and you'll find out they all share a common heritage: They started out with a single product or product line. If you have multiple product lines or a catalog of products and services, you may have to sacrifice them for the short term.

2. Focus your sales and marketing on the most promising product or service. If you find that a product or service is selling well early-on, take advantage of this success. Get early wins, and build on them. Gather testimonials and case studies. Launch a PR campaign around your recent success.

3. Narrow your target market. Hopefully you defined your target market in your original business plan. Revisit the plan to see if you've actually been selling to the market you originally defined. In many cases, what you planned for and whom you sold to will be different. Make a decision to either adjust the plan to reflect what's working, or redefine and narrow your target market. This keeps your sales and marketing efforts focused. When you get up each day, you'll know who you are trying to help and what you can do for them.

Stop Testing New Ideas

4. Evaluate the advertising and marketing that you've been doing. If you've been running numerous campaigns in numerous types of media, stop and analyze which one has been the most effective. Continue to advertise and market with the campaigns that have worked the best so far.

5. Fine-tune and expand existing programs. Continue testing and refining the marketing activities that have been bringing in leads and sales. In fact, instead of trying any new ideas, apply the money and time to programs that you know work.

Leverage Existing Relationships

6. Look at current relationships. Do you have existing relationships that can help you increase sales quickly? Is there a joint marketing or sales program that you can enter into with your existing suppliers?

7. Look for complementary offerings. Perhaps you have partners with a product offering that's complementary to yours. Propose a joint venture. You can bundle both companies' products and services together to form a new solution. This gives you a fresh reason to approach one another's customers or prospects. The result is a quick introduction to an expanded target market and additional cash flow.

Visit our Sales & Marketing Channel for even more strategies to bring in the business.

Use Your Time Well

8. Determine whether you're building your business. Author Michael Gerber, who wrote a series of books on the "e-myth," suggests that many entrepreneurs get stuck doing their business instead of building their business. Take a look at how you have been spending your time, and check to see if you've been caught up with all the administrative demands or been able to break free and focus on what builds your business.

9. "Grade" your opportunities. Take a look at all the opportunities that you're presently working on, then grade them A, B or C. Mark A as "revenue producing," B as "needs to get done" and C as "enjoy doing." Grade your opportunities by value, and complete them in order.

10. Focus on what you do best--don't diversify. Keep focused on the goal at hand; get your business off the ground. Once you're airborne, you'll have lots of time to evaluate other ideas.

Some of these tips may seem counterintuitive. When bills are still coming in and sales aren't, there's the urge to "take whatever you can." That may give you a little more time by extending the runway, but it doesn't help get your business off the ground. Ultimately, it takes you away from the controls and doesn't increase the speed of your sales. Stay focused; work smart. In business, you don't get airborne unless you're at the controls and applying full throttle.


James Maduk is one of North America's leading sales speakers. He is the creator and publisher of more than 80 online sales training courses, and he broadcasts daily on VirtualSelling Radio. You can reach James at (613) 825-0651 or visit his Web site at www.jamesmaduk.com.